The Power of the Mandatory NOW

A homeless youth comes into my office seeking to escape the torture of sleeping in shelters and other people’s hallways. He is only 19 and sick of selling drugs and being hooked into the gang culture, but ultimately, he is tired of being tired. He wants to suddenly find himself transported and living in a brand new reality. In his mind, he has determined to go to Job Core NOW, but the process says he needs to go to an interview, organize finances and get documentation. Due to a miscommunication or lack of listening, the process develops a minor kink. In frustration, like an angry rapper he starts jumping up and down, with his arms flailing he explodes into a colorful display of explicit words, venting his frustration with tears running down his face. No rationale can calm this poor boy down. He wants the solution and he wants it NOW.

A 39 year old male, whom I know well, pounces on me while walking down the street early one morning. He yells at someone to watch and he pulls my goatee rigorously making a “wooo wooo” sound and starts laughing crazily. He is known as the loudest and most eccentric person in Uptown. He suffers from a lack of impulse control, severe bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia and is utterly incapable of holding a job. He is without income and housing. I have been working on getting him the benefits which he qualifies for, but the process can take years and requires significant leg work. After the initial explosion of high drama, we talk about his case, but it is not what he wants to hear! In frustration he storms off. He sits on a milk crate for the remainder of the day, sulking and staring at a blank brick wall, not saying a word to anyone. He wants the solution and he wants it NOW.

These 2 examples are extreme, but they signify today’s need for the NOW. I see it every day, people needing money NOW, bus cards NOW, laundry cards NOW, a job NOW and benefits NOW. The list goes on. Patience and endurance seem to have vanished from their very existence. The effort required to obtain the goal does not seem to enter into the scheme of things. It is a plight that is and can be destructive.

The addictive personalities I see daily, also display the need or the tyranny of the NOW. With extreme passion they hunt down the cocaine, the heroin, the alcohol or the cigarettes to get their fix. That money will come; the only question is how. Coupled with the uneasiness to suffer withdrawal symptoms, the addict runs to their “drug of choice” NOW. It is a bitter and terrifying cycle that results in imprisonment, evictions and expulsions.

With urine stained pants, multiple coats, a flimsy blanket and his duffel bag as a pillow, a 59 year old male battles the harsh winter elements on a local loading dock. I have known him for years, and he has isolated himself because of one important thing; he needs the bottle NOW. He has experienced the rejection of family and friends, shelters and agencies, churches and mosques, due to this ongoing addiction. Through various outreach workers and his close-knit little homeless community, we have pursued goals, discussed plans, set up appointments, prayed and agreed on positive solutions. But he exits my office and the power of alcohol cries “NOW”. Our discussion is flushed down the toilet and he sadly continues to reap many consequences. His health is deteriorating and his quality of life vanished years ago, sadly because of his desperate need to satisfy the mandatory NOW.

In reflection, I need to ask myself if I am different. The power of the mandatory NOW runs rampant in this nation and it sucks me in. I don’t drink alcohol, smoke crack or snort heroin, but I frequently succumb to this powerful force by eating too much, needing caffeine, injecting myself with a technology addiction, fiddling with my iPod touch, watching sport and television and that seductive force called Mammon will always rear it’s ugly head. The NOW forces itself upon me in so many ways, it demands an immediate response and ends up disturbing my responsibilities as a husband, father, employee, and as a member of the Kingdom of God.

There are times to jump and respond immediately, as tragedies and emergencies will always cry respond “NOW”. There are also people who need to rise, make decisions and move, as depression or laziness has consumed them. But, it seems to me, our culture has lost the need to “Be Still”. Money, power and technology have given us an instant world and we are becoming more and more addicted, needing to satisfy the NOW. The tyranny of the mandatory NOW has had devastating effects; causing wars, financial collapses, the disgraceful and sinful gap between the rich and the poor, churches split and divorce rates continue to rise. And sadly, that small list is just the tip of an enormous ice berg.

As the NOW controls and destroys the kingdoms of this world, the Kingdom of God calls us to live in a different time frame. As the wealthy glory in their money and ability to control the NOW, God’s Kingdom calls us to endure hardship and move at His pace. We are told to “Be Still and Know that I am God” within the chaos. The worldly kingdoms tell us to be strong, gain assets and wage war, exploit the vulnerable or hide, so as to escape. The remarkable thing in the Kingdom of God is the need to live in the drama by putting on weakness, by bowing down in prayer, putting down our weapons of strength and instead, arming ourselves with God’s armor, which will pursue peace and the plight of the poor.

As Jesus walked amongst the crowd to heal a very sick 12 year old girl, Jesus was touched by an internally bleeding woman. She was healed immediately and her 12 years of pain, isolation and embarrassment had vanished. But Jesus did a remarkable thing: He stopped and asked who touched the hem of his cloak so he could communicate with this lady who wanted to celebrate quietly alone. He took precious time to communicate with this socially unclean woman and restored her dignity! Time was of an essence for the little girl, so the disciples and the crowd cry “NOW, you can’t stop, we got to go NOW!” In grief, servants arrive and tell Jesus not to go as the girl is now dead. The lady’s social needs are met, but the girl is dead. Jesus ridiculously tells them that the girl is only sleeping, and the crowd laughs and despises his delay. He ends up raising the girl from death and a celebration is had by all. The timing of Jesus was not of this world, but it was always perfect and came to bring life.

Humberto, a tiny 83 year old Guatemalan man graces our shelter. He does not speak English, receives no money and is very fit and active for his age. This man is not consumed by the NOW, but simply, enjoys the day to day. He climbs the stairs to the 4th floor with a smile on face, shakes my hand and does a groovy little dance, laughing. Though we are unable to communicate via words, the joy and appreciation on his face and his generous gifts of 25c bags of “Flaming Hot Puffs” speak a billion words. As he happily wanders away and enjoys the fellowship of other residents and the fragile life he lives, I say to whoever is around “I hope and pray I have his spunk when I am 83”.

Humberto simply reminds me how important it is not to glorify or be controlled by the NOW. I must admit that many of the homeless have become my teachers. They often suppress the power of the mandatory NOW and enjoy the daily gifts of the Creator. Money, materialism and technology are powerful addictive forces pulling us to the NOW, but the poor teach us to continue to cherish the beauty of family, community, generosity and fellowship. They have simply taught me that the latest and greatest is but “chaff blowing in the wind” or “vanities of vanities”, and to simply embrace my lot in life by living out the words, “Be Still and Know that I am God” and “Not my will, but yours be done.”
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