“Let your presence be your gift.”
The words were embossed in gold on a creamy wedding invitation. I let them swirl around on my tongue and relished their silky feel. The play on words was luxurious and elegant compared to the functional “no gifts, please.” To the 10-year-old me, this phrase seemed like the height of eloquence.
Of course, being present is harder than simply showing up. You can, after all, attend to much of your life without really being there at all. While running errands, we talk on our phones. While washing dishes, we listen to a podcast. While playing with our kids, we mentally prepare for work the next day. We have mastered the art of being in two places at once, our bodies in one place and our heads in another.
It’ll come as no surprise to the #wholemama crowd that learning to be present to our day-to-day lives is the key to health and happiness. We are wearing ourselves out with our Tinkerbell minds, flitting from one thing to another. We are so consumed with doing everything that we are experiencing nothing.
Last summer, I had the immense privilege of hearing Richard Rohr at Aspen Chapel. He’s a smart guy, way smarter than I’ll ever be. He can take about theology and faith and social issues in a way that will bring you to your knees. But what actually made this day so amazing wasn’t Richard’s intellect, it was his presence. I’ve never shared space with anyone else who made me feel so at peace and welcomed—in a room full of people.
There is a quality in people who are there—actually there—that is palpable. It’s not something you just observe, it’s something that actually changes you. My heart slowed down, my smile widened, I was happy just to be sharing space with him.
In ministry and in counselling, there is an idea called “the non-anxious presence.” It’s exactly what it sounds like: when you encounter people in crisis, your job is to not be in crisis. Your job isn’t to do, or say or help but just be.
Parents, here’s a profound truth. This is easier to do in the emergency room of hospital than it is with a tantruming child. No joke. Any idiot can pull themselves together to be calm and loving in the midst of an emergency, especially when it’s their job to do so. It takes real perseverance to do it day after day, in a sea of never ending “emergencies” ranging from “I want waffles for breakfast” to “I was teased at school today.” As a colleague of mine said in her blog, “Parents are tired because parenting is tiring.” Long past the time when it’s physically tiring, past the time when the babies sleep at night and can entertain themselves for long stretches in the day, parenting is still tiring. It’s tiring because of the constant demand to be “on.” Not just “there” physically, but “there” mentally, emotionally and even spiritually.
“Let your presence be your gift.”
I have been playing with this phrase again lately, wondering what it would be like if I embraced it as a way of living rather than a directive on party invitations. What would it be like to approach new situations as though my presence, my actual being there, was a gift? Not just a gift for me–some new age path to fulfillment—but a gift to others. What if all that really matters is that we are there, really and truly present to the people, challenges and joys we find ourselves in?
To some extent, our ability to answer this question depends on whether we believe God is truly present in all the people, challenges and joys of day to day life. If we really saw our daily interactions and mundane tasks as opportunities to experience God, how could we not embrace them with focus, attention and joy?
One of the gifts of old spiritual practices, like those of Celtic Christianity, is the power to see everyday living through a spiritual lens. Prayers exist for milking cows, making beds, doing laundry, cooking. I suspect that since there was no television to distract from the boredom of washing dishing, these tasks took on the same quality of any spiritual practice: quiet, repetitive movements that centered the mind and heart.
Now that Lent is over and we’re all eating chocolate, drinking coffee and resuming whatever we gave up, I’d like to suggest that we use the Easter season to focus on what we proclaim: God is here, remaking this earth, this very life. God is present to us in everything we do. Being present to ourselves and others isn’t simply a gift we give them—it’s a gift that we are given. And maybe that’s the secret of this Easter life.
Amelia Richardson Dress lives in Colorado where she enjoys snow days, belly laughs and good books. She writes on parenting and education for magazines like Parents, Exchange and Children’s Ministry and blogs about spirituality and family life at barefootfamily.me.
Write with us on the word ‘presence’ and limk up or simply read along!
If you’re curious about #wholemama, go here!
You can also join our #wholemama Facebook group to be on the insider’s loop. :)