Perfectly Present

Photo Mar 13, 3 24 05 PM

I love this picture. I stumbled across it somewhere online a couple of weeks ago. I feel like it perfectly embodies the problem that plagues my own heart and soul, which just so happens to be the same problem that plagues our society as a whole.

And what would that problem be?

We don’t know how to be present.

Check out the picture again. Dozens of people standing in a gaggle, each of them holding their phones in the perfect position to capture whatever it is that’s just out of frame for you and me. Were the picture zoomed out, there may even be hundreds if not thousands of people all doing the same thing. They’re there, but they’re not really there.

And then there’s the elderly woman on the front row.

No phone. No camera. Nothing.

She’s just there for the experience. Perfectly present for the moment.

She’ll have no snapshot to post on Instagram with the perfectly applied filter. She’ll have no photo to add to her Facebook timeline, making all her “friends” secretly jealous that she lives such an awesome life with such incredible experiences. She’ll probably have no proof whatsoever that she was there for whatever spectacular event this appears to have been.

But she’ll have the experience. She’ll be able to tell you what it was like to be there. She’ll be able to recount the sights. All of them, not just the fragment that was captured on a tiny digital screen. She’ll be able to remember the sounds. She’ll be able to recall the smells. She’ll be able to relive that moment in a way that the other dozens, hundreds, or maybe thousands of people never will.

Why? Because she was perfectly present in a way that you and I hardly ever are anymore.

Have you ever thought about how much in life we’re actually missing because we’re trying to capture it? How much are we missing in those moments when we’re there, but we’re not really there.

Oh, the stories we could tell if we were able to be so perfectly present.

Let that be a challenge to us all.

A Lesson from Lent

In an effort to try something different and new this year, Kelli and I decided we were going to partake in Lent. Before the 40 days of Lent kicked off on February 18 (turns out it’s actually more than 40 days) we each decided on a “lesser thing” we were going to give up in an effort to better focus on the “greatest thing”—the gospel. Kelli abstained from caffeine and sugar for the entirety of the 40 days while I took an extended vacation from social media. In addition to giving up our “lesser things” I also found a great Lent guide from The Village Church for us to walk through together as a family. The guide led us through a series of passages from the gospels as well as through a series of weekly fasts (food, TV and movies, social media, caffeine and sweets, radio and music, purchasing non-essentials, sleep—in that order) with the goal of “preparing [us] for the joy of Resurrection Sunday as we enter the sorrow and pain which preceded it.”

I wish I could tell you it was a time of incredible spiritual awakening. It wasn’t. I wish I could tell you that each and every week I led my family through powerful devotions full of deep and life-changing spiritual insights. That didn’t happen either. However, Lent did reveal something in my own life that I’m certain many can relate to.

Having decided to give up social media for 40 days, I deleted the Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram apps from my phone. What’s funny (or mildly disturbing) is that over the first few days of the fast I would mindlessly pick up my phone as if to jump onto Twitter or to scan through Instagram, only to realize that the apps were no longer available. So did I just put my phone down? No. I checked my email instead—you know, just in case I started getting emails from people who haven’t messaged me one time in the last three years. It didn’t take me long to realize that I’m overconnected.

We live in a world that makes it incredibly hard to power down and disconnect. The devices we carry in our pockets make it nearly impossible. We’re always connected. Yet in the gospels we have record of Jesus slipping away from time to time to pray in a quiet place. Jesus exemplified what it means to disconnect—and if Jesus exemplified it, I think we would do well to imitate.  If you’re like me and find yourself on social media quite often, let me encourage you to shut your phone (or tablet, or computer, or whatever you use) off every once in a while (maybe even for a whole week or weekend—gasp!). Unplug. Disconnect. Your husband/wife/children/family/friends will appreciate it—and you’ll benefit from it as well.