The Practice of Being Present
I suppose all of us have had the experience of speaking to someone and after a story or question expecting a reaction or an answer and instead getting a blank expression. After a moment of awkward silence the person might snap back to attention and embarrassingly apologize for “zoning out”. Sometimes it’s humorous but often it is insulting or feels downright rude. We like it when the people we’re speaking to give us their attention and stay present to us in the conversation.
This week I’m preparing some video lessons for a group that is exploring how to experience a more intimate, personal relationship with God. My role is to cast vision and discuss practices that can move people in that direction – or at least create space for the Holy Spirit to work in their lives. In my reflection and preparation I’ve been reminded of how important it is to maintain an attitude of attentiveness and to remain “present” and open to God throughout the day. There are so many ways he communicates to us; if we fail to remain “present”, we will miss it.
It can sometimes feel like life is too full or too busy to be able to hear God. We may feel like caring for children or writing reports – or whatever our busyness – crowds out God’s voice or gets in the way of really paying attention. I appreciate what Jean Stairs wrote in Listening for the Soul:
Becoming more conscious of God is not so much about seeking a mystical, out of this world or end of life’s road kind of religious experience, but rather developing a deeper awareness and appreciation of how our everyday experiences abound in the mystery and presence of God. The ordinary events of our experience should not be in the way or apart from the way to living in the presence of God, but the way to it (emphasis mine).
God wants to meet us in our every-day life. He has promised he is with us always (Matthew 28:20) and will never leave nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). There is nowhere we can go that he isn’t right there with us (Psalm 139:7-12). While there is great value in taking time away from normal life activities to seek after God, we usually can’t do that very often. We can start the day with time in God’s word and in prayer. We can take time daily to spend in silence and solitude. But we can also learn to stay present throughout the day to God and open to his breaking into our lives.
In our relationship with God, what does it mean to “be present” to him? How can we live in a posture of “being present” to him? The following are thoughts that are mostly not original with me, but I cannot find where I’ve collected them over the years!
- Staying in the moment – we have a tendency to rush through life, moving from one activity to the next or even thinking ahead to what’s coming instead of being full present in the “now”. We need to learn to be fully where we are in the moment – present to others and to the task at hand. Certainly there are times when we are doing things that this is not needed, but too often we multitask or check out when we need to stay present in the moment.
- Really seeing things – not looking through them (this goes for people too!). We have a tendency to make assumptions or to feel like we already know where things are going. This is closely connected to staying in the moment. It encourages us to slow down and to be aware of what is rather than making assumptions. Rather than forming our response or moving onto the next thing, we need to pay attention. I am often tempted to do this when reading Bible passages that are familiar. I know what it says, but if I check out I may miss how God wants to speak through the verses to me in my life situation today. In the same way, if I assume I know where a conversation is going, I dishonor the other person and may miss important information. In my relationship with God I may miss something he wants me to see or experience or hear.
- Looking at the ordinary with fresh eyes – Have you ever stopped to think how amazing it is that you can pick up a ball and throw it and have it go (more or less) where you aim? Or that you can mix certain ingredients that alone taste horrible but together are delicious? There is so much around that if we were to stop and really pay attention to it, we might be amazed! Barbara Brown Taylor has written, ““Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars.” I often find myself captivated by a smile or the way the wind blows across a field or the way a good author phrases the most common things in poetic beauty. How might God want to speak to us if we would pause to look at the ordinary and mundane with an openness to seeing it afresh?
- Being available to God – If God did speak to me or was to do something that was obviously him around me, are would I obey? Would I slow down to respond? I believe he is constantly speaking to us in a myriad of ways (consider Psalm 19 for example), but most of us have not learned to be available to listen or respond. We may be willing to obey should he speak, but we don’t really believe he will speak. We need to intentionally make ourselves available to him all the time.
- Living in a state of awareness – This can be difficult in many ways. But, as we practice and establish rhythms in our life that help us maintain a posture of receptivity, it can become reality. Last week I was talking to a good friend and we were overwhelmed by how God breaks through the mundane to show glimpses of himself when we walk with a conscious awareness of his presence. We don’t always “feel” his presence, but like the way a certain car we are interested in buying suddenly starts appearing all around us all the time, when we cultivate that awareness, we see him all the time.
- Living in expectancy – Most of us resign ourselves to the thought that we just aren’t that spiritual or just not worthy of God’s speaking to us. But when we come to the realization that He is speaking to us and we are worthy of such intimacy and begin to live in expectancy, we will begin to notice his presence all around us in ways we never had before.
- Living in trust – More and more we need to learn to let go of the need to control so much of our lives. We need to come to a place of trust. As we discover God’s loving presence with us all the time and in so many different ways, we can begin to truly walk moment-by-moment in faith that God will guide us and walk with us in all of life’s experiences and circumstances.
Take time to reflect on your experience. When do you sense God most intimately in your life?
Has there been a time when God showed up or broke in and you were surprised? Why was it surprising?
Is there any way you sense God inviting you to be more intentional to be present to him in your daily life? In what ways? What will you do about it?