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Learning to Be Fully Present

Monday was a hectic day. First of all, my foot was throbbing from an injury from vacation (not the kind of souvenir I wanted). Then there were a few stressful moments with coworkers. On top of it all, the missional event my women’s small group had planned for that night seemed to be unraveling before my eyes.

Every couple of months, my Monday night women's group serves together by heading to a local residential ministry for homeless women. We make dinner and play games with the women and children. It’s always a bit chaotic but really fun, and the women really appreciate it.

But Monday I was really wondering if we’d pull it off. I wasn’t sure if we’d have enough food. And then someone unexpectedly had to back out. Another person in our group hadn’t responded to the group messages, so I wasn’t sure if she’d be there. I didn’t want the event to be a bust.

So on the way there, as I stopped to pick up a few last minute items we’d forgotten, I made a desperate plea: “God, please let me have a better attitude when I get there. Help me to be present and leave the rest of these worries and cares behind.”

God answered my prayer in a big way. It turned out that we had forgotten some other things, and we really weren’t totally prepared. Our games weren’t as controlled as we’d thought they would be, and the kids were especially out of control. And yet I was relaxed, care free, and enjoying myself. God helped me focus on one person at a time, being fully present in the moment.

As I ate dinner, I sat with a mom I’ve seen every time we’ve been there. I asked her how she was and talked with her daughter about the day. I learned the daughter is in summer school at a school near my home, and that she’s allergic to mosquitoes. I learned the mom loves spaghetti and salad, so our dinner hit the spot. And we laughed while another women talked about adding mashed black beans to brownies to make them healthier. We agreed that guilty pleasures—like brownies—shouldn’t mix with black beans.

As we played a game with the kids, I was able to affirm a young boy in how well he was sharing, and I rewarded him by playing a short game by ourselves in the corner. I celebrated a little boy who has problems paying attention when he completed a Minute to Win It game correctly. I empowered a little girl to use her words instead of simply crying when things didn’t go her way. I laughed when a mom and a young boy raced against each other in a game and the boy won, to everyone’s surprise. I chatted with two women close to my age about life at the residential program.

And I didn’t care that we’d had to change our plans at the last second, or that it was way more chaotic than we’d hoped, or that my foot was still throbbing. I loved it. And I think the women there loved it too. I know God worked through our group Monday night. I know that even though our plans didn’t pan out, God’s did. And I know that the women there aren’t just people we’re helping in a strictly one-way sense; they’re people we’re building relationships with. They’re people whom God loves deeply. And they deserve me being fully present.

It’s got me thinking: What does it look like to be fully present in other situations? How can being present be a ministry to others? When am I most likely not fully present?

As I continue to work this out, I know I’ll share more here. Practicing the presence is such a practical spiritual discipline. It requires that we focus on our immediate place, noticing what God is doing around us. It opens us up to others—their place, needs, feelings, and thoughts—and to God—what he’s doing, teaching, moving, and starting. Being present in our moments brings us face-to-face with God, seeing what he’s doing right here, right now.

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