Mum has lost most of her short-term memory as she journeys down the path of Alzheimer’s dementia. When I drop by to visit, she will smile and yell my pet name, “Ah Chye”. I will go upstairs to put away my stuff and, when I come down again, she will look at me as though she is seeing me for the first time that day, calling out “Ah Chye” again, and asking when I had arrived. She literally lives in the moment. This is not always fun. Sometimes she will be cross at me and say that she has only one son and that I don’t visit her. I protest: “Mum I just came last week!” But of course she has forgotten. How do we love a mum who has no short-term memory but lives only in the moment? We try to give her as many happy moments as we can. And perhaps we can learn from her.
Unlike mum, I often don’t live in the moment. I am someone who tends to live in the past or in the future. Looking back at my challenging life, I remember those who hurt me and those who blessed me. Looking at the future, I am obsessed with the things I need to do. Often, usually when we are in the car and Bernice is driving, she will notice that I am mumbling to myself. She knows I am rehearsing in my mind some sermon or talk I have to give. I am not sure if that is good or bad, but it does mean I am not conscious of where I am or what is happening around me. I am not in the moment.
I am not saying we shouldn’t look back at all. Indeed the gift of memory helps us to make sense of our past and to learn lessons from the things that have happened to us. I would argue that retrospection is key to faith. As we remember God’s goodness to us in the past, it builds our faith and prepares us for the future, because it is the same God who will be there as well. And we should make plans for the future too. A glance at the life of the apostle Paul, for example, sees him planning ahead with regard to the places he intends to visit on his various missionary journeys. Planning ahead is an exercise in faith.
So there is a time to look back and there is a time to look forward. Perhaps there are some of us who need to do more retrospection or more forward planning. But there is also a need to be present in the moment. God is there too. And if, like me, you are hardly in the moment, you may miss a burning bush or two. Or an angelic choir singing in the night sky. You may miss opportunities to be a blessing to someone. Or to receive a blessing that someone wants to give you, if only you were there. Indeed, Jesus Himself tells us not to worry about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34). Be a good steward of the day you have been given. Be a good steward of the moments entrusted to you.