While my husband was suffering with his cancer, which eventually led to his death, I had a tendency to look back at the “what if’s” or mostly, I would look into the future and say “what if”? I have come to realize that the question “what if” only leads to the feelings of sadness, fear, regret, despair, and other undesireable feelings.
During that time, I had a friend who gave me some really great advice. He counseled me to always stay in the present. It is only when I live in the present that I can use my gift of agency, the right to choose for myself. I have contemplated that advice and have discovered that is some of the best advice I have received.
Before we were born , we lived as spirit children with a loving Heavenly Father. Heavenly Father’s plan, the plan of salvation, was presented to us in the Council in Heaven. Satan did not want that plan. He wanted a plan that would take away our agency. Because we are all here, we accepted Heavenly Father’s plan and chose to accept Jesus Christ as our Savior.
Heavenly Father’s plan gives us agency to make our own choices. What is the one thing Satan wants to have control over? If he can gain control over our agency, he is accomplishing his goal…his original plan that was presented in the pre-mortal world. If we are looking in the past, are we exercising our agency? If we are looking into the future, are we exercising our agency? No, in both cases. The ONLY time we can exercise our agency is in the present. We can’t change the past…we can learn from it…but can’t change it. We can’t change the future…it has happened yet.
When we stay in the present, we are able to make choices. We can deal with the issues at hand. We can make wise choices that will lead to a better future. Life is not so overwhelming. I don’t get the deep despair as long as I remember to stay in the present!
Obviously, I am not perfect. My mortal mind gets going and I still have my moments where I look back or I look to the future with “what if’s”. Those old feelings of fear, sadness, despair, and regret come back. When I start to feel that way, I know that I am letting Satan make my choices for me. I realize I need to take back that power! Sometimes, I regain taking charge of my agency quicker than other times.
Being in the present brings happiness and joy. When I live in the present, I am living in the moment. I notice the funny things my children say; I notice the sun that is shining; I notice the song on the radio; I notice that I love the dirt flying at me while riding my UTV; I notice the things I am grateful for; most importantly, I notice the promptings of the Holy Spirit …
Obviously, by living in the present, my life is not going to be perfect and I won’t feel continuous joy. The scriptures do not say I will have joy all the time! That is not a part of the plan. I must have opposition in all things. It is through opposition that I know sadness vs. happiness, grief vs. peace, etc…
There are things that happen in the present that can be painful or trying or just downright horrible! You know…like watching someone you deeply love suffer…the death of your spouse...your child crying to you because they feel like they have no friends...going to the dentist. But, once I have made it through the present situation, it is done. I have learned from it. I can choose to move forward and experience the next thing in the present…which could be something amazingly great that I missed out on because I was too focused on the past or worried about the future.
Interestingly enough, I put the phrase “men are they might have joy” in Google to reference the scripture in this blog post (because I couldn’t remember the scripture reference). The first search that came up was 2 Nephi 2:27 (Book of Mormon). I went to the highlighted verse and this is what is says:
27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.
My first thought was, well that was kind of dumb. It doesn’t say joy in this scripture. Why did it highlight this scripture? Then I started thinking…hmmm…my post is about living in the present so you can exercise your agency to choose…so you can find happiness and joy…this scripture is talking about choosing….what do the previous scriptures say?
Then I read verse 25&26:
25 Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.
26 And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.
Coincidence? Nope. This just confirms to me that it is our agency that enables us to experience joy. They go hand in hand! And the only way I can exercise my agency is in the present!
So how does this knowledge help me? What I have realized is this. I can cope with life and actually find some happiness and joy if I stay in the present. Honestly, no words can adequately describe the pain and suffering you feel when you lose your spouse. It is not only difficult to deal with your loss, but you are left to deal with the loss your children feel. You become a single parent. You are faced with many challenges you aren't sure that you are prepared to handle.If I allow myself to sit and think about the past or future I am focused on just that. I don’t notice anything in the present. I miss out on living. I feel a lot more misery than happiness. I begin to feel deep despair over the loss of my husband.
I have discovered the four main things that help me to stay in the present are prayer, scripture study, service, and gratitude. These are things I must do daily! All of these things give me spiritual strength. It is my spiritual strength that helps me to stay focused...my mortal mind wants to think about the past and the future. If one of these four components is missing, I find that I do not maintain my ability to stay in the present.
By staying in the present, it doesn’t mean I don’t look to the future or back at the past. It would be crazy to think that I can only stay in the present.
In the April 2008, Liahona magazine, Thomas S. Monson says following things we should do:
1. Learn from the past.
2. Prepare for the future.
3. Live in the present.
Professor Harold Hill, in Meredith Willson’s The Music Man, cautioned, “You pile up enough tomorrows, and you’ll find you’ve collected a lot of empty yesterdays.”
There is no tomorrow to remember if we don’t do something today, and to live most fully today, we must do that which is of greatest importance. Let us not procrastinate those things which matter most.
I remember reading the account of a man who, just after the passing of his wife, opened her dresser drawer and found there an item of clothing she had purchased when they visited the eastern part of the United States nine years earlier. She had not worn it but was saving it for a special occasion. Now, of course, that occasion would never come.
In relating the experience to a friend, the husband of the deceased wife said, “Don’t save something only for a special occasion. Every day in your life is a special occasion.”
As stated in 2 Nephi 2:26, I choose to act for myself and not be acted upon! If I allow myself to dwell in the past or the future, Satan is acting upon me. The key word here is DWELL! I am going to learn from the past, prepare for the future, and live in the present!