One of the things we Twelve Steppers are very good at is waiting. I have friends who have years of sobriety, and they have waited a long time for it. In the case of my friend Mark, who has 30 years, he waited 10,957 days for it, and he will tell you he only reached 30 years by focusing on one day at a time. Anyone who knows someone in recovery knows that she or he is likely to talk a lot about “taking one day at a time,” or “just doing 24 hours at a time,” or something similar. This is one of a thousand slogans that puzzle outsiders and newcomers, and yet to those who have been in the rooms of recovery for a while, it is as natural as breathing. See, one of the things common to all addicts is that we are people who have a hard time staying present in the moment. We are usually either living in the future or in the past. This is true both for the practicing addict and quite often even for those of us in recovery. And it is one of the things that we often talk about that has been with us our entire lives. I’ve always been that way, of that I am sure: my default posture is living either in the past or in the future, and it always has been. Now, any sane person can see that this way of living is, well, insane. I mean, the past is, for most of us—especially most addicts—so very, very painful to contemplate; and the future is, for people like us who are fear-based, so very overwhelming to consider.
And it is because addicts are past-dwellers and future-trippers that the architects of AA and the other recovery programs built into the DNA of the programs the idea that, if we are to get well and stay well, we must lose this past and future obsession and learn to live today. Just today. “You can do anything for just one day” we say to the newcomer who is shaky from withdrawals and overwhelmed at the idea of “never taking another drink.” And, sure enough, pretty soon, she discovers that she can stay sober 24 hours at a time. And, so tomorrow, if she is working a program of recovery, she’ll do it again. And then again. And then, after awhile, she’ll come into a meeting and announce that she has 30 days of continuous sobriety. Then, sooner than it takes to write this, it seems, she’ll be celebrating one year of sobriety, and then five, and then… But I am getting ahead of myself. I tend to do that.
Another well-worn saying in our rooms is that “time takes time.” As in, “I know you are grieving”—the loss of a marriage, or a mother, or a brother, for example—“but it will be better in time. And, of course, time takes time.” Yes, time takes time. And it is only by paying attention today—just the 24 hours of today—that time passes at all.
So. Why all this contemplation on chronology? Why consider the struggles and hard-won wisdom of people who are either stuck in morose nostalgia or who are high on wild future expectations? Because it is late November. You know: “Christmas.com.” When all the sounds and sights of the secular culture are simply surreal with a vacuous faux celebration of Christmas.
Now properly understood, this should be a waiting time. An in-between time. It is not even December yet. It is just five days after Thanksgiving. And—I cannot shout this loudly enough: It is not yet Christmas! In fact, if you want to be precise about it, it is not even Advent yet. You remember Advent? That lovely season of expectant waiting that traditionally signaled the beginning of the Church year? The one with four Sundays, each creeping a little closer, day by day, to the festival of Christmas? Well, Advent I—ie the first Sunday of Advent—this year is December 2. THAT, my friends, and not O- Dark-Thirty the morning after Thanksgiving, signals the beginning of the sacred season that leads us slowly, ever so slowly, one day at a time slowly, toward Christmas.
But, you may ask, what difference does it make how we Christians celebrate the several weeks before Christmas? Well, if I have learned anything in recovery, it is about the beauty that comes with celebrating each day as it comes, about not allowing myself to get too far out over my skiis in jumping towards the future. It is that time takes time, and that if I go slowly, precisely 24 hours at a time slowly, then I am at a place where I can receive the still small gifts that God has in mind for me.
Like the beauty of late Fall: blustery days blowing the few remaining gold leaves around and around until they finally sail down to the ground for good. Like the quiet and warm memories of last Thursday, when family and friends gathered to give thanks, despite serious illness in our midst. Like the newly remembered joy of building a simple wood fire to warm hearth and home, or of enjoying a good hot cider. But you’ll notice: NONE of those joys are available to me if I am rushing headlong from the last holiday into the next one., forgetting to look around me right now. The fact is that right now—these ten days between Thanksgiving and Advent—are no holiday at all. Except in the most ordinary holy sense that they are the simple, holy days of now, the “holy-day” of today. Advent will come soon enough, and the Twelve Days of the Christmas Mystery, too. And then it will be January: ugh. See? See what I mean about future tripping? Ha. Serves us right. The thought of January is surely deterrent enough to keep us focused on today.
Jesus said that tomorrow will take care of itself, and he invites us like birds and flowers simply to live today. Time takes time. And so do festivals, and they take their time in arriving. And so we Christians would do well to learn from our friends in recovery how to live one day at a time. Especially now, when our rootless culture seems to pull so hard for us to lose ourselves in some manufactured, commercial frenzy. One day at a time. It is a good way to live. Especially now.
Make it a good day.