Never or Now

By Julie Rhodes

Yesterday, I was driving at sunset with my second-grade daughter in the backseat. She was reading aloud from a chapter book and came across the word horizon. What’s a horizon?

“That’s the horizon,” I said, pointing. “That place where the trees touch the sun, where you can’t see anything beyond it.”

“Can we go there?” Maddie asked.

I thought about this. Yes, we could go to those particular trees cutting out black silhouettes from the orange sun. We could fly like birds and land in those particular branches. But once we land — look! Another horizon in view! There is no catching the sun.  

I can see my future out there. Can’t you? Dusk-beautiful, just sinking behind the tree line. And I’m chasing it, longing forward, yearning ahead with every breath towards it, even just to get to those trees in the foreground. If I could just…

…Get my kids through the spring semester.

…Get that assignment in the bag, the one I’ve been prepping for.

…Get over my illness.

 If I could just get a little closer to the sun, step-by-step, today...

Then what happens? When I reach the trees?

I remember one of my first lucid experiences of the Present Tense. I must have been about ten. My friend Amber had invited me to her grandmother’s house. It was small, modest, and neat; I can see the spindled legs of the Jenny Lind bed in a guest room under a grey braided rug. We had fried chicken at the kitchen table, then ran out onto the back porch under a high-noon sun and a blue sky and bounded towards the trampoline. I still had a chicken leg in my right hand as I jumped. Up and down, up and down. This is…this…

It was the first time I was aware of my own happiness.

No, no, happiness isn’t quite the word, is it? It was the first time I was aware of my body and of being inside it — the warmth on my skin, the crunch of the chicken bursting into flavor under my tongue, the lightness of everything — even all the planets and stars — as I hung suspended in air, a feather girl. A sparrow.

The moment was a table spread for me. A mansion built for me. It was a long calm, full-to-bursting. And yet ever since, for some reason I’m trying to understand and even daring to justify, most of my life has been spent pushing aside that immediacy.

There’s a place in Scripture where Jesus tells his followers to “remain” in him. “Remain in me, and I will remain in you,” he says. (John 15:4). Because, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”

Can’t live. Can’t move. Can’t be.   

The greek word for remain is menō, which implies, among other things: to tarry — a great old-fashioned word people would use when they wanted to TARRY ON THE VERANDA, and other luscious, 19th-century past times.

As a kid, I remember old people saying things like, “If the Lord tarries, I will live to see my grandchildren graduate high school.” They were talking about His second coming, and how he might decide to run late, biding his time up in the heavenly places.  But it was his first coming, really, where Jesus started tarrying. Before he did all his work of dying, rising, ascending, Jesus asked his people to walk with him, follow him, dwell with him. Like lovers lingering on a bridge.

Who has time for that?

Who doesn’t have time for that?

If both things are true about God — That He Is, and that He Is Love — then now is the only possible time to love and be loved. And we have eons of Now. You don’t have to wait for now, don’t have to strain your eyes to see it, or press forward against the wind to arrive at its door. Now is not a horizon, but a home.

Am I willing to be belligerently present tense? For me, it requires a grouchy, hot-headed insistence on living my life with immediacy. I reject — fist-to-table! — the next horizon, even if it’s just the promise of lunch or the prospect of my hot bath after dinner. That will be now soon enough, and I will be out of practice to enjoy it if I don’t insist on tarrying here. With Jesus. We don’t have to catch the sun when the son is now. 

Now is the lunch line. Now is the hangnail. Now is the email chain and the laundry folded and the flickering fire. Now is the child, the dog, the cup, and the song stuck in my head.

Love is now or never.

We Recommend Reading Next: