I am not much of a New Year’s resolution maker, but one January, I desired a different focus and decided to call it a present of presence that I would gift to myself.
I imagine that there have always been distractions in life that make it hard to be fully present to others and truly live in the moments of life. But the ways to distract and interrupt have multiplied in recent years. Smart phones, earbuds, and a constant bombardment of instant information make the practice of presence a great challenge. Multi-tasking is rampant, revered, and rewarded.
My simple, yet challenging to live out, new year’s focus cried out for attention and practice in so many places. It was an invitation to genuinely experience the luxurious hot showers that had become so routine and taken for granted as I worked to slow my racing thoughts and really feel the warm, extravagant water on my skin. Time spent in this place brought to heart and mind a conversation with a beautiful Australian woman who had lived many years in a small hut in Africa with orphaned boys. She was receiving an award and had spent several days in a nice American hotel. “What are you enjoying most about your visit to our country?” I asked. Her reply startled me. “The hot showers. They are a luxury.”
This commitment to being present called out when more than four dollars was exchanged for a cup of coffee. The bidding was to slowly savor the taste rather than mindlessly gulp it down. At the dinner table, the invitation was to mindfully be present in the moments by truly tasting the food prepared, sipping the wine poured, and fully engaging in conversation with those I love.
I made a commitment to notice when I was talking on the phone with someone and at the same time checking email…or unloading the dishwasher or driving. How can I truly listen to someone when my mind is split in two or three? How can I ignore the growing scientific evidence that all of this multi-tasking has some pretty serious long-term effects on memory and brain cells? There are so very many valuable reasons to slow it all down. One of the best is that my husband and children certainly know and feel the difference between a totally distracted wife/mom and one who is engaged and attuned to their needs and words. I accept that as the ongoing work of being more fully in the moment continues, this present is not just for myself but also a gift to those I love most.
A new year or any variation of a new beginning is an invitation for a fresh start. To begin again is a gift and a grace in and of itself. The work of becoming more contemplative is ongoing as I tune my ears and heart to experience God in different places and ways.
Most of the churches I have been a part of do not regularly emphasize the Holy Spirit. Yes, it is part of the trinity and acknowledged as one aspect of a three-part God, but not much else is taught nor spoken about the topic.
I have the gift of spending two hours each month in silence while also in the company of others. As we enter this holy space, it begins with fifteen minutes of personal and private meditation set to music, followed by fifteen minutes of silence. I am always amazed by what transpires inside of me during these thirty minutes.
After a four-month hiatus from this group, I entered into this quiet space. I began my practice of mindfully breathing in and out. Within this contemplative space, the Spirit showed up. A flood of healing thoughts, creative force, and grace-filled understanding around many aspects of my life rushed in and out of my heart, mind, and soul. I felt and experienced the presence of God. Rather than a place of guilt, shame, and rules, it is a space full of freedom, grace, and peace.
I remember in younger days hearing of “the peace of God which transcends all understanding,” and having great internal longing to live in such a state. Begging God for such peace did not work. Trying to persuade myself of the idea that all Christians should live in such a state did not work. Receiving and dispensing judgment upon my inability to maintain such a stance did not work. The only thing that has led to change and more time living life in the midst of grace and peace is the hard work of changing my mind and heart and beliefs around so much that I thought I knew.
Those closest to me recognize that I am now a person who exudes more peace and joy. I am not able to explain or defend all of the physiological and spiritual reasons that a focus on meditation and silence has contributed to this, but I can testify to the truth of it. These days there is a great deal of science to support my experience. A contemplative perspective and practice as both mom and person of faith is leading the way to true knowledge of grace. I am most grateful for the journey.
The promises made inside my church have come up short. Fear, damnation, and the wrath of God create hollow spaces within. Where is the grace, the love, the gentleness with self and others?
The voices inside my head are sometimes loud. Echoes of harsh words seared on a tender heart. But they do not have the final say.
There is a quiet “come away with Me” invitation that whispers into my soul. Be still. Know. I am God. You are beloved. Together we can quiet the inner voices so that you can join in the heartbeat of grace and love all around.
Thank you for joining me on this Becoming More Contemplative series. If you haven't read Adopting Grace: A Parenting Journey from Fear to Freedom, the kindle version of my book is currently part of a Goodreads giveaway promotion. You are invited to join in this giveaway fun.
Travis Bradberry, October 8, 2014, https://www.forbes.com/sites/travisbradberry/2014/10/08/multitasking-damages-your-brain-and-career-new-studies-suggest/#39799e5756ee
 Phillipians 4:7