I am in the process of teaching my son to drive. The first time we were out of a parking lot and out on the road I believe I held the steering wheel as much as from the passenger seat as he did from the driver’s seat for a short fifteen-minute trip. Next time we sat down for the same trip, I only reached for the wheel to assist on three occasions. We’ve now traveled the same path multiple times and I’ve not reached for the wheel since the second trip. This past weekend I took him on roads he had never driven and no corrections were made other than simple verbal guidance. He is learning and will likely be a much better driver than I was starting out.
I share this story not so much because of my teenage boy, but more as a reflection of me. Any parent who has ever taught a teenager to drive knows what a nerve-wracking and frightening experience it can be. As I thought about what it means to enjoy the moment, I realized it only comes as we learn to let go of the distractions of regret, what’s to come, and expectations just as I have had to learn let go of the steering wheel and let my son drive. With each trip behind the wheel, I grow more confident of his growing ability to maneuver the vehicle.
Teaching a young driver is a tense experience because you realize very quickly from the passenger seat you are not in control. We fear things we have no control over. We fear the shame of the past because we can’t change it so we live in regret lest our darkest secrets be revealed. We fear the future not knowing what tomorrow holds and having no guarantee of the health and safety of our loved one so we worry and dread what may come. We judge others and others judge us based on preconceived expectations fearing how scenarios may play out. None of these things are within our control.
Reinhold Niebuhr captured the heart of releasing control, living in the present and enjoying the moment. Niebuhr may or may not be a name familiar to you. Admittedly, despite knowing his words most of my life, I never knew his name until researching his famous prayer first shared in the early 1930s. Commonly known as The Serenity Prayer, it has been shared in multiple addiction and recovery programs, and has become a source of strength for many.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
To live in a state of serenity is to live in the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled. Living a life of serenity sounds a lot like enjoying the moment. Unfortunately, unlike Niebuhr’s request, it is rarely something which is simply granted. Much like learning to trust a new driver, learning to enjoy the moment and live a life of serenity is a gradual process and is generally learned through experiences of life both pleasant and unpleasant.
In the last two posts, we’ve looked in depth at the story of the prodigal son. The story ends with the prodigal being ushered into a celebration in his honor clothed in the finest robes and shoes. If it were possible to interview the prodigal after the celebration concluded, I wonder what he would tell us. I believe Henri Nouwen gives us a glimpse in his book The Return of the Prodigal Son as he places each of us in the role of the prodigal:
“For most of my life I have struggled to find God, to know God, to love God. I have tried hard to follow the guidelines of the spiritual life – pray always, work for others, read the Scriptures – and to avoid the many temptations to dissipate myself. I have failed many times but always tried again, even when I was close to despair.
Now I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to find me, to know me, and to love me. The question is not ‘How do I find God?’ but ‘How am I to let myself be found by him?’ The question is not ‘How am I to know God?’ but ‘How am I to let myself be known by God?’ And finally, the question is not ‘How am I to love God?’ but ‘How am I to let myself be loved by God?'” God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me, and longing to bring me home.
To humanize the story of the prodigal son, you would have to imagine the young prodigal and his older brother still struggled with the mindset of being truly accepted into the father’s love with absolutely no effort on their own. Flashbacks of his frivolous living no doubt would haunt the younger brother just as his older brother must have certainly struggled with bitterness over the years of service he dedicated to earning favor which was already given. Both of these are struggles we all face and must learn to let go of to enjoy the moment.
To conclude this series, I will remind myself and all of us of the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:27 – 34 as interpreted by Eugene Peterson in The Message which teach us to how to enjoy the moment:
“Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.
“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.
“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”
More posts in the Enjoying the Moment series: