It’s possible to be present physically with a person but not truly present.
I had pondered this thought often, but only recently came face to face with its reality.
A few weeks, my guy and I had a short reprieve from our children due to the gracious invitation of a sleepover with friends. A quiet environment, nothing on the schedule, nowhere to be.
But that never-ending to-do list that plays on a loop in my mind took over. (Or rather, I let it take over.) What should have been a special night turned into doing laundry, catching up on emails, exchanging silly texts, reviewing pics from our recent mini-vacation.
We were physically in the house at the same time, but not truly together. I was wasting an opportunity to connect with my best friend and my favorite conversationalist.
And the next morning, he called me on it.
He did it in a gracious way, yet I felt myself getting defensive. I focused very hard on listening, trying not to form a rebuttal in my head, as I typically do. Our conversation went round in circles for a while, as we both struggled to stay on topic with how the actions of the other made us feel.
But at the end of that difficult hour and a half, I was proud of us. We fought through our hurt to arrive at a deeper understanding of how the other operates and doesn’t operate. Of what comes naturally, and what we need to work at cultivating. How we can respectfully disagree, rather than viewing ourselves as the disrespected victim.
Simply put, we remained present to one another.
It’s a topic that Shauna Niequist tackles in her newest book, Present Over Perfect. This collection of essays, which was released the beginning of August, deviates slightly in tone from her other writing in that you can feel she is mid-journey. Many of the chapters end with questions, leaving the reader to wrestle alongside Shauna in seeking out the best rhythms for life. Other chapters read as pages torn straight from her personal journal as she discerns and experiments with how to restore health and peace in her life.
Shauna shared that part of reclaiming her peace was learning to say no. In the chapter titled “The Word that Changed Everything,” she wrote about remaking life from the inside out, rebuilding a life that’s the “right size and dimension and weight, full of things you’re called to.”
She offered this reasoning behind the overhaul of her schedule: “…If you’re not careful with your yeses, you start to say no to some very important things without even realizing it. In my rampant yes-yes-yes-ing, I said no, without intending to, to rest, to peace, to groundedness, to listening, to deep and slow connection, built over years instead of moments.”
This chapter so resonated with me because lately it’s been a time of “nos” for our family. Not by intentional choice, but rather a season dictated by lack of resources, imposed boundaries and life circumstances beyond our control.
I wouldn’t have willingly chose this path, but it found me. It’s been a painful season, causing me to confront the parts I’m not proud of– jealousy, envy and fear, to name a few — buried deep in my heart.
But this season has also had moments of simplistic beauty.
Being forced to say no has opened the door to more space for creativity and cultivating relationships. Morning walks and stimulating conversation with my guy. Leisurely afternoons at the lake. Evenings at the ball fields. Riding roller coasters and lounging by the wave pool. Planning a friend’s surprise party. Reading on the sand and journaling under the trees. Watching a meteor shower over the Puget Sound.
Instead of “making time” for these things, they have appeared freely, naturally – as a gift for simply being present.
Yet, we can sense the tide is turning. The seasons are changing, and our family will soon have more opportunities to say yes. What I’m hoping is that the yeses will be that much sweeter because of time we spent enjoying one another in the quiet, simpler spaces. That the freedom we sense coming will lead to intentional decisions of feeding our souls instead of fueling busyness.
I was reminded by Shauna’s words that I must work toward creating quiet within me, not just quiet around me, a courageous journey to undertake. She wrote, “For me, being brave is trusting that what my God is asking of me, what my family and community is asking from me, is totally different than what our culture says I should do. Sometimes, brave looks boring, and that’s totally, absolutely, okay.”
The world will try to tell us how to live, but we do have a choice in the matter. While we can’t control all the circumstances thrown our way, we can bravely decide how to spend our time and fill our days.
We all utilize words to describe seasons, whether it’s in relationship to the calendar, raising children or just life in general. In this time of cultivating deeper roots in my personal faith, of choosing to be truly present with those I deeply love, I’ve found some words sticking closer than ever to my heart:
Simplicity. Patience. Space. Attentiveness.
What words define your current season?