When I first started writing and sharing my thoughts and discoveries in my own faith journey, my search for spiritual progress, I was in full recovery mode. Recovery from my own addictions, recovery from the consequences of my own sin. Most of my writing and thought was focused on recovery and hope found in the Bible.
As I’ve gone on, I have gotten away from the recovery focus. It has been nothing intentional, no conscious decision has been made, but the farther I go into the words of God and the discovery of who God is, the farther my own spiritual and faith journey has gotten away from the recovery focus I once had. Because, simply, I’m just not in the same place anymore.
Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. Sometimes, it feels like life is just a waterfall. A waterfall of pain, washing over us. As in this song from the Sons of Korah, which we know as Psalm 42, we are just caught in the waterfall of pain, those waves just keep washing over us. Can we ever stop the waterfall?? The power of the waterfall as a metaphor is that it Just. Keeps. Coming. Sometimes it feels to us that this is how life is. It just keeps coming, one pain, one hurt cascading upon us after another, a never ending waterfall of pain, hurt, and emotion. We can stand under the waterfall for a time, a period, but eventually, the waterfall will always beat you down if you can’t find a way to stop it.
How then, do we stop this waterfall of pain? As much as we would like to, we can’t just stop all the painful experiences. But there are two things, two secrets, I have found about the pain in our life.
First, MOST of the pain in our life us either retrieved from the past or borrowed from the future. Most of our pain resides in our memory or our imagination. It either comes from recalling some bad thing that happened in the past, or it is borrowed from a future which we have not even realized or attained yet. A future, by the way, which is totally out of our control. Our pain mostly comes from our memory or our imagination, not from our present.
Second, and maybe more importantly, we STOP the waterfall of pain by learning to live in the present moment. We stop the cascading waves from rolling over us by living not in the past, not in the future, but in the present. Or, as we in recovery like to say, by living one day at a time.
This is not exclusive to Christianity. Many of the wisdom traditions had discovered this, which makes sense, because before there was wisdom, there was human pain from which that wisdom could be hard won. But the important thing for us is that Jesus confirms our discovery. “”Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Matthew 6:34 ESV.
Jesus confirms the wisdom that we should live in the present moment, and he takes us further in. As always, he pulls back the curtain to reveal more. He teaches us that God is our Heavenly Father who loves us. He is not an angry or retributive God, but has one stance toward us and that is love.
Jesus suggests to us that the rest of creation enjoys the peace of being present in the moment with God. “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” Matthew 6:26 ESV. “And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” Matthew 6:28-30 ESV.
The birds of the heavens, the lilies of the field, they aren’t anxious, worried, or troubled. They live in the present moment. They are not retrieving pain from the past or borrowing imagined fears of what could happen in the future. But we humans, we are always a special case.
We need to learn that we stop the waterfall of pain by being open to the love of God in the present moment. There is great wisdom in that statement. In fact, it’s the only thing that I know that works. It’s the only way.
Most other ways of dealing with our pain are simply trying to distract ourselves from the pain or numb ourselves to it. Both of these are destructive. In psalm 42 verses 7 and 8, the sons of Korah use the metaphor of the waterfall. But they find a way to stop the waterfall. “By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.” Psalms 42:8 ESV. Each day the lord pours out his steadfast love upon me…they discover how to live in the love of God in the present moment.
If we can stop the waterfall of pain by learning to live in the present moment, good things can happen for us. And we can stop the waterfall from cascading upon us, if we can open ourselves in the present moment to the love of God.
Our future is absolutely unknown. But that doesn’t stop us from our prognosticating. As the Danish physicist Niles Bohr once said, “Prediction us very difficult. Especially about the future.” We waste time and emotional energy, and cause our very own pain, worrying about the future.
How do we stop? You stop by opening yourself to the pervasive love of God. Here’s a truth we all want to hear – you are loved right now. Don’t forget what Paul tells us – “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 ESV. No mater what happened in the past, no matter what might happen in the future (What if I stumble?), God loves you. The only REAL truth you need to know is that God is loving you right now. The love of God is the OTHER waterfall, even more ceaseless and relentless than the pain in our lives.
The love of God is not a waterfall of pain, it’s a waterfall of love and peace. The trinity is eternally generating self giving love. God is Love. Not self-centered, selfish love, but self-giving love. By this I mean, the Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father, the Holy Spirit is that love. BUT – primitive concepts of God, bad theologies of an angry God, can dam up that waterfall of love.
God us pouring out love into you, your life, right now, but bad theologies can act as a dam to block the flow of love into your experience. IF we can remove those dams of wrong thinking about God, it’s then only a matter of being present to God’s unfailing love and never-ending song.
Blow up the dam, restore the river to its natural course, then it’s just a matter of learning to be open to that love in the present moment, right now. Just imagine, knowing that God is loving you, right now. Just imagine basking in the love of God.
Well, ok. HOW??? This is a chief value of using formative (aka liturgical) prayer, that it can lead to a God-filled present. Without the help of a liturgy of prayer, I CAN NOT ever get my mind quiet enough to live in the present moment and thus be open to God’s love. In fact, it’s what I struggle with more than anything right now. I have victory over many problems, many addictions, but what I struggle with most right now is 1) fear and 2) anxiety. Or vice versa. I don’t know about you (but probably I do), but I know it is only with the formation of a good liturgy, the practice of a formative, well crafted liturgy of prayer that I can get my mind quiet and find myself in the present moment. Not in the past, or always in the future, which is where we always tend to live. This is why we need to be formed in prayer, to have a consistent liturgy of prayer.
If we try to be still (Be still and know that I am God…) in prayer in order to experience God’s love without a liturgy of formative prayer, we generally fail to be present in the moment. It doesn’t work, not much happens, so we generally get discouraged and give up altogether.
In other words, it’s not something you’re going to be able to figure out on your own. We all need help (like anything else). We need teaching. We need someone to help form us in prayer. Learning to be present to God in the present moment does NOT come naturally to most of us. There are rare examples, those natural born mystics. These are those who’ve been used by God throughout history to teach the rest if us. You are not one of them.
For the rest of us, this is a skill, kind of like riding a bike, learning to swim, or learning a new language. When you start, it is not a natural thing. Once you have the skill, once you learn it, it becomes super-natural for you. It just becomes a part of you. You never forget how to swim, how to ride a bike. Once you achieve fluency in a new language, and you are just speaking and not translating, it just begins to flow. You’re not thinking about it anymore. But you have to learn first.
You have to deal with fear, pain and confusion. Learn to ride a bike you might skin your knee a few times. You have to ivercome fear to learn to swim, overcome confusion to learn a new language. But you can do all if these things. We can also learn to be present to God in the present moment. No longer retrieving from the past or borrowing from the future, but present in the moment and aware of God’s love for you.
Learning to be present to God in His love in the present moment, present enough to stop the waterfall of pain from the past and future, is a spiritual skill that takes time to develop. Impatience only increases the delay. Take a breath, take time, be patient, learn how to do this. Stop the waterfall.
But I remind you, most of your pain is retrieved or borrowed. What you will find, if you can be still enough to find the present moment, is not the waterfall of pain and anxiety, but the ocean of God’s endless love.
“Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.”
Psalms 42:7-8 ESV
“”Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Matthew 6:34 ESV