Every morning you have to wake up and say yes!
That’s one of the single most quoted pieces of advice I got in the lead up to my first profession of vows. No one promised me the road ahead would be smooth, nor did they say that my first year of profession would be easy. To be honest, among all the other pieces of advice I received, the admonition that I’d need to say yes everyday seemed like a euphemistic response to the question of what it means to live a vowed life. Yet, just six months later I found myself sitting across the table from an acquaintance saying just that: “Every day I have to choose to say yes.”
I was visiting my alma mater as part of an annual gathering of religious studies alumnae. Over drinks, we caught up about the last year of our lives: friends, new and old, creating connections. We began talking about the struggles of our everyday lives as young women in the church and the situations of life we find ourselves in. Engaging a woman I didn’t know particularly well, I named my struggle as well as you can to a relative stranger.
“Every day I have to choose to say yes,” I heard myself say as I explained my struggle with certain structures. Earlier in the afternoon, I had stood in the campus chapel and spoke the words of my vows aloud. I needed to say those words there. There, in a place that had been so formative to my journey, they made sense. In that moment and in that place, I could say yes . . . in that moment . . . for now.
A week later, on Valentine’s Day, I found myself gathered together once again with a group of young women. This time, though, those gathered were all younger women religious. Over dinner, we shared honestly the struggles, the gifts, the graces, and the foibles of religious life as younger members. After an extended period of time, one of my friends who had been markedly quiet during our discussion of the hope of years to come spoke up: “I don’t know,” she said genuinely. “I hear what you are all saying, but I don’t know if I can agree. When I think about renewing my vows for another year, I don’t know if I can – it seems like too much time; I have to break it down – I have to think to myself, ‘I can say yes to this for now.’”
Her comment was honest. For now, I can say yes. Here in this moment, I can keep on going. It’s not the most hope-filled or inspiring of sentiments, but it is one that comes from lived experience. In a world that can be rough and a landscape that is constantly shifting and changing, sometimes the deepest commitment you can make is for now.
The only moment we truly have is right now. Breaking down time in a way that focuses on living for now offers us the rare opportunity to cast aside what is unnecessary for this moment, while at the same time allowing us to embrace the glimpse of forever – the promise and hope of eternal life – present in each and every experience.
Living “for now” offers us a brief glimpse of the long view, a microcosm of the promises of our faith. It breaks down the complexity of the journey, causing us to ask, “How does each moment echo eternity?” We act for now in the hope of forever, living salvation on the small scale of each moment, so that a lifetime of faithfulness might emerge.
In a special way, the season of Lent offers us the opportunity to break down time in such a way. As we journey toward Easter, it is our presence to and recognition of God in the here and now that calls us to a deeper relationship with the Divine. Each day is an opportunity. Transformation only takes a moment and for us, for now, we have 40 days full of countless moments. In fact, now is all we have and truly, it is in living in the present that ultimately leads us to eternity.
What difference could this Lent make?
Sometimes “for now” is just enough. Can I resist the temptation to judge others? Can I let myself be less than perfect? Can I find time to be quiet and listen? I can do that for now. And I do so in the hope that as I string the moments of now together, I will uncover the concurrence of grace God is constantly sowing in my life. I will find myself closer to the God I long for and who ultimately longs for me as I am, truly present and engaged with the moment, person or situation in front of me.
For now, I can strive to be the best version of myself. In this moment, I can open myself up to the Spirit. At this time, I can take an honest look at where I’m being invited to grow. That is the invitation of Lent: to live in a way that embraces each moment. To face who I am and who God calls me to be for now and for eternity. It requires being humble, gracious and faithful. It means letting go of what I think I need in order to discover what God desires, embracing the gift and grace of each moment along with the struggle and strife. And in doing so, it means choosing not to settle but to be constantly unsettled.
The words of a poem from my journal at the beginning of this first full week of Lent strike me:
remember what it means to go out into the desert
remember what can happen when you invite the Spirit in
like a fire in the night
everything will burn
the only light remaining is the one to guide you home.
This is the journey we are on. Forty days filled with opportunities to grow. Forty days full of moments of grace to rejuvenate the soul, sewing hope and trust in the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. That is the growth Lent fosters.
God murmurs in our ears, hoping we will hear the words we say. Every day I have to choose to say yes. Our God waits patiently wherever we wander. For now I am with you echoes in each moment. Forever you are mine – eternity engrained in this very moment. We commit as far as we are able, and God gives us moments that stretch on forever. Now is all we have and for now, that is enough.
[Colleen Gibson, SSJ, is a Sister of Saint Joseph of Philadelphia. Author of the blog Wandering in Wonder, she currently serves as assistant director of campus ministry at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia.]