It’s funny how many of the things we do in life don’t register within our consciousness. We travel through life doing this and that without much recognition of both what it is we are doing and why we are doing it. Like driving home from work, we pull into our driveways unaware of what happened between the office and now; we just end up at home. These roadways become so familiar to us that we can simply drive them without giving much notice.
I know I often live life this way. As I said earlier, social media (Facebook and, to a lesser extent, Twitter) were eating up quite a bit of my time while at home. As is often the case, I wasn’t aware of this myself, but it was easily pointed out by my wife. It was becoming increasingly obvious (and hurtful) to her and my children that my attention was being directed elsewhere as I was giving my presence to something other than the ones who need it. I was listening to what was happening outside of my rooted context because in many ways it is much easier and less demanding of me.
With Lent beginning yesterday and my “giving up” of Facebook and Twitter in order to blog more, I noticed an immediate change. Nearly everyday when I return home from work, I get online and check my email accounts, Facebook, and Twitter. I typically open up multiple tabs at once in order to quickly and efficiently browse all of them. Yet yesterday, I had to stop myself from opening up extra tabs for these sites. And something strange happened. The open space that was created from denying myself access to those sites began to open the door on my longings, presence, and vulnerability.
Just as we are able to drive home without being cognizant of every turn and stop, we often float through life unaware of things. I think it is our longings that push us into particular directions. If we long to for recognition, we will do certain things to gain it. If we long for comfort from food, we will purposely frequent particular restaurants. If we long for money, we will climb the ladder, even to the detriment of others. If we long to love our children, we will show them with affection and discipline. We often aren’t aware of what our longings are because they have already become so unconsciously concrete in our everyday lives. It often takes a disruption in our norms to recognize the life we are actually living.
This is the beauty of Lent. It allows us to deny ourselves something in an effort to open up some space to see why it is we do what we do. Through this self-denial, we are able to see with fresh eyes our true rhythm of life. It isn’t an automatic conjuring of God to do what we want. Rather, it frees us space for us to better hear from him.
And this is where presence comes into play. The things we long for are the things we will make ourselves present to. As I said here the other day, Facebook and Twitter are easy, always available avenues for me to find the immediate and the affirmative. If I am constantly longing after these things, I will gravitate towards them to “get my fix.” They will always get my attention when they are pitted against the messiness of real life that takes its slow, patience-inducing time. They will win out the fight for my presence.
You know what is winning the battle for your presence by the amount of time you take listening to that thing. This doesn’t have to be a “thing” like social media. It can be an emotion. Why am I always annoyed when people get more recognition than me? Why do I get so upset when people are always late? What is it about my daughter’s hugs that makes me cry? It can be a person. It can be your context or place. It can be, and often is, a good thing. For me, however, among many other things, social media – and their formative effects – have been the things I have been listening for and to. I know this because of the amount of time I spend waiting for the immediate affirmation it provides. I listen to their convincing yet illusory voices of community and belonging. I listen to their ease of relationship and non-rootedness. Time combined with longing equates to my presence being given to these things to the exclusion of the people and things which require my patience and endurance. The scary thing is that it takes intentionality to be present to something or someone. Scary because that means that I am intentionally being present with the immediate and the affirmative, thus excluding the thicker practices of attending to where patience and love are required.
And so their denial leaves me in the open space of the possible. Vulnerability comes because in this open space I am taken out of my norm and into an area where the uncomfortable and challenging can take place. Yet this state is necessary for learning because vulnerability is learning’s prerequisite. Working in a school I see this all the time. Children learning a new song find themselves in this vulnerable place because they don’t know the right pitch or the words. They often doubt themselves because of this open space’s uncertainty. They know other songs. Why can’t we just sing the songs we already know? They must trust the teacher to bring them through the discomfort as one who knows what lies on the other side.
This is analogous to when we deny ourselves one thing in order to be present to something or someone else. Open space is created when we deny the familiar for the unknown. It is awkward and unsettling in this open space. We often want to turn back, unsure of what lies ahead or why we even decided to do this in the first place. We think the familiar is safe due its unchanging ways. However, the reality is that reality is always changing. Every encounter with these disruptions is an opportunity for change. And change can only occur when we are vulnerable enough to recognize the need for it.
The truth is we all have rhythms of life made up of our longings which tether our presence to certain things, people, emotions, and/or places. It is only by being vulnerable with others and, often more difficultly, ourselves that we can begin to create open space for change to take place. So I ask (in reverse order):
What do you need to learn that can only come through being vulnerable? Why?
What wins your presence? Why?
What does this say about your longings? Do you need to examine what your being present with? Why?