St Irenaeus is famously attributed with the phrase “The glory of God is man fully alive.” God wants us to live the present to the full. There’s the danger of getting stuck in the past or worrying about the future to the point that we lose the present. However, it would be wrong to say that we should forget about the past and the future and only live each second. If you lose the value of the past and future, you lose the value of the present. For then what would the present be, but yesterday’s future and tomorrow’s past.
Time isn’t outside of us. There’s a difference between the present second and the present moment. The second is determined, but we determine the moment. Time isn’t like a river that we travel over but a river that, if you will, flows through us. The past and future affect us much more deeply than a series of “befores” and “afters” of no consequence. That’s how time is for the kitchen sink or the parakeet in the living room aviary, but not for us —granted an animal is in a way conscious of time but not nearly as we are.
No one would say that they would be the same person today regardless of whether they were born into a broken family on the street or into a united family in the comfortable suburbs. No one would say they would be the exact same whether they were born in the hunger of an indigent African tribe or in the affluence of an upper-class European family. It is not the same whether one does or doesn’t bear the weight of a past sin like an abortion or a betrayal. Granted, the past never changes our dignity, nor does it determine us. We can overcome our past. But it does affect us. Even someone who has overcome his past is not the same as someone who never had a past to overcome. The same goes for the future. Who could say that they would be the same person whether they saw no future for themselves in life or a future full of hope? The past isn’t nullified now that it is gone by, nor is the future because it hasn’t happened yet. We carry them within us now. They affect us. This is why we need to embrace them.
Imagine yesterday you got a deep cut. That wound is still going to be with you today. You can’t deny it. You don’t get hung up on it, but just because you leave the past behind doesn’t make the wound go away. You can only live today to the full if, recognizing your wound from the past, you take care of the cut so that you can continue on. With regards to the future, I doubt very many would say you are living the present to the full if you are digging into a huge ice cream sundae watching football when you are supposed to run the Iron Man the next day. If we are going to be “man fully alive”, we need to learn to embrace our past and future.
What we don’t embrace, we end up denying. The cut won’t cease to exist because we deny it. It will only fester. The same goes with our past wounds: father wounds, trauma, loneliness and need, sins, etc. Nor is the Iron Man conquered by hakuna matata. The same with the race of life. It lies ahead. Denying it doesn’t make it disappear, but it does make the likelihood of victory very slim.
To embrace the past and the future to live the present to the full doesn’t mean to try to change them or dwell on them. That’s impossible and would be counterproductive. Nor would it help to deny them as if you were born yesterday without any history or hopes. It means to embrace who you are now, recognizing the imprint the past and the future bear on you. This is you to the full.
You weren’t born yesterday, and the brightest possible future awaits you if you embrace it. Let this truth fill you, that now, today you may be fully alive!