Why Living in the Future Doesn't Work

Ann Spangler
Ann Spangler
2016 5 May

a fantasy future illustration of a boy on a beach at night

Have you ever tried living in the future? I have, and I can tell you it’s a flat-out failure. As a strategy for escaping or even resolving present problems, it simply doesn’t work.

Audrey Niffenegger is the author of a fascinating love story, The Time Traveler’s Wife. Like all good love stories, the main characters, Henry and Clare, have to prove their love despite all obstacles. In their case, the most nettlesome obstacle is Henry’s odd habit of slipping in and out of time. To complicate matters, this strange phenomenon occurs without warning and without his permission. Though such a condition would be obstacle enough for any relationship, things are made more difficult by the quirky fact that whenever Henry time travels, he does so without clothes. Whenever he arrives in his new time zone, which may be many years in the future, he has to find a way to adjust to his altered circumstances while looking for creative ways to clothe and provide for himself. (Remember, naked men don’t carry wallets.) Over and over, he arrives at his destination totally unprepared to deal with it.

This wonderfully strange story is a great parable for understanding why living in the future simply doesn’t work. We don’t have the resources for dealing with it. For one thing, we’re not yet the people we will be. Even if we had the ability to time travel, we might be unnerved by future events, little realizing that God intends to use the intervening years to make us into the kind of people who can handle them.

Plus, unlike Henry, our anxiety about what might happen will propel us into a false future, one that likely will never happen. That leaves us tilting at windmills, wasting precious energy that could better be spent on living fully in the present moment, which may indeed provide us with a better future.

By making the case that we can’t live in the future, I’m not saying we shouldn’t plan for the future in practical ways. I am only making the point that we can’t spend our best energies on worrying about what might or might not happen. That’s a recipe not for peace but for insomnia.