They’re the most important part of a sentence. They communicate action and movement. They demonstrate time and progress. They matter. And I’ve been editing myself a lot lately.
I found that in my post-surgery, bionic-foot, limping and sore state that I was unconsciously shifting all my verbs to past tense.
I used to run. I enjoyed working out at the gym. I missed what it was like to walk pain free.
Past tense was the indicator in my speech that my heart was burdened. I looked back longingly to things that used to be easier or times I felt more carefree. Reflection is powerful and I engage in that regularly. Looking back and recalling where we have come from can give us gratefulness in what we’ve been brought through. Looking back can give us courage to keep going. In scripture, the people of God are regularly instructed to construct altars of remembrance to commemorate an event and share the story with their children to keep the memory alive.
But I wasn’t talking in past tense like an altar of remembrance. I was talking in past tense bitterly like Naomi in the book of Ruth when she says, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” (Ruth 1:20-21). Past tense verbs can betray a sense of loss or longing for the past, but they also do not allow for movement, progress, or celebration in the future. There can be a sense of emptiness in our past tense verbs that strips the future of hope.
I cannot change my injury. I cannot unbreak my foot or avoid the need for reconstructive surgery. I cannot answer my own anxious questions about the future.
But I can change my speech.
And to that end, I have become a big fan of the present continuous tense.
I am getting stronger. I am doing my exercises. I am 1% better today than yesterday. I am thankful for what I have been brought through. I am confident there will be more strength, balance, movement, and progress to come.
Present tense verbs can hold the tension between what has transpired and what could be. They are aware of the past and hope for the future. They don’t ignore what has brought us to this very spot, nor do they ignorantly assume that we’ll stay here forever. They talk about the now, allow for joy and lament, and describe what is… and what could be.
I can’t change my struggles in life over the past year, but I can change my tense.