Several years ago, while on vacation at the beach, I sat down and answered the question, What do I want people to remember about me? What do I want to be known for? Who and what are the things that matter most?
It seems we should be answering these questions naturally, but I tend to get caught up in the daily tasks of whatever is screaming my name the loudest, whether it’s a work deadline or a child calling, “Mom, I need help!”
I am a go-getter by nature and that, by definition that is a blessing and a curse. When things need to get done, I’m your gal. But really, when it’s all said and done in life, I don’t think it’s going to matter how much I got done. I don’t think my children are going to care what event I organized or how many articles I’ve written.
In the end it’s what I have believed and how I’ve lived out those beliefs with others in my life. Who did I impact? Did I show them love? Did I spend time with them? Was I present in their pain?
And yet, I find myself, on another Saturday morning, scrubbing away the grime from my bathroom tub, engrossed in completing another Saturday chore. I’ve forgotten what my grandmother once said: “You spend your whole life sweeping up dirt and when you die, what do they do? They throw dirt in your face.”
It’s a reminder that much of what we do is in vain—we can work until our bones ache and our bodies are weary, but in the end there is still more work to be done. Where is the payoff in that?
My house, on any give day, is littered with toys. There are dishes piled on counters and the dog ate out of the trash can (again) and left the remnants on the floor.
From the other room I can hear my son’s laughter echo through the house. I have a choice everyday—either to spend some extra time with the people I love or clean up this mess, but the reality of my life forces to me to often choose between the two. And for a “do-er” like me, I have a hard time turning off the mental checklist of things I need to get done.
In other words, my to-do list turns out to be a distraction to the real work of being present in others’ lives.
The people I admire most use their time to invest in others. They show up when it matters. They connect in meaningful ways when tragedy strikes. They don’t say, “let me know what I can do to help.” Instead , they show up with meals, or take your laundry, or sit with you in your pain. The ministry of showing up is all about being brave even when it feels awkward or outside your comfort zone.
These people understand that it’s not about how much time you have, but how present you are in the time that you have.
My Word for the Year: Present
I recently read Laura Vanderkam’s Off the Clock, a book helping us understand how to manage our time better, and what we can do to fix our “lack of time.” Vanderkam specializes in time management, time tracking, and studying data on how people spend their time. One discovery she’s made about time is that it’s not about how much time we have, but about being present in the time we have. She emphasizes lingering in the moments that bring us joy, rather than always thinking about the next thing on our agenda.
Five minutes might only be five minutes, but why not make the most of it? Why not enjoy those five minutes to the fullest extent?
When we are present in the moment, then even a short amount of time can be enjoyed to the fullest. This mindset is what inspired my word for the year: Present.
I chose this word, not just because I want to be more present in people’s lives, but because my weakness is to not be present. Instead I am always thinking of the next thing and not enjoying the beauty of this moment.
Being present requires intention.
The more present I am, the more I enjoy the people around me, and the experience in front of me. Being present means putting down the phone and the computer, so that I can focus on what is right in front of me.
The family in my life. The time I have with them. The opportunity to experience and show love in its fullest form.
Being present means living life more fully, of lingering in the moments of beauty a little longer.
As I’m learning this lesson daily, I’ve realized something else is true too: all the other things can wait.
The housework can wait until I’m done reading a book to my son. The dishes can wait until I’m finished talking with my daughter. Returning a text message can wait until I’m done catching up with my husband. All these things can wait.
But the people right in front of me? This is my chance to be present with them, to love them in the here and now.
It’s a powerful principle when put into practice and it’s changing the way I spend time with the people I love most.
So how do you practice being present with the people in your life? Any tips or hints? Feel free to drop me a note on how you practice this in your life.