The fog of the future

Tre Cime di Lavaredo, Italy, photo by Matt Sclarandis via Unsplash

“Today is mine. Tomorrow is none of my business. If I peer anxiously into the fog of the future, I will strain my spiritual eyes so that I will not see clearly what is required of me now.”Elisabeth Elliot

I’ve heard it said that anger is really fear in disguise, and I’ve seen a good bit of evidence that this must be true most of the time. Our greatest animosity tends to focus on people or things we perceive, accurately or not, as a threat to our lives, our loved ones, or even more trivial things such as our time, space or convenience.

For most who will be reading this blog, the truly urgent or immediate threats are relatively rare. Yet we still find ourselves anxious about the future, even if what we fear is vague and undefined. I’ve noticed, for example, that I tend to get most frustrated on days when I can’t seem to get as much done as I hope to do. I usually can’t pin this down to a looming deadline, since I long ago retired from work outside the home. I have the luxury of structuring my time according to the daily changes and fluctuating requirements of my own life rather than those of a corporation or a demanding boss. Why, then, do I feel such fear (which almost always manifests itself as frustration, impatience and finally anger) when I am unable to meet some self-imposed goal usually based on generalized worries about the future, whether “the future” is later this week or years from now?

As I work through the layers of grief over the losses of the past few years, one of the most important survival tools is granting myself permission, again and again, to go as slowly as I need to go, and to rest as much as I can, whether or not there are tasks awaiting (as there always are, for all of us). Staying focused on the present allows me to pay more attention to what am doing right now than to what I haven’t yet done. It’s surprising how therapeutic most tasks can be, if I don’t allow my mind to wander and ruminate about how many other things I have left to do.

For some people, the skill of staying in the present seems to come more easily than it does to those of us who are anxious types. If the task at hand is a fairly mindless one, I’ve found that listening to lively music, an interesting podcast or an engaging audiobook can reign in my tendency to let my mind wander into stressful territory. So does making a list of what I want to get done, which somehow seems to transfer the good intentions to a confined space on paper rather than letting them stroll around my psyche calling attention to themselves when I’m busy with something else.

How about you? A few minutes ago, when you read the words “tomorrow is none of my business,” did you find yourself reflexively arguing with that claim, as I did? Do you fear the future, or look forward to it, or some combination of both? How do you avoid spiritual eyestrain so that you can see clearly what most needs your attention now?

Daffodil update:

For those who read last week’s blog, here’s a photo of how they looked when I pulled them out of the refrigerator one week later. As I write this, they look every bit as perky as when I picked them. Now the doubles are blooming out front, and tomorrow I plan to make another bouquet.

One week later, still bright and cheery!

32 Comments

  1. Sheila

    Good morning, Julia, from beautiful Clearwater Beach. Today is travel day back to 428, after being here since Thursday. You know it has been a grand visit when you want to just “send for your things”! My cousin and her husband live here and have shone us a delightful time. We planned this trip when Jeanne suggested we come here and we’d go to the Frankie Valli concert! “Oh What A Night” and “Dawn” and “Sherry” were certainly there! It was fabulous, 2200 rocking SENIORS! Haha. 👵🏻👴🏻 I will enjoy reading this again to Bill while we’re riding along today. Pressure for me, hence stress, is usually the demands that I put on myself. I will strive for less physical eyestrain. Loved this, my friend! 💛 The daffodils are lovely. Thank you for the update. You must tell Matt that Bill took in a baseball game since spring training is here now. He was treated to a Braves and Yankees game. It was a good game. Although his Braves lost, he loved being there! ⚾️ Have a good week and know I’ve thought of you often while being here!

    • Sheila, that sounds like a blast. You know you are a true ocean person when you take your vacations at different beach than the one where you live all the time. 🙂 I love the gulf coast of Florida. It’s my favorite part of the state. Were the Four Seasons singing with Frankie Valli or is he solo now? Spring training is such fun. We never have been to the one in Florida but went to the one in SoCal when we lived in CA. We saw where the Oakland A’s (Drew’s favorites) and the California Angels (my favorites) were playing. I’ve been staying very busy the last couple of weeks, but I am finally beginning to feel as if I am accomplishing some long overdue maintenance tasks, and that’s almost as good as a vacation. 🙂

  2. Carolyn

    Beatiful , I want to find some and I have just the tea pot I want to use. You and Matt have a great week. Oh, I love reading your blogs. Take care my friend. ❤️

    • Thank you Carolyn, I am so happy you enjoy the blogs! Hope you are getting stronger each day. I raise my teacup and drink to your health and happiness! Love to you and Terry!

  3. Jack

    Great reflection Julia. Two observations:
    1. I’ve been taught that fear without an object is more commonly known as anxiety. It is precisely that inability to rest comfortably in the moment, and hinders us from doing what would diminish or eliminate the fear entirely. It’s what kills people prematurely, is a great productivity killer and just generally all around useless. I used to be an anxiety pro!

    2. I have discovered that daffodils dislike but will tolerate their ephemeral yet splendid above-ground life under the shade of a 100 year old red oak, but after said oak is felled by a storm, the daffodils rock. Apparently few plants and fewer people like living in someone else’s shadow

    • Jack, I hope the irises I just transplanted will be happier in the sunny spaces where I moved about half the plants that grow at the foot of a tree in a shady spot in our back yard. Ten years ago they bloomed profusely but as the trees and shrubs have grown, and the shade has increased, they eventually stopped blooming completely. They definitely seemed unhappy in the shadow.

      I think I’m an anxiety pro too, as was Jeff, at least in some ways. Since Matt was born both of us had the anxiety tendencies kicked into overdrive due to his cardiac issues and other challenges. One of Matt’s doctors once referred to this all-too-common effect on parents as “hypervigilance” and it definitely puts us at risk of exhaustion. Interestingly, Jeff was able to be much more stoic about his own terminal diagnosis than he ever was about Matt’s upcoming surgeries. I will always be grateful that he never allowed anxiety to hijack the four years we had together after that devastating blow. He put strict limits on how much we talked about his illness, confining it mostly to doctor’s appointments and hospital stays. It was a convincing demonstration of what you say about the uselessness of fretting. I guess Paul (who had more than his share of stress) knew what he was talking about when he exhorted his fellow believers to “be anxious in nothing.”

  4. I assume you already know about “The Wanderer” painting that first picture is emulating? It’s one of my favorites and I have a print of it hanging in my bedroom. http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/avp/cas/his/CoreArt/art/rom_fri_wand.html

    • Jena, I had seen (and admired) that painting at some point in the past, but didn’t make the connection until you mentioned it. What a great work of art to wake up to each day! Thanks for sharing that link. I am thinking of you and your family today especially.

  5. I read this yesterday but had to come back and read again today. I was tired and nothing was making sense. The daffodils are the flower of hope to me. They are some of the first to push their way through the snow and let us know spring will come. I am always amazed by their ability to come through. As for fear of the future, that’s only a concern if you have one. When you are told it’s no longer a long term option, you change your focus and really begin to live in the moment. Like you, I make lists, lots of them. They ease my mind and I get done what I can and move the rest to the next day. People are always at the top of my list for any day. If someone wants to spend time with me, then what needs doing, waits. I also suffer from acute anxiety. Mostly social anxiety oddly enough. Playing music and audio books to get my mind out of the overthinking loop is vital. I unfortunately know exactly what you are talking about. It’s easy to say the future is none of my business. I think it’s our basic nature to want some control over it. Sometimes, that’s just not the option we get. We can choose how we respond to the future we get. Good post for thought and it has made me think. Giant squishy hugs.

    • Marlene, I think the sunny hopefulness of the daffodil is why I love it so. I think it’s interesting that people are at the top of your list, yet you also have social anxiety. I think there are a lot of us who share that seemingly paradoxical personality. Since Jeff’s death I have come to realize that I am truly an introvert. For the most part, the solitude has been healing for me, and remains so even now that I must surely be past some of the exhaustion. Thinking of myself as an introvert seems counter-intuitive in many ways, since I too love people, but I tend to enjoy them most one-on-one or in small groups. Perhaps over the years I grew more like Jeff simply from living with him. YES, thank God for audio books and music to snap me out of the “overthinking loop.” Jeff was really good at that for me– vital, really– so that has been one of the biggest adjustments I’ve had to make in living without him. Since I still never turn on the TV, books on tape are good company. I’ve come to love the voices of certain narrators — Wanda McCaddon, John McDonough, Jim Dale and Lisette Lecaux are all enormously talented fiction readers, and I love hearing Malcolm Gladwell or Anne Lamott read their own work. I sometimes wonder how women of past generations, who were often isolated on the frontier or as immigrants in a new country, managed to cope with being alone. I suppose they were kept busy just surviving.

      • It is a paradox to be an introverted extrovert or vise versa. I love people and enjoy company but I’m so filled with anxiety that once I’m alone again, I have to rest for awhile. They don’t drain me, my anxiety does. I’d like to see it gone. I do turn on the TV and will binge watch anything that makes me laugh. I need a lot of laughter these days. Have a great weekend. Hugs.

        • Sheila, I think a lot of mine is anxiety too, although it doesn’t hit me until later. I think I will start watching some funny shows again soon. Usually I just “cheat” by grabbing YouTube links of favorite scenes from classic movies, but there’s nothing like a zany film such as What’s Up Doc? or Bowfinger or The In-Laws or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or pretty much anything by Monty Python. And I still totally love The Beverly Hillbillies. Sending ginormous jolly hugs!

          • Finding light television is sometimes very hard. I watched all of the Doc Martin series on PBS and loved every episode. Hallmark is my go to channel and I’ve found a few things on Netflix but it’s tough out there. Time to go journal and read a bit. The time change has messed up my schedule. I should be asleep already. 😦

            • Marlene, my friend Amy loves the Hallmark channel. I should try it sometime. Never heard of the Doc Martin series but I just looked it up and it seems like something I’d really enjoy. Maybe that will be my next Downton Abbey. Yes, the time change (or something) has messed up my body clock too. Oddly I keep waking up an hour earlier than normal, instead of feeling sleepy at get-up time, which is how I’d think it should affect me. So in my case it must be psychological. I’ve noticed that I seldom sleep well the night before I have a long drive or an especially busy day planned. Dr. Low Dog‘s book gave me some good ideas about not fighting the insomnia and learning to see it as one of nature’s typical fluctuations. The anxiety around it can be self-perpetuating. So I’m trying lately just to let my body sleep when it wants to, and making sure to rest (as she describes doing herself) even when I can’t sleep. Jeff used to enjoy hearing Dr. Low Dog lecture at the ADA meetings he would attend. He was very conservative and not generally into alternative medicine, but he felt she gave trustworthy advice.

              • Doc Martin will make you laugh. Martin
                Clunes has several series on Netflix about animals which shocked me as he plays a stodgy character that hates dogs on the series. He’s a wonderful human. I have been taking the “Calm” powdered magnesium to help me sleep and stop the leg cramps. It can run through you though so you have to be prepared. Sleep is tricky as we get older. I have resumed my walks now that the weather is better and so am I. That helps a lot.

                • Hey, thanks for reminding me of that! Mama gave me some of that “Calm” powder not all that long before Jeff died. I remember it did help a lot. I’ll have to try it again. I need to get back to the walking. Thanks for being a good example. 🙂

  6. Harry Sims

    Yesterday is history.
    Tomorrow is a mystery.
    Today is a gift.
    That’s why it is called the present.

    Thank the Lord for this day and for all that is in it.
    My times are in His hand.
    My soul rests with Him, my Anamchara.

    Harry

    • Harry, this is a very good prayer with which to start every day. It has been immensely therapeutic for me to simply turn the entire day over to God every morning. Though I didn’t quite realize it, I did not do that for many years. Of course I had to hit the ground running each morning, getting the boys up and out the door, so I suppose I didn’t have time to think about much of anything during those “Mom” years.

  7. Good morning, Julia!
    For me, “the future is none of my business,” was more a refreshing revelation. It reminded me that the future is in God’s hands, which is why we are supposed to “fear not.”
    Like you, I have allowed my fears to put me into a crabby mood at times. Now I am smiling to myself as I put these two thoughts together …maybe when God says not to fear or worry, it’s in part because He knows how fear can lead to “anger,” and His command is then two-fold: 1. Don’t worry (causing yourself unnecessary grief) and 2. Don’t sin (by taking it out on someone else).
    Yep, God us pretty smart (to say the least)!
    While being concerned for someone, and tending to responsibilities are important, I’ve noticed that excessive worry hasn’t really been helpful to me, really, in any situation.
    Sending prayers for peace, and sending you a big hug, just in case you could use one today. 😉

    • Susan, yes, I could use one– thank you! After I got past my knee-jerk “but what if…” reaction to the idea that I really wasn’t in charge of the future, I too found it refreshing. It just took me awhile to get there. So many things that trouble us are really not our business. That includes a great deal of what is on the news. I do agree with your reflection that God’s frequent exhortations against worry are intended to protect us on many levels– against grief, anger, and maybe also an exaggerated sense of our own importance? I suppose prudence, which I think of as concern that stops short of worry, can be very helpful, but as with so many good things taken to excess, can get out of control very quickly. I think your prayers for peace have borne fruit for me this week. Thank you!! 🙂 ❤

  8. Mike

    Sounds like you are taking good care of yourself. I don’t see much denial of any kind. Self care would include taking as much time as you need. Great advice and there is no time limit here. Unfortunately, our medical profession puts time limits on everything and after a certain number of weeks- or months- 6 I think-labels some situations as, “complicated grief,” and then says there is a pill for that. Who knows what the new normal might be. I am not sure that term even works. Yes the future is very foggy.
    You hear stories about keeping stuff of the loved ones around for too long, like parents of a lost child who keep the child’s room as it was on the day they left.
    Hey I have a problem with eating Chicken in the AM, chicken biscuits etc. I can’t seem to transition- Chick fil’a. Thw wisteria are amazing here.

    • Mike, I think many of the failures of so-called “modern” medicine can be chalked up to substituting professional judgment and time for healing in favor of the “quick fix” in the form of pharmaceuticals. Even when they are a proven remedy (such as with antibiotics) overuse can have adverse long term effects. Under pressure from insurance companies driven by corporate greed, many primary care docs are given only enough time to dash off a prescription and can’t really pay much attention to individual needs and circumstances. My life was saved in 2010 by a thorough, conscientious primary care doctor who reversed an incorrect diagnosis from an ER doc, to correctly uncover a bad case of appendicitis. She knew me and had been my doctor for several years, so that was part of what helped her to make the correct diagnosis. By the time the surgeon got to me (within hours of that same day I saw my primary care doc), gangrene had already begun to set in around the nasty appendix, and further delays would have been life-threatening. But this same doctor, because she was thorough, routinely had a wait time of 2-3 hours no matter when your appointment was made. She refused to stick within the quick window allowed by the insurance company, and the down side was that her appointment book was always full and her patients had to resign themselves to spending long hours in the waiting room every single time they had an appointment with her. I can’t remember ever seeing her with less than an hour’s wait, and usually two or three times that long. BTW, to make a Raynardesque change of subject, I have never, ever eaten chicken in the morning, and I don’t know a single southern person who did until fast food places started marketing chicken biscuits. My advice is not to try to transition to chicken in the morning. If one simply MUST eat some kind of meat with breakfast, I’d stick with pork in the form of crispy bacon or sizzling sausage. Just my opinion which is worth only what you paid for it! 🙂

  9. Mike

    The Doc martin series previously recommended is hilarious and we watched most of them. The ending or series final was a little bit of a letdown.
    The popcorn ball Viburnums are gorgeous here and there is one that is a subtle lime- green that is just spectacular. Very beautiful. And now what is the “Confederate” Azalea.?

    • I definitely plan to watch the Doc Martin series. I think the endings of series tend to be a bit of a let down, especially for a really good series that has gone on for several years with many subplots. It’s really hard to tie all those story lines into neat little bows at the end. I am unfamiliar with viburnum but I did an image search and they are lovely. I think there is a section of them in our York neighborhood. I’ll have to send you the pictures sometime to see if you think that’s what they are. Not familiar with the Confederate Azalea but maybe they need to re-name it before people start wanting to dig them up and get rid of them. 😕

  10. Mike

    No it is the Confederate Rose- a type of Hibiscus that goes from pure white to pink, to red in two days, with a story behind this too of a dying confederate soldier in the field.

    • Wow, I had never heard of the Confederate Rose, but Wikipedia has a nice photo montage of the changing colors within just one day. It does not mention the tale of the dying soldier, but the South is full of interesting folklore, maybe because of the wonderful blending of African American, Scots Irish and Native American roots. This may be an offensive over-generalization, but I think the black, Irish and indigenous American cultures all have a gift for storytelling. Then of course you have areas such as New Orleans with Creole and Cajun influences, to name just one of many subcultures that exist in the southeastern USA. No coincidence that so many great 20th century and contemporary authors come from the South. It’s a far more complex and many-layered region than Hollywood or television implies. I imagine you will make many little discoveries in the coming months– things that those of us who grew up there never knew about, or maybe just took for granted.

  11. Mike

    The little vinette was about the soldier wounded and lying on the then white rose which became pink and then red with his blood. A little morbid. Also the story of the Cherokee rose you have heard that I saw in Canton, A white rose that is a ground cover that sprung on the trail of tears wherever the sojourners tears dropped on the journey. I saw that one at the Funk heritage center in Waleska. This rose is still prokific in the Oklahoma hills, but not sure I have seen it here.
    In Canton there was a large settlement- Etowah trive and some Anglo folks -Brititish? on the river
    into the 1700’s. Wallmart paved it over in 1996 while a big architectural dig was in progress. They , were in a hurry to get the building up and many articfacts were lost and possibly some bones too. It was a gravesite. People who work there say the place is haunted. I was there yesterday. You would think there might be some kind of a monument there or at least a plaque to give a little history. Nothing- nada. The Funk museum has a nice display of some of the artifcacts, including a huge petroglyth.
    Such a sad history and my five year old Gdaugther has no idea of what Indians are or that they lived in this area many years ago. The Canton area has tripled in population in the last ten years,and also the ten years before that- 1990 to 2000. Some say it is “white flight.” I don’t know about that, but it is still growing and I see very few minorities, save for the Hispanics who work at the local chicken factory in Canton. Some folks tell me Atlanta is, “very segregated still.” Actually there are quite a few Hispanis around Canton.
    Many wonderful writers ffrom the South and such a mix of cultures. I hope to get to the Carter center soon. I have not run into the Cajun= Creole thing yet. but hope too.
    The Etowah tribes are a very different culture from our Northwest Salish and Coastal folks, but they both lived in long houses. And the Etowah had pottery, which we don’t see in the Northwest.

    • I’m not familiar with Canton, but I would imagine that the northern outposts of the metro Atlanta area tend to be where most white people coming into the area or relocating nearby will choose to move. My observations of the Atlanta metro area (based mainly on the eastern side, such as the Decatur area, and the south side of Atlanta and Fulton County, such as East Point where I grew up) seem to me to indicate that it is one of the most diverse areas of the country. In Atlanta, the political power and affluence are certainly not limited to Caucasians– just ask Tyler Perry or Evander Holyfield, or any number of rap/hip-hop stars who call Atlanta home (Mr. Holyfield lives very near my parents’ former home). Atlanta has had an African-American mayor pretty much every term since I was a young girl. In contrast, Jeff and I used to be amazed when we would vacation in the non-urban areas of northeastern states– Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, etc. — how it seemed like at least 90% of the people we saw were white. Definitely different and more segregated than we grew up with or were used to seeing. Re: paving over the burial grounds, that is the sad part about population growth. If the population of Canton has tripled, that means the local government has to fund more schools, fire stations, police services etc. and those services need to be in place as soon as the people get there– thus local governments rely on the Wal-Marts and other big businesses to bring in the revenue, since they must stay AHEAD of population growth, and don’t want to slam new homeowners with the full tax burden. Sadly, that means paving over all kinds of stuff. Thus, when people move out of the city, it’s not always “white flight” — sometimes it’s “paved-over site flight.” 😀

  12. Mike

    What is the Judy Collins song about ,” Paving paradise and putting up a parking lot?” If you pave over it -well is is gone and forgotten.

    • Yep, pretty inevitable. BTW, when Joni Mitchell wrote those words in “Big Yellow Taxi,” I always thought that the “tree museum” she refers to in the second verse of that song must have been Muir Woods, just outside San Francisco, which has always charged admission to see the giant Redwoods.

  13. Mike

    I think you hit the nail on the head about the current state of brokeness in our medical system. Kudo’s t o your primary doc. And all in all we treat symptoms and never really get to the base causes of much disease states- mental or physical. I can speak to that from person experience too. If a pill will do then goodbye to you.

    • Yes, we are entirely too pill-dependent. There are many, many ailments that no pill can ever fix. But I’m thankful for the ones we do have, especially when the antibiotics are able to wipe out a nasty infection that in former times would have been life-threatening.

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