When I chose the word “presence” as my word for this year, I was expecting at best a life lesson or two that I would learn by spending a little more time in prayer and Scripture that would not necessarily impact the rest of my life. This has not been true. My primary ways of learning real, true presence has been by force. A few simple, without-a-second-thought things have come into my path and made me realize the act of being present in the moment with much more clarity.
I bought a new pair of work shoes with low wedge heels a few weeks ago. The first day I wore them was the second day of standardized testing week, and I was not allowed to sit down during the entire three hours of testing each day. Literally, one of my bosses would come around and tell me to keep walking around if they ever caught me sitting down. I basically covered my feet in band-aids and little no-show pantyhose socks in order to make it through the week. By walking slower that week and being more intentional about where I placed my steps, I was forced to pay attention. All of a sudden, I was seeing things I had not seen before and noticing things I had not yet noticed. I was present.
The second instance occurred when I decided to paint my nails. I was between two loads of laundry and putting new sheets on my bed when I suddenly had the insatiable urge to paint both my fingernails and toenails. (I had new nail polish that I was excited about trying.) The polish took 87 million years to dry, and I was frustrated with the fact that I had to sit still instead of doing all the things I
needed wanted to do next. I was present, albeit frustratingly.
And finally, a cold/allergies/PMS combo left me exhausted and frustrated this week. In addition, the printer at my workplace wasn’t working the entire week, and I had to print a lot at home, and depend on fellow teachers for help. I could not find the best combination of medication to ease any of my symptoms, and I have not taken a shower in 2 and a half days.
Here I am, the morning after this exhausting week, drugged up and covered in Vick’s Vapor Rub, sipping chai tea and eating microwave oatmeal. The floor of my bedroom is littered with used tissues.
It is still difficult to be present.I have five tabs of recipes open on my computer, and I’m trying to calculate prices at certain stores by ounce and cost per portion. I mentally see myself comparison shopping from the Kroger to the Aldi and back again. But I’m not present here.
So I stop the recipe hunting and sip my tea. I listen to the sounds of the cars driving by my apartment complex. It sounds like I am the only person up on this side of the complex. And I try to stop.
Be present. Sit. Listen. Be. Rest.
I’ve been doing yoga for a few months now. I enjoy the stretching and the breathing. I especially enjoy the focus on being in the moment and being with the breath and moving with the breath. When ancient Hindu people did yoga, they tried to clear their minds of everything else, and just focus on nothing. When I, as a twenty-something Christian woman in the 21st century, do yoga, I try to fill my mind with the words of Christ, the breath of my Lord.
By the breath of God, the formless universe took shape. By the breath of God, Adam, Job, and I were crafted. By the breath of God, the Scripture and prophecies therein were composed. By the breath of God, those who come to know Him by His mercy will be cleansed and reborn not by water, but by the Spirit… The Spirit, which is many times known as His very breath.
So often we look at this world and all that must be done and all who must be rescued, and we neglect the very breath of God. We neglect the peace and stillness that comes from being present with the Lord and we jump straight into what we should do next, instead of who we should be now.
I have heard the story of Mary and Martha from Luke chapter 10 enough to know that I hate it. I am a Martha through and through, and I still think she was important and necessary and good. Keeping a clean house and being hospitable and knowing how to cook for a crowd are wonderful, blessed things. Please do not miss those things when you denounce Martha. Her flaw was not that was hospitable. Her flaw was that she did not sit with her Lord (and she complained about her sister to Jesus!). She did not recognize his presence. In essence, she was worried about good things, but she was not present with The Best Thing: the Lord’s very presence. The Lord’s breath. Jesus was literally there and she ran from one task to another without truly seeing him, without sitting at his feet.
No wonder we, 21st-century Christians without a physical Jesus to see and touch, run busily to each task without stopping to be with Him. If Martha did it with God-with-skin-on, how easy it must seem to us to do it when we cannot see and touch Him.
Oh, but sisters and brothers… We can see Him. We can touch Him. In the flowers. In the sunrise. In the kindness of a co-worker who brings us copies when the copy machine is down. In the joy of a child on her birthday. In the simple comfort of chai tea when we’re sick. In the love of a friend, fiance, or spouse.
So often, we run to what must be done instead of being with the One who must be honored. He says to us: “Be still and know that I am God!” before he says: “I will be exalted by every nation.” These sentences may be located in the same verse (Psalm 46:10), but the be still command comes before the exclamation of His honor.
This is why my
daily mostly regular yoga practice is worship. I am being forced to sit still and think about something while stretching or bending or simply breathing. Instead of the mind-numbing techniques of ancients past, I think on my Savior. I meditate by filling my mind with his goodness. Just as his mercies never end, so do my thoughts of him never cease. See Psalm 119 for that continuing meditation.
This is why I have realized that I cannot be upset when little things, like new shoes and painted nails and sicknesses give me pause (or, more accurately, force me to be still). Have I forgotten that “I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living”? (Psalm 27:13). I see his goodness revealed best when I stop and look.
In the same way, I love others best when I stop and look. 1 John 3:17 says that you must first “See a brother or sister in need” before choosing to be compassionate or not. How can I love when I do not see? How can I minister to the hurting world when I do not stop?
When I am not still with my Savior, I do not see what his eyes see.
So, how to be physically present in this season? Currently, I am finishing my second year of teaching, planning a wedding, and recovering from a sickness and a surgery. But I can be physically present by:
- Reading His Words – I had great plans for a huge and complicated Bible Study program to begin in January. I think I followed the program for 2 days. That isn’t feasible for an everyday study for me. Instead, I have a devotional journal that I strive to read each night, and I strive to read a section or chapter of Scripture each morning. It doesn’t always happen, but that’s my goal.
- Prayer – I struggle with consistent prayer. A non-Christian student of mine asked me if we were allowed to pray more than a certain number of times each day. I told him that we were encouraged to pray without ceasing, to make our lives be full of prayer. It was a very convicting conversation for me. I’ve found that when I let the name of Jesus be ever on my lips, prayer comes so much more easily. I’m continuing to work on this by opening my heart to prayer, not just my mind.
- Physical Activity – For me, yoga and walking are my physical ways to be physically present. Yoga is the calm, meditative method. Walking is the more active way. Whatever you choose, do it. And stay with it.
- Focus on who God is and what God does – “I will meditate on your majestic, glorious splendor and your wonderful miracles.” (Psalm 145:5)