“Everything is amazing, and nobody’s happy.” —Louis C.K.
Life is busy—too busy. Too noisy and complicated and downright distracting. We have everything we could ever want and yet we long for more.
At some point, we have to wonder, as Jack Nicholson did: “Is this as good as it gets?”
Here at the start of a new year, let’s consider this. We’re all busier than we’d like to be, but there has to be a healthy way to live in the midst of this busyness. The apostle Paul instructed, “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2, NIV). In other words, we need to be present to the now—and if we don’t, we may miss God’s gifts to us.
As a new father, a part-time writer, a full-time husband and guy with a day job, I’ve had to discipline myself to live in the present. It’s not easy, but it is possible. Here are a few simple habits I’ve learned.
1. Go for walks.
I used to love running. To date, I’ve participated in two half-marathons. But summers are hot in Tennessee and my son needs my attention at night, so there aren’t many windows of time for long runs anymore. One way I find time to exercise is by strapping my baby into his car seat and stroller and going for an hour-long stroll in a nearby park.
There’s something spiritual about a walk. C.S. Lewis used to take one every day; I never understood that—until now. When you slow down enough to notice the leaves change color or to hear the birds sing, you transcend the stress and anxiety of what’s to come and learn to notice what’s already here. Somehow, God feels closer. Maybe He is.
2. Read offline.
I love my Kindle; I use it to download an exorbitant amount of e-books, most of which I never end up reading. I even enjoy killing an audiobook on my iPhone during long road trips. As a blogger, I’m a fan of digital media and of using it to spread stories and share information. But I still love print books.
A different part of your brain and spirit is activated when you pick up a book and stare at actual words on actual pages. It’s elemental. You don’t merely absorb the content; you experience it. The words do something deeper to you when you can’t close out of one screen to open another to check your email.
For years, I tried the whole read-the-Bible-in-a-year thing. I subscribed to blogs and had daily verses emailed to my inbox. I downloaded apps for my iPhone and tried to use technology to make it easy, but it never was. I always got sidetracked or distracted somehow.
Then one day, I picked up an old Bible on a shelf and couldn’t put it down. Maybe that’s how it was intended to be read.
3. Eat slowly.
Somewhere in my early twenties, I learned to rush through meals. I was late for work or a party or a concert. I didn’t have time to slow down, so I sped things up. I started chewing and swallowing food and drink more quickly. This made me eat more, gain weight, get indigestion and forget the fact that food is supposed to be enjoyed.
God gave us mouths and the need for nourishment for the same reason he gave us a Sabbath: to rest. There’s something sacred in the slow. This may be the reason why the Bible often talks of feasts and food and wine, or why the psalmist says words can be sweeter than honey. These aren’t just metaphors; they’re reminders. If we can’t stop and notice something as small as a bee, how will we recognize a miracle?
One place to start is to enjoy what you eat. This is a discipline for me, but with each intentional chew, I’m remembering how grateful I am for the food in my mouth..
4. Be a better listener.
The next time you sit down with a friend at Starbucks, do something different: Look them in the eyes, open your ears and pay attention—instead of merely waiting for your turn to talk.
The age of advertising and endless interruptions has shortened our attention spans and led us to think that no message is as important as the one we have. This is narcissism at its worst. If we’re not careful, we can rush through an entire conversation without ever really listening. And what happens if the other person does the same?
One of the most crucial components of our social structure—the ability to connect with other human beings on a personal level and share with them—suddenly becomes a formality. We walk away from those conversations unchanged, which is ultimately not gratifying and just plain selfish.
If there’s anything we can take from Scripture about the social habits of Jesus, it’s this: He listened—to the woman at the well, to the twelve disciples, to the thief on the cross. Wisdom isn’t the ability to dispense witty words at a moment’s notice; it’s being able to withhold them for the right time. We learn what’s really worth saying when we train ourselves to be more than broadcasters.
5. Schedule time for silence.
This may be the hardest thing to do—to sit and be unproductive. To put away your phone (I have to leave mine in the other room, powered off), turn off the music, hide the laptop and just be.
This isn’t reading time or eating time or any other activity time. It’s stillness.
At first, the stillness may be unnerving, and that’s fine. Let yourself remain in that tension before resolving it. Use the time to think, reflect, pray. If you have to do something, use this time to mow the lawn or go for a walk. But don’t take any technology with you; trust yourself with just you and your thoughts. It’s not as bad as you might think.
In a culture addicted to the moment—where we have instant access to movies, media, food and even each other—why would we want to wait? Why would we ever consider living in the present? Maybe because that’s all we were ever promised.
In the Scriptures, God’s voice seems to be silent at times. Before Samuel becomes a prophet, it is said that “the voice of the Lord was rare” in those days. The time between the New and Old Testaments is often referred to as “the 400 years of silence.” During these times, people were tempted to believe God had abandoned or forgotten them, but we know in those silent times, God was preparing the people for something incredible.
Maybe the same is true for us—when we slow down and embrace the quiet, we join Him in the process of making all things new, even ourselves.