I spend a lot of time every day with people (often including myself) who are so consumed with regret over something they've done in the past that they cannot function in any meaningful way in daily life. I encounter equal numbers of people who, for one reason or another, cannot focus on anything but fear and dread of what might happen in the future. Granted, many of those I encounter are in this predicament because of chronic mental illness. Nevertheless, in my experience, dwelling excessively on the past or worrying overmuch about the future tends to be the cause of much of the remorse, anxiety, and angst I encoutner in others.
Into this nearly daily encounter speaks the voice of Richard Walker in his book, Twenty-Four Hours A Day. Aside from "Bill" of Alcoholics Anonymous, Richard Walker is one of the most influential voices in the substance abuse recovery movement and this book has been as influential as any in the genre. In it, he argues the seemingly unusual (especially in our culture) but completely sane idea that one day is enough for anyone. He writes,
"Anyone can fight the battles of just one day. It is only when you and I add the battles of those two awful eternities, yesterday and tomorrow, that we break down. It is not the experience of today that drives us mad. It is the remorse or bitterness for something that happened yesterday or the dread of what tomorrow may bring. Let us therefore do our best to live but one day at a time.- Richard Walker, Twenty-Four Hours A Day
I have been echoing some form of this sentiment on a nearly daily basis to the patients and families I encounter in my work as a chaplain working with patients experiencing mental health and substance abuse concerns. We cannot control or change the past and the future is completely unknown and, to some extent, arbitrary. We only truly have this moment, this place. This idea got me thinking about worries we all carry around with us and just how ultimately futile an exercise worry can be.
It seems to me that this idea crops up in many places throughout history. For instance, there's this zen saying:
“If the problem has a solution, worrying is pointless, in the end the problem will be solved. If the problem has no solution, there is no reason to worry, because it can’t be solved.”
Or, consider these words from the Tao Te Ching:
“Be careful what you water your dreams with. Water them with worry and fear and you will produce weeds that choke the life from your dream. Water them with optimism and solutions and you will cultivate success. Always be on the lookout for ways to turn a problem into an opportunity for success. Always be on the lookout for ways to nurture your dream.”
And, of course, Jesus had a lot to say about worrying:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
"Each day has enough trouble of its own." Indeed it does. And, what if, the key to a happy, calm, and meaningful future is to be found in simply tending to the moments we have, one day at a time. If I'm honest, I have to admit that I tend so often to realities beyond my control because I focus on what happened that I regret or worry about what might happen. I pray that we can learn to attend to that which is in front of us in this moment and to let that be enough for others we encoutner. I think if we can do that, we might wake up to the beauty all around us and the world might be a little more peaceful.