One Day at a Time
J. R. Miller, 1903
"And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day." Genesis 1:5
One of the secrets of happy and beautiful life, is to live one day at a time. If we would learn it, it would save us from the worry that in so many people spoils the days, and would add immeasurably to the value of the work we do. For, really, we never have anything to do any day—but the bit of God's will for that day. If we do that well—we have absolutely nothing else to do.
Time is given to us in days. It was so from the beginning. We need not puzzle ourselves trying to understand just what the "day" was in which God wrought in creating the universe—we may leave this matter to the scientific men and the theologians; but it is interesting to know that each day had its particular apportionment in the stupendous work. At the end of each of the creative periods we read, "There was evening and there was morning, one day." So it has been ever since.
Time is measured to us by days. Each day has its particular section of duty, something that belongs in between sunrise and sunset, that cannot be done at all if it is not done in its own hours. "There was evening and there was morning, one day, a second day, a third day." This breaking up of time into little daily portions means a great deal more than we are accustomed to think. For one thing, it illustrates the gentleness and goodness of God. It would have made life intolerably burdensome if a year, instead of a day, had been the unit of division. It would have been hard to carry a heavy load, to endure a great sorrow, or to keep on at a hard duty, for such a long stretch of time. How dreary our common task-work would be—if there were no breaks in it, if we had to keep our hand to the plough for a whole year! We never could go on with our struggles, our battles, our suffering—if night did not mercifully settle down with its darkness and bid us rest and renew our strength.
We do not understand how great a mercy there is for us in the briefness of our short days. If they were even twice as long as they are, life would be intolerable. Many a time when the sun goes down—we feel that we could scarcely have gone another step. We would have fainted in defeat—if the summons to rest had not come just when it did.
Night with its darkness seems to be a blot on the whiteness of day. It seems to fall across our path as an interruption to our activity, compelling us to lay down our work when we are in the very midst of it, leaving it only half done. It seems to be a waster of precious time, eating up half the hours. How much more we could accomplish, we sometimes say, if the sun did not go down, if we could go on without pause! Night throws its heavy veil over the lovely things of this world, hiding them from our view.
Yet night really is no stain on the splendor of day, no thief of time, no waster of golden hours, no obscurer of beauty. It reveals as much beauty as it hides—for no sooner has the sun set, leaving earth's splendor of landscape, garden, and forest in gloom—than there bursts upon our vision the other splendor of the sky filled with glorious stars.
When the privilege of work is interrupted, God has another blessing—the blessing of sleep. One may figure out with mathematical certitude that it is a waste of time to spend one-third of each day in the idleness of sleep. But these hours, which seem to be lost, in which we appear to be doing nothing, bring us new gifts from God.
An old version renders the Psalm verse, "He gives his beloved in sleep." We lie down with our vitality exhausted in the toils and struggles of the day. Then, while we sleep, God comes to us in the silence and stillness, and refills the emptied fountains. It is really a new creation that takes place in us while we sleep—a miracle of renewal and restoration! We die, as it were—and are made to live again.
Thus we get hints of the graciousness of the divine thoughtfulness in giving us time in periods of little days, which we can easily get through with, and not in great years, in which we would faint and fall by the way. It makes it possible for us to go on through all the long years and not to be overwrought, for we never have given to us at any one time more than we can do between the morning and the evening.
Not only are the days short, so that we can go on to eventide with our work or our burden—but they are separated as by an impassable wall, so that there can be no overflowing of one day's care or responsibility into another. Night drops down its dark curtain between the days, so that we cannot see today—anything that is in tomorrow. Our Lord taught us that we sin if we let ourselves try to carry the load of any day, but this one little day.
"Do not worry about tomorrow," he said, "for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." If we allow ourselves to borrow anxiety from tomorrow, we shall find that we have a greater load than we can carry.
The only true way to live, therefore, is one day at a time. This means that we should give all our strength to the work of the present day, that we should finish each day's tasks by nightfall, leaving nothing undone at setting of sun that we ought to have done. Then, when a new morning dawns—we should accept its duties, the bit of God's will it unrolls for us, and do everything well that is given us to do. We may be sure, too, that there is something for each moment, and that if we waste any portion of our day—we cannot make it complete. We should bring all the energy and all the skill of mind and heart and hand to our duty as we take it up, doing nothing carelessly or negligently. Then we can lay our day back into God's hand at nightfall with confidence, saying, "Father, I have finished the work which you gave me to do today."
But we should never be anxious about either yesterday or tomorrow. Yesterday is gone, and we never can get it back to change anything in it. It is idle, therefore, to waste a moment of time or a particle of strength fretting over it. Tomorrow is not yet ours, and we cannot touch its life—until it becomes our today. God means us to put our undivided energy into the doing of the present day's work. If we do this, we shall have quite enough to do to fill all the hours and to engage our best energy and skill and strength. In this way, too, we shall best prepare for tomorrow. One day's duty slighted or neglected, prepares confusion and overburdening for the next. The days are all woven together in God's plan, each one following the day before and fitting into the day coming after it. Each takes up the work which the day before brought to its feet, and carries it forward to deliver it to the one which waits. A marred or empty day anywhere spoils the web, losing the thread.
If we learn well the lesson of living just one day at a time, without anxiety for either yesterday or tomorrow, we shall have found one of the great secrets of Christian peace. That is the way God teaches us to live. That is the lesson both of the Bible and of nature. If we learn it, it will cure us of all anxiety; it will save us from all feverish haste; it will enable us to live sweetly in any experience.