The art of being present in the moment is a process. I’m rarely good at it because I’m a communicator. Communicators like to talk. Being present requires stillness, and I pride myself on keeping busy.
This past week, however, I had the honor and privilege to sit with my young friend Jonathan who has been seriously ill in the hospital. I’ve had a lot of practice sitting and waiting in hospitals with my own son Michael, but when you do it for someone outside your immediate family, it’s a different story.
Let me first say that I’m a person who loves to work. My calendar rarely allows space for extended hospital visits. I’m not the person who makes you a casserole when you’re down and out. It’s not likely that I’ll walk your dog or mow your lawn while you’re away on vacation. I’m just not wired for that level of service.
I do, however, have a servant’s heart, and it seems to show up in ways that God has gifted me. I’ll help you maneuver complex systems or prepare a strategic plan for your company. Figure out how to empower your employees, mend a relationship, or write a book. Stuff that I know how to do.
But, to sit, hold your hand, be still and fully present in the moment, well, that’s a bit of a stretch for a mind like mine.
Here’s what I learned about the art of being present from Jonathan this past week.
Presence Starts with Being Alone with God
We’ve all been in consistent prayer for Jonathan. I wake in the middle of the night and somehow feel that perhaps he’s struggling, so I pray.
I’ve come to understand, however, that if I’m not consistent in my stillness before God, prayer is much more difficult. For me, prayer requires that I first connect with God in silence and solitude. Nothing is required in this stillness. I’m not looking for answers or making requests. I’m simply quiet and still.
Stillness can be a great challenge because we naturally have busy minds that quickly jump to a marathon of tasks that we want to get to now.
There are a multitude of meditative practices that can help settle the mind toward stillness before God. Contemplatives speak to meditation on scripture, a mantra, the Jesus prayer, or even focusing on the breath. The moment you notice that the mind has wandered, return to the practice. The point is to be silent in order to experience the presence of God.
A practice of stillness then creates space for awareness of God in every moment. It’s like the difference between postal mail and email. You don’t have to wait for the message to land in your mailbox. The messages just keep flowing in. And, as you come to more fully know God, you develop a deeper presence of self.
Presence of Self Equates to Presence with Others
Presence of self flows from presence with God. When I know who God is and how he’s designed me, I can be more present with others.
I’m a strategic thinker, so it’s difficult for me to be fully present with Jonathan because my mind is constantly thinking about what needs to be done to help him fully recover. Jonathan has taught me, however, that sometimes stillness is what is required. This means I have to focus more on his needs in the moment than I do my own tendency to solve problems.
Author David Benner states that in order to be fully present with others we must be still within our own soul.
“Stillness is the precondition of presence. I must first be still to myself if I am to be still with another. And, of course, I must learn to be still before God if I am
to learn to be still in myself. Presence begins with a still place within one’s self. If I have no such still inner place, I cannot really be present for others.”
The art of being present matters, then, because it flows from God into how we experience our sense of self and how we relate and serve others. Presence allows me to be aware of how God would have me use my giftedness in a particular moment.
Many visitors have come to see Jonathan over the last several weeks. They have come bearing gifts, prayers, and words of encouragement. One woman brought him a cowboy hat. Another delivered a hand made prayer shawl. I love the variety of ways that people reach out in such challenging moments—each effort unique to the visitor and his/her relationship to Jonathan.
Time alone with God has told me that perhaps my role is a bit different. Jonathan’s mom Jeannie and I are two women who both know the joy and worry of having a son with a disability. I come less as a visitor and more as someone available to serve her and Jonathan through this process of healing as needed.
The good news is, God is in the house. As he calls each of us to serve in our own unique way, this, I know for sure.