Lessons From Confinement: Plan for Tomorrow, But Hope in God
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” — Jesus, Matt. 6:34
When’s this coronavirus crisis going to end? No one really knows. When will the economy recover? When will the stock market bounce back? When will we all be back to work again? That’s even harder to predict.
When do you hope it’ll happen? That may not be such a good question to dwell on. Better to take it a day at a time instead.
Lessons From the Hanoi Hilton
I heard a talk once by a retired Navy admiral who’d been one of the longest-held POWs during the Vietnam war. He said two things about attitudes that kept men strong for the duration. First, he said it was very clear that faith in God kept believers going stronger than unbelievers. That didn’t surprise me much, but the second thing did.
He said there were some men who were counting on getting out by the next holiday. Christmas. Easter. Their wedding anniversary. The months went by, the holidays came, and they were still stuck. Disappointed. Crushed. Time after time their hopes were struck down. Many of them crumbled.
Other POWs resolved to take it one day at a time, not daring to try to predict when it would be over — and they did noticeably better.
You’d think hope would have helped keep them all going, and you’d be right to a degree: Hope in the Lord really did keep men strong, those who had that hope. But disappointed hope? That did some of them in.
Where the Lesson Fits, and Where It Doesn’t
Our situation with the coronavirus isn’t completely on par with the POWs’. They had absolutely no decision-making responsibility, whereas anyone who runs a business, or even a household, has to think through the what-ifs in light of how long this thing could last. But we still have one crucial thing in common: We’re stuck, and we don’t know for how long. Is there still a lesson we can learn from the Hanoi Hilton?
I think there is. Jesus speaks to it in Matthew 6:25-34, ending with the line quoted above. First he reminds — or rather instructs us — not to be anxious for tomorrow, because God is good enough to take care of us. We don’t know what’s coming next, but God does, and He loves us.
Then he closes this segment of his sermon with the clearest one-line teaching you’ll ever see on living one day at a time. This is exactly what some of the POWs did, and it served them well. We can do it, too, even where we have responsibilities that extend into the future. How?
The first answer is obvious: Make it through today. Make today the best it can be, even. My wife and I are talking more than ever about what we’re thankful for: each other, a good home, a reasonably well-stocked refrigerator and pantry, a working furnace, even electricity and running water. We’re not always this aware of what a blessing those things are.
Today in Light of Tomorrow’s Unknowns
But what about planning for the future? Can we do that while still practicing the principle of living one day at a time? Sure. It boils down to three questions, though the first one is the one that really matters: What decisions and what action do I need to make today? What do I need to know today in order to make the best decisions? How much of that is actually knowable today?
We can control today’s decisions and actions. We can do our best to obtain the information we need to decide what needs deciding. We can’t control tomorrow’s outcome, though; in fact, we can’t even control tomorrow’s decisions or actions, not until tomorrow becomes “today.” And although we’d love to know everything so we can plan perfectly, we can’t throttle a single one of all the huge unknowns into compliance. We can only work today with information that’s available today.
So we do what we can to understand what we can understand — today. We make our best-informed decisions so we can do what we can — today. If the decision is to do something tomorrow, we put it on the calendar — today. Then we can forget it until tomorrow. It’s tomorrow’s work. Making the decision was today’s work, and that’s done.
And when we’ve done all of today’s work, we’re done for today. It’s time to rest and thank God that we’ve made it through another day, and that we’ll make it through tomorrow, too; for although tomorrow has its uncertainties, God’s character remains certain.
Plan for Tomorrow, But Hope in God
Knowing this, believers can view tomorrow with calm no matter what happens. That’s our privilege in Christ, by His grace. (I really don’t know how unbelievers remain at peace in a time when nothing about the future is certain — nothing but the proverbial death and taxes.)
The POW lesson is a good one, though, if we revise it in view of the decision-making we have to do. Or here’s another way to put it:
We’re wise if we plan and act today in light of our best educated guess about the future. But just as we’d be unwise to be anxious about tomorrow, we’d also be unwise to pin our hopes on it, when tomorrow is so far beyond knowing.
Pinning our hopes on the future works great if it all turns out right; otherwise, as the POWs discovered, it can do more harm than good. Let’s live today as today, and put our hopes in the Lord, for He is constant. One way or another, the future is bound to disappoint our hopes. God never will.
Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream, and the author of the forthcoming (summer 2020) Too Good To Be False: Unexpected Ways Jesus’ Story Can Strengthen Your Faith. He’s also written A Christian Mind: Thoughts on Life and Truth in Jesus Christ and Critical Conversations: A Christian Parent’s Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens, and was the lead editor of True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism.
Originally published at Thinking Christian. Used by permission.