Lent started today. I’ve been historically terrible at observing Lent. It’s not a liturgical tradition I grew up practicing, but I can see its value, and I’ve picked something every year for the last several to give up, but my follow-through is admittedly not great. There’s my confession for the day.
Back at the end of December, 2018, I picked a word for my year (as I do every year). I picked “Present.” It has occurred to me in the last little while that I am not exceptionally good at being present. I’m not skilled at living in the moment I’m in, and I tend to be constantly looking toward the next fun thing. The next big thing. I suppose this is likely tied to my Enneagram number (7), but it was pointed out to me last night during a conversation about this very topic that we could all learn about this, and so it’s not likely exclusively a “7” experience. The biggest places I notice it in my own life might be 7 experiences, but that doesn’t mean we can’t all learn from what I’m learning, so here it goes.
Present. I looked it up. I’m going to be SUPER cheesy and give you a dictionary definition. Present: in a particular place; existing or occurring now; the period of time now occurring. I think the last one resonates most with me. The period of time now occurring….. how often do I look toward the period of time coming up, and therefore miss the period of time now occurring?
I looked up some synonyms, too, because if you’ve been reading anything I’ve written for any length of time… or if you’ve had more than one conversation with me… you know I’m a language nerd and breaking down language is one of my favourite ways to understand anything. Some of my favourite synonyms — the ones that resonate with me the most — are as follows: accompanying, observing, participating, available, breathing. There’s so much depth to these words, and forgive me while I nerd out hard here.
When I am not present, I am not any of those synonyms.
I am not accompanying. If I’m in a situation, but I’m focused on and thinking about what’s coming next, what will be more exciting, where I’d rather be, and what I’d rather be doing… I’m not with whoever I should be with. If they want time from me, I’m not giving them all of it, even if I appear that I am. It can be hard for me to sit in the present and not be drifting toward thinking about what comes next.
I am not observing. I miss things. I miss important pieces of conversation. I miss details and nuances. I miss the minute. And often, this means I miss the incredible that lies in the ordinary. I’ll explain that further in a bit.
I’m not participating. If I’m not present, even if it’s just in my spinny, spinny brain, I’m not fully participating. And if I’m not fully participating in my life, am I even really fully living it? If I’m out somewhere, and I’m a little bored, so I start scrolling through Facebook… what am I missing? Who could I be talking to? Does Jesus have something for me in that moment that I miss because my face is staring down at my phone? If I’ve just come home from something and instead of enjoying the quiet, the down time, the chance to refresh and reboot… what do I miss?
I’m certainly not available. If I’m caught up in whatever comes next, as is my unfortunate tendency sometimes, then I’m not available. Not when someone asks for my time, not to the task I’m trying to complete, not really even to myself. When my brain is occupied elsewhere, I’m cheating those around me, but I’m also cheating myself. It feels harmless to constantly envision how great the next fun thing is going to be, but I’m cheating myself out of that moment right then and there. Out of how great THAT moment could be.
I’m not breathing. Not literally. I don’t literally stop breathing. And as much as I love it when things are both literally and figuratively true, this is not one of those times. But I’m finding more and more, especially the more self-aware and introspective I get (and there’s been a dramatic shift in that direction in the past year), that when I’m not present I’m instead rather frantic. I’m stressed, I can’t focus on what I’m trying to do, I talk too fast, I rush, I miss things — both things I wanted to say and things I needed to hear, and I don’t do much all that well. Perhaps I’m being too hard on myself. Certainly this is an example toward the extreme end of my lack of presence, but it can be true nonetheless, and that’s why I’ve been working on it, and why I’ll continue to until I’m good at it.
What this looks like for me is a lot of time spent on my phone. The literal second I get bored of something, I’m looking for something more fun to do, and so I wonder how many opportunities to interact with actual human beings I might miss while I spend my grocery store line time scrolling through Facebook on my phone. But I don’t just do this while I’m standing in line. Sometimes I do it while I’m watching TV, which means that I’m not really, truly, paying attention to either thing. I do it sitting in the car (parked) waiting for someone I’m picking up. I do it in the airport waiting to board my plane. I do it if someone I’m with gets up to go get something or leaves to use the washroom. I do it in the staff room at lunch. In fact, had I not already been consciously trying to make a choice about this area, I’d have missed a conversation today at lunch about Lent and why it’s practiced and how so many people use it to diet. I might not have chimed in. I might not have shared what I intend to do over the next 40 days. And I can’t know for sure, but maybe that would have been someone else’s loss.
And it’s not just my phone. It’s not just Facebook. I’m that person who has always been counting down to something. Since I could count as a little kid, I’d have countdowns running, either written or just in my brain, to how many days it was until the next thing I was excited about. And what I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is that not everybody does that. That’s not a big deal, though… to learn that one of your quirks is unique to you, or unique to those similar to you. More importantly, it distracts me from the right here. The right now. The beauty of the ordinary. What’s right in front of me. I miss the fun of being able to enjoy my down time because it feels like it takes forever to get from Tuesday to Friday. I miss the grandness of the ordinary spaces between Christmas and March Break because the second the plane lands after Christmas holidays, I’m wondering how long before I can go back to my parents, my brother, my sisters, my mountains, my waterfalls (though in theory I could find some waterfalls in Ontario, too….). I miss the ordinary beauty of winter because I’m desperate for spring. Had I not been paying attention the other day, I’d have missed the hoarfrost on these trees.
Had I not been willing to go for a walk to pray and sit with my thoughts because I had some down time, I’d have missed this sunset.
I end up missing the new growth of spring, if/when it ever arrives, because I’m mad at the mud and I’m desperate for heat. Then when summer does finally arrive, I miss some of its ordinary beauty because I pack it so full of so many activities that I can’t sit and bask in its wonder… because I know it ends, and I dread its end, so I just must. keep. busy. Must do it ALL before the snow comes again.
I’d grown tired of missing so much, so for 2019 I picked the word Present. That looks different for everyone (in fact, I found out recently that my mother also picked Present, but she’s using it differently). For me it definitely has to include a sense of delayed gratification and a sense of the ability to rest in where I am at any given moment. Not just waiting for the next grand adventure and enthralling experience. Because ordinary can be exciting, too. It can. If we let it.
So back to the point. Lent 2019. While I’ve not always given things up well, I like to try. Back in the summer, I gave up sugar. Quit it cold turkey. I feel like if I can give up sugar (mostly) for 8 months, I can give something up for 40 days. And if it’s anything like sugar, if I’m successful in giving it up, I won’t likely want it back. But also if it’s anything like sugar, there will need to be some divine intervention to make me OK with it, and to help remind me of why I’ve decided to do it.
I was out for tea last night and was sharing that I was toying with the idea of deleting Facebook off my phone for Lent. Not giving it up entirely, still being able to check it from my computer (if I’m even on it), as it houses events, some groups I use frequently, and pictures of friends and family and their kids that I would miss if I didn’t see them every once in a while, since I don’t get to physically see the people as often as I’d like. I like the idea of what Facebook can give us. It’s not terrible in and of itself. It can connect across thousands of kilometers. Continent to continent. One side of the country to the other. But when the app version on my phone gets used to distract me from ever being bored, it takes away from my ability to be present. It doesn’t fit with the goal of who I want to be by the end of 2019. And, truthfully, when I spend that much time scrolling through it, it can be kind of toxic. The politics, the ads, the Momo warnings, the “don’t eat this, it’ll kill you” and then the next day, the “how that very same food is the secret to living forever….” all of it. It gets into my head and it unsettles me. It rattles me. It makes it hard to live a life that’s not stressed and anxious but rather is trusting and leaning on Jesus and patient. It just seems that all the bad in the world is concentrated on my Facebook newsfeed and I’m not here for it anymore. And so, over Peach Tranquility tea at Starbucks, we decided to do it together. Forty days without a mobile Facebook app. We deleted it then and there.
And then, ten minutes later, when I was left alone at the table for a very brief amount of time, I immediately grabbed my phone and went to open the app to scroll….. and it wasn’t there. It might be a long 40 days.
But I know that this, along with the other daily reminders to be present, be present, be present… I know that they will grow me. They’ll stretch me, for sure. But they’ll grow me. They’ll leave me a better person than I was before, because that’s always the goal. More growth. I’ve found it’s just a natural shift in desire that my brain wants so much, this idea of being present. I’ve found that I hardly watch TV anymore — so much so that I’m contemplating *gasp* cancelling Netflix. Who has time for TV when there are so many books?! And if TV was just another thing to distract from wanting to move on to the next, better thing (which I strongly believe that it was), then I don’t really need that either.
It’s better to do things in community, isn’t it? Many of the things I’ve done that have yielded really positive results in the last couple years have been done in community. Quit sugar? Sure, if a friend is going through it with me. Intentionally set life goals and plan for their execution? Sure, let’s buy the same workbook and talk about it as we go! Journal through Psalms? Done, as long as I’ve got someone to talk to about it. Remove Facebook from my phone? Yup, let’s delete it at the same time. So it would stand to reason, then, that not only is it better to do life together, and to work toward growth in community, but also that being present in those spaces is intrinsically valuable. When you’re present, you share life. And when you share life, get vulnerable, and get real, people come alongside you and hold you up.
My FitBit has the ability to buzz, via Bluetooth, whenever I get a notification through text, Messenger, What’s App, email, or my work email. I know many people who never turned it on in the first place, but at first I really liked it. I liked the ability to know what was happening without appearing to check my phone. I liked the ability to decide whether or not to pull my phone out of my pocket to respond to the notification. But I’ve been finding that all it does is distract me. Mid-conversation, my phone buzzes and then a split second later, my FitBit buzzes on my wrist. I then read whatever it is on my wrist, but by that point, I’ve either missed something someone was saying, or I’ve lost my train of thought and I have to ask whoever I’m talking to what I was saying. So last night while I was out, when the first notification buzzed, I turned off the notifications from my wrist. And low and behold, the world did not come to an end because I didn’t know what my texts said until I got home. The universe did not implode because I didn’t see the first bit of the email Pinterest sent me to tell me a friend had sent me a pin. Can’t that wait? Isn’t a deep conversation with a fellow human being better than that? It was so freeing that I didn’t turn the notifications back on on my wrist when I got home. And I didn’t turn them back on when I woke up this morning. And I just might not turn them back on ever. Time will tell.
And so, at the end of this first day of Lent, at the end of this first day of denying myself something so that I can focus more on Jesus as I start the descent into the Easter season, now I’m off to make a lunch for tomorrow and go to bed with a book instead of my phone. And every time I think about scrolling through Facebook, I’ll instead think about the wonderful ways God has blessed my life, and the wonderful things I have to attend to right in that moment. Because that’s what Lent is for — a time to focus on growing in God, not just making a new, healthy life choice for forty days. A time to lean in to just a little bit of the suffering that Jesus endured for me so that I can have relationship with Him. So that I can lean on Him. So that I can trust Him to help me be Present.