Chasing the Rainbow’s End
Why is it so easy for us to focus on the past (which we can’t change) or the future (which may never come) and ignore the present?
Have you ever felt stuck in the past? In his book, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis described the past as “a frozen river which no longer flows”. The past is gone and unchangeable, but sometimes we act like it’s still flowing. We replay events over and over in our minds and let ourselves wonder how it could have been different while thoughts of “why” and “if only” drag us into despair. Ruminating thoughts of what went wrong in the past extend gripping, monster fingers into our present.
Even our sweet memories can keep us stuck if we hold on to them in unhealthy ways. When my daughter died, I wanted to hold on to my life with her. Grief might make us feel like hiding in our past, afraid or unwilling to live the life we have now. Other things in our past can also trap us. Negative memories can keep hurting us long after painful events are over. A positive past can block us from living in the present when we reminisce too much. Those glory days are gone—what are we called to do today?
Are our dreams of the future causing us to be discontent with the life we have right now? Sometimes discontentment can motivate us to make positive changes. But choosing to have a grateful, or at least a trusting heart in all things, gives us a positive start to affect real change. Being grateful for what we have, right now, gives us courage to strive and achieve more. Bitterness, resentment, and envy trap us in the darkness of helplessness and discouragement. Gratefulness fosters hope, so we can see possibilities where others see closed doors.
C.S. Lewis observed that sometimes people are so busy dreaming of the future or fearing the future that they’re not noticing that they aren’t being honest, kind, or happy right now. He called this chasing the rainbow’s end, trying to catch a mortal, temporal happiness which never comes, while neglecting the present. Have you ever been thinking about heroic stories of things you’d like to be and do, only to get interrupted by an unpleasant task in real life and found yourself snapping at someone or doing a slipshod job of whatever it is you had to do? That’s an example of chasing the rainbow’s end while ignoring the present moment. We’re heroic and admirable in our imaginations while being surly and selfish to the real people around us. Being intentional in what we’re doing in the present moment may help us realize a little heroism in our actual lives.
Fear of things that may or may not happen in the future is another distraction from living life in the present moment. Fear drives our news cycles, repeating horrible stories over and over until it seems like violence and mayhem are lurking on every sunny corner. Fear of things that may not ever happen, or will not happen to us, can keep us from living a full life. Caution motivates us to make sensible choices, but fearing and dreading things that haven’t happened yet, and will probably never happen anyway, can blind us from seeing the good that is right in front of us. Our fears may keep us from doing what we are called to do in the present because we forget we can trust God in all things.
How do we know what we’re called to do in the present?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.—Micah 6:8
Our calling is to do the simple things in front of us today. We are called to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. Doing justly might mean emptying the dishwasher so your roommate doesn’t have to do it again. Loving mercy might mean not harping on someone else’s annoying habit. Walking humbly with God can be spending time in prayer, choosing to read scripture each day, and going to Church. These things don’t seem heroic, but honestly, how many of us really do them? How different would our lives be if we did these things?
We dream beautiful dreams of what life might be, but we need to be in the present moment, living not what may be, but what is. Ordinary tasks, when accomplished for the glory of God, bring beauty and grace into our daily lives. If you are responsible about taking care of ordinary dull things, it’ll be easier to be responsible about doing exciting, difficult things which feel more like those beautiful dreams.
Sometimes we think we’re about to catch the rainbow. But no matter how close we get, the rainbow’s end is always just out of our grasp. We think we’ll be happy someday in the future, when we have achieved or become such and such, but that day is always on the horizon, just a tempting dream.
Be happy now, happy in the Lord. Let Him guide your path, moment by moment.
What should you be doing now? How can you live justly, show mercy, and walk humbly with God right now?
C.S. Lewis described the present as “all lit up with eternal rays.” Even when times are dark, eternal light shines for us when we place our hope in God and do what is before us to do in this moment.
How mistaken are those people who seek happiness outside of themselves, in foreign lands and journeys, in riches and glory, in great possessions and pleasures, in diversions and vain things, which have a bitter end! It the same thing to construct the tower of happiness outside of ourselves as it is to build a house in a place that is consistently shaken by earthquakes. Happiness is found within ourselves, and blessed is the man who has understood this. Happiness is a pure heart, for such a heart becomes the throne of God. Thus says Christ of those who have pure hearts: “I will visit them, and will walk in them, and I will be a God to them, and they will be my people.” (II Cor. 6:16) What can be lacking to them? Nothing, nothing at all! For they have the greatest good in their hearts: God Himself!—St. Nektarios of Aegina
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