A friend told me today he’ll be leaving his enviable job and enviable group of friends in an enviable city to do something that’s more true to who he is. It coincided with a “team day” at work — the type of day you hash out your mission and identity a little more, encourage individuals on the team to consider their strengths, think big about how we can grow, improve, excel. As the day drew to a close, I found myself weighing how to approach the significant questions it had presented me with: where to spend our limited time, how to be excellent, how to be true. Always slightly dissatisfied, and very aspirational, I often crave the luxury of knowing as solidly as my friend seemed to know — or to have discovered — exactly how to bring things into reality. How to find what’s true, what resonates, what’s whole, and make it real.
I took a theology class or two in university. Truth be told, I remember less than I would like. But one of the things I remember was a discussion of a popular vein of eschatological thinking that was termed “Already/not yet.” To grossly over-simplify the concept (sorry, theologically astute friends), this phrase explains one way to think of the tension that some Christians (those who believe the “Kingdom of God” hasn’t fully dawned) find themselves in. Love has already come in the person of Christ, but the full revelation and materialization of all that is love, all that is good, is not yet complete.
What I find sticks with me about this paradigm is not the finer points of the theology — at this point in my life I’m somewhat theologically indifferent when it comes to the more ambitious paradigms such as The Kingdom of God (who knows, that could change). What sticks with me is the tension and the layers of meaning in it. It’s a sort of useful metaphor for me when thinking about the human condition, or to be more self-centered — my condition.
I think the tension between being in the moment and striving for the better is articulated so nicely by that phrase. I’m already grateful. Already have everything I need. Already can act on my dreams. Already love and am loved. Already can create. And the “not yet” mantras in my head sometimes keep me from the richness of “already.”
But the “not yet” is real, too. Some afternoon, when he was tired of hearing me berate myself for my insatiable desire for more, my husband dropped the sentence: “When you stop desiring you stop living.” (I don’t know if he got this from some more canonically important character, so I’ll credit him with it for now) And he was right.
We are wired to desire. It’s a survival skill and a life drive. It makes us care. And those of us who are wired creatively are also wired to want to make things better. Our desire to build a meaningful life through a myriad of mediums is life-affirming.
But it can also become a bit of a monster if it takes over. If you can never be present: never get to know where you are, who you are, who others are, in this moment without projecting how to become better.
When I was a girl, all the bookmarks and name cards I received as gifts had the definition “True Image” under the name “Veronica.” I discovered much later that the meaning is a popular myth, springing from the legend of Saint Veronica. And though the actual meaning (“She who brings victory”) is so rockstar I’ll take it any day, I still like the folklore meaning.
I like “True Image” because it makes me think of being true.
Of honesty. Of living honestly.
Of doing what you know to do when you know to do it.
Of accepting that we don’t always know what that next step is, however we desire perfection or improvement.
Of trusting the tension. Of living truly in the tension between already and not yet. Being true to both the moment and our aspirations.
And trusting that the truth — the authenticity of being truly ourselves and truly awake — will lead us to take the right turns in the road when they present themselves.