The Christian Case for Carpe Diem
Why seizing today matters.
A couple of years ago I remember seeing an interesting Pepsi ad. It depicted young people celebrating, socializing, and having a generally great time on what seemed to be a rooftop party. The ad concluded with the campaign’s slogan, “live for now.” The whole thing felt like a promotion for a life of depravity and debauchery—essentially, that one should embrace momentary pleasures with disregard for future consequences.
Commercials like this Pepsi one have long influenced me to think that living for the moment was a bad thing. There couldn’t be a more naturalistic perspective, I thought. Christians are to be the most future-oriented people of all with eyes gazing past death and into eternity, right? What’s more, I found the Church reinforcing this mindset by saturating sermons with encouragements to “Follow your dreams,” and that “Your best days are right ahead of you.” Simply put, I’ve never been exposed to a “live for now” outlook on life that has come from the Christian community.
That is until now, of course.
You see, living for the moment and living wildly do not necessarily go hand in hand. Where the secularists get it wrong is that they conclude something like, “If I live for today, I’ll just pretend I won’t have to deal with the ramifications of my decisions.”
But that’s not how that goes. After all, by putting greater emphasis on the present, wouldn’t someone be more inclined to make better decisions since it would require more focus and time? It is the person who is so future-focused that they neglect the importance of smaller, everyday actions and thus unwittingly damage their future. He is sawing off the branch on which he sits!
C.S. Lewis reveals the alternative in Mere Christianity:
A more Christian attitude, which can be attained at any age, is that of leaving futurity in God’s hands. We may as well, for God will certainly retain it whether we leave it to Him or not. Never … commit your virtue or your happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment “as to the Lord.” It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.
Living for today is all that we can do. We can’t live and take action tomorrow because we only exist today. We have no control over tomorrow and we never will. Duty can only be done and grace can only be received today, in this moment.
Today is what we are given. That is all.
After the Lord personally showed me this reality, it ushered in a deep sense of relief followed by conviction. I was relieved because for the first time I felt I didn’t need to strive endlessly in mind and body to make tomorrow turn out the way I hoped. I often became frozen, like a deer in headlights, in deep thought about my future. It was very stressful, to say the least. And that is precisely why I was convicted. I finally understood that the reason I stressed tomorrow so much was pride and control.
I needed to control my future because surely I knew how it should pan out better than God. I couldn’t fully let go of my hopes for tomorrow and place them into His hands. That’s asking a great deal of me! What if He doesn’t come through? Or worse, what if His plans aren’t what I want them to be—what if they aren’t my plans?
But as Jeremiah 29:11 reminds us, God’s plans are good! Plans of “hope and a future.”
I also realized that I made an idol of my future. Frequent daydreams of that perfect life drenched my mind. It’s coming soon. Certainly. I thought to myself. I just need to hurry through this scrappy present so I can receive my future. Once I’m there, in my perfect life, I’ll be happy. I hadn’t realized that it was an idol. I did what Lewis advised against: I committed my virtue and happiness to the future.
How often I have neglected the small joys and blessings of everyday life because I was moving too quickly to receive them. I knew little of the irony that in receiving those momentary blessings, the future takes care of itself. It doesn’t work out in spite of a slower paced, live-for-the-moment kind of life. It works out because of it. By embracing today by receiving and giving all you can in it, you are surely setting yourself up for a better tomorrow.
This is no surprise. Jesus Himself told of this simple principle for healthy living:
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. – Matthew 6:33-34
God knows your desires. So just loosen up your death clutch on life and give it to God.
Tomorrow can surely be thought of, hoped for and even planned for. It must certainly be prayed for. But we are nonetheless given today. That is all we have. We’re given this moment and it is our duty to live it out in a way that honors God. He’ll deal with the rest.