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 “the future 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!


  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.

    • 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, 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!! 🙂 ❤

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