Better To Be Present Than Productive
This weekend I learned two things:
- Ronda Rousey is one scary woman
- It is better to be present than productive
Over the weekend, David and I flew to Park City to spend some quality time with my sweet in-laws. It was a gorgeous, sunny weekend but we spent most of our time inside on the couch watching television with D2, my Father-in-law, whom I absolutely adore despite his new affinity for UFC fighting.
D2 is currently undergoing treatment for cancer in his neck, tongue, and jaw. Even though the treatment is going extremely well, he is in excruciating pain and can no longer eat. For the past several months, he has gone to the hospital every weekday for radiation treatment, which is a nice way of saying that he gets strapped to a table with a mask like Hannibal Lector and then burned with a laser in the same spot repeatedly until his skin is raw and scabbed. (He has been an absolute warrior but I praise God that today he endures his very last torturous radiation appointment!)
So needless to say, D2 was not exactly up for fireworks and hot dogs this 4th of July weekend. Instead, David and I spent most of our time keeping him company on the couch in the living room. We watched the World Cup, which I enjoyed. And we watched the women’s UFC fight, which I hated.
Yes, the women’s ultimate fighting championship; I was surprised that it existed too. We watched Ronda Rousey — who is actually very pretty, but built like a rhino and incapable of cracking a smile — knee her opponent in the face and then use a crazy judo move to flip the poor girl and body slam her to the ground. Ronda knocked out her opponent in 16 seconds flat. It was actually pretty impressive if you’re into that sort of thing.
Somewhere in between Costa Rica’s missed penalty kicks and Ronda’s beat down, David and I got news that one of our very best friend’s mom had passed away. She had been sick for a very long time and now she joins Jesus in Heaven free from pain. She leaves behind a beautiful legacy of God-fearing adult children and countless stories of the overflowing selflessness, joy, and love she had for others. There is so much to celebrate about her beautiful life, but David and I are both still deeply hurting for our dear friends who will have to go through life without her her.
Sitting on the couch that afternoon, a violent, desperate panic bubbled up inside of me like when Mentos are dropped into a bottle of Coke and the tiny bubbles rush to the top and explode upward. It was like Ronda Rousey had roundhouse kicked me right in the gut. I had slowed down just enough to allow my fears, worries, and the difficult situations in my life catch up with me. And I realized I was utterly powerless to do anything to help my hurting friends or my father-in-law.
There are only a few times in my life when I’ve been drowned with so much sadness, fear, and brokenness that it all sinks down into my skin and through my veins and slowly seeps into my soul like sludgy mud. The mud clouds my vision and the pain becomes so dense that it splinters my heart into a thousand little pieces under the weight of it. This was beginning to feel like one of those times.
Most of the time I never let myself feel the weight of what is actually going on in my life. I’ve developed a full-proof way of coping that keeps me from ever having to really feel the burden of the heartbreak and pain that is inevitable in this broken, fallen world.
Busyness is a magic little drug. I can fill my schedule to the brim until my days are overflowing. Then I line up my to-do list like shot glasses on a bar and belly up to take them one after the other until I’m numb and in a drunken state of rushed activity. I hurry and toil expending all my energy to spin my life into a whirling, hurried, busy mess. That way, the sludge and the sadness can’t settle, instead it just rotates violently around me like a muddy hurricane ready to knock down the next person who looks at me wrong.
But last weekend in Park City, the very best way I could love my father-in-law was by not doing anything. The best thing I could do was too simply be present. Every fiber of my being wanted to get up and do something, I was desperate to find anything that I could busy myself with that would be remotely helpful. I’ve gotten really good at distracting myself with productivity.
But he didn’t need us to do anything and nothing I did could make him feel any better. He just needed us be there. To be there with him on the couch watching TV. Only if we were present and fully awake would we be able to listen to him when he felt like talking, and only by being fully present would we know how we could be truly helpful and prayerful.
Over the past few days, I’ve spent hours thinking about things to do to help our friends who lost their mom. I’ve dreamed up elaborate meals that I could cook for them and schemed how to secretly get their dry cleaning done without them knowing. But I’m starting to realize that the very best thing David and I can do is to simply be present. To love them well by being there to listen, to let ourselves slow down and actually feel, to grieve with them, and to be fully awake. That way we will be able to know what actions are truly helpful and how best to pray for them.
There is a verse in Thessalonians where Paul reminds the people of Thessaloniki that they are children of the light and children of the day. As believers in Christ, praise God we do not belong to the darkness and night of this world! In his letter, Paul encourages the Thessalonians with these words:
“Let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober.” 1 Thess. 5:6
Awake? God created us to need sleep, so I don’t think Paul is suggesting that we walk around with bloodshot eyes sipping Venti triple shot lattes. I think he is reminding us to be present and full awake in our circumstances so that we can effectively be his hands and feet in this world.
Our culture has developed so many ways for us to stay numb and asleep to the pain and heartache that is apart of our broken world. For me, the temptation is to distract myself with productivity and perfectionism. For others it’s alcohol or work or living vicariously through children. But scripture calls us to be fully “awake and sober.” That means that we should avoid doping ourselves up with distractions and allow ourselves to be fully present with our loved ones, even if it is uncomfortable or hard.
Thankfully our God has not left us empty-handed. In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul reminds us of two powerful pieces of armor that help us preserver through the reality of our circumstances sober and awake:
“But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” 1 Thess. 5:8
Whatever circumstances you or your loved ones are facing today, I pray that you will fasten the truth in God’s word and the joy found in the hope of salvation tightly around your head. I pray that your breastplate would be layered with faith and love, soaked up from our loving, faithful Father. No human or circumstance (not even Ronda Rousey) is stronger than the love of our God. May you be brave enough to be present, awake, and sober in your situation. Rest assured, your Father is present and fully awake – never leaving your side. (Psalm 46:7)