Presence & Priority

by Cassie Dodds
Nov/Dec 2011

Presence: the State of Being Present

I have two sons who play baseball and I am therefore a mom who watches a lot of baseball. One thing I have learned as a baseball mom is to be fully attentive to the entire game or I might miss an exciting play, or even just the ordinary stuff that makes a day at the baseball park great. I must be present to the game. Yet, as an easily distracted, busy, working mother of 3, I often struggle with simply being. Many times I’ve rushed into the game late, become disengaged (usually by the cell phone) during the middle of the game or have left before the last inning, often missing a great play or a funny side note. I have also often overlooked the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of being outside in the stands with family and friends. Being fully present at the game requires a period of time - 9 innings per game to be exact - where I must lay down my never ending to-do-list, yesterday’s baggage, tomorrow’s worries, and the endless rushing around in order to be engaged in the moment. If I don’t, I risk missing out on the thrill of a homerun, a well played sacrifice bunt, my son’s stealing a base, or the sheer pleasure of the game.

This baseball analogy is no different than my need to be fully present to God whom, to my amazement, is always in the state of being present to me. He is always available, completely engaged, 24 hours a day, pursuing me. The question becomes, can I become more fully present to Him? Can knowing the Spirit’s Presence be my priority? And why wouldn’t it be my goal, when it is from God’s presence that I can experience rest and deal with life’s pain; gain perspective and know my life purpose; receive direction and know what the right to-do-list for my day should be? To know and to be known by God in the midst of the everyday game of life is abundant living at its best. It positions us to live into what Jesus states is our highest calling in life: to love God and people (Mark 12:29-31).

So why is it so hard to do? Being present to relationship seems like such a simple concept, yet so tough to walk out! And frankly, in a chronically hurried culture that values 24/7 accessibility and productivity at all cost, just simply being is often looked at as being idle and of no benefit. Even Christians have fallen for the unscriptural notion that we should have it all and be able to do it all, and the enemy of our soul is having a heyday. Author Richard Foster, The Celebration of Discipline, states, “In contemporary society our Adversary majors in three things: noise, hurry, and crowds. If he can keep us engaged in ‘muchness’ and ‘manyness,’ he will rest satisfied.”

“Muchness” and “manyness” can rob us of the time necessary to invest in relationship with our Father and the people He calls us to love. Loving others cannot be rushed. Listening to them takes time. Looking someone in the eye while they talk takes time. Sharing of yourself takes time. Sitting at the Father’s feet takes time. It is that simple! I recently listened as Anglican Bishop Todd Hunter explained that hurry destroys our capacity to be present and diminishes our capacity to love. Yet, I have found that hurried, overloaded living isn’t just a cultural norm, but has also invaded our churches. On the surface, this could look like a minor issue; however to me this is a spiritual 911 with serious implications. Overloaded lives that lack margin in their calendars and their emotions will more likely shortchange relationships and the ability to hear God speak. When our ordinary day doesn’t include living in God’s presence as a priority, our spiritual life will suffer. And with that, so will our spiritual influence and capacity to love and know love. It doesn’t mean that God stops being present to us, but eventually, our ability to be fully present to God, people, and daily events of life diminishes, as will the winsomeness of our witness.

Overloaded living can leave us merely surviving life, rather than living life to the full. Trying to operate from an empty tank for extended periods of time without knowing any rest or replenishment can have long-term effects that include anxiety, depression, low anger threshold, forgetfulness, physical and emotional exhaustion, loss of interest in life, compassion fatigue, and relational breakdowns. A red flag for me personally, showing that I am in overload mode, is becoming weepy for no apparent reason. What are your red flags?

Why do we let overload happen? Some of the pain and demands of life can’t be avoided due to circumstances out of our control or unavoidable busy seasons. However, I find that overloaded living is more often than not, a consequence of my own choices. My calendar becomes crammed with good things to which I just couldn’t say no. Were those commitments and activities God’s best for my life? Did I even ask Him? What were my motivations for saying yes? Fear of man’s disapproval or disappointing someone? These are often my struggles with overload. What are yours? And do I need my calendar to be jam packed with no empty spaces to feel important and productive by the world’s standards? Often my overloaded schedule is a way for me to evade dealing with things I just frankly want to avoid. Is God calling you into His Presence to deal with some tough choices or truths? Has your packed schedule allowed you to ignore these choices?

Can our ability to be technologically accessible and connected 24/7 contribute to overload? Women often express to me concern that their Facebook accounts and Blackberrys can be unnecessary drains of their time and energy, but fear of missing out or being forgotten keeps them connected. Though technological advances have many benefits, our cell phones, email and Facebook accounts often take up time and upkeep that could be spent in actual “face” time or simply in much needed quiet. Has the practice of silence and solitude become a place of loneliness and something to avoid, rather than a place to know God’s presence and His voice above all other voices?

The truth is that we will never have more than 24 hours a day, and the idea that we should be able to do it all is simply a lie. Dr. Richard Swenson, physician and futurist, writes, “Time and energy are finite resources. When did we start living like we have infinite supply?” (Restoring Margin to Overloaded Lives). Unreasonable expectations of performance that we place on ourselves and others can perpetuate living under the burden of a life without margin, recreation, or even enough sleep. Fear of what people would think if I admitted that I simply cannot keep up this frenzied pace of life can keep me in a never ending rat race that ultimately robs relationship. Who or what is suffering in your life right now because of overloaded living?

I believe that those in our everyday realms of influence are dying for someone to point them to a rhythm of life that leads to freedom and a deeper reality of God’s presence. And who better to teach us than Jesus, who beckons us “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Know Jesus. Study His life and example. He models perfectly a daily pattern that is life-giving, fully present, and committed to relationship. Christ’s priority was to do the will of His Father and how He spent His time was not dictated by man’s approval or agendas. Because He lived continuously in God’s presence, Jesus knew His daily marching orders and had energy, love and time to walk them out.

A journey through the gospels reveals a pattern of engagement and disengagement. He walked among the people, serving, healing, teaching (Matthew 4:23-25), then withdrew to be with His Father (Mark 1:35). He engaged and poured out, then withdrew into solitude and rest (Matthew 14:13). Jesus was able to handle the demands of ministry because He served out of His vital connection with the Father. It was out of this connection that He was refreshed, refueled and could hear His Father’s voice.

 Jesus lived a life that had margin. Overloaded living was not His pattern, so He was able to be present and serve from a place of overflow rather than emptiness. There was room in each day to love His Father and people.

I sense Jesus saying, “Beloved in Me you have permission to rest. Know the freedom that comes with living under My expectations and purpose for your life. Do not compare yourselves to the world’s standards, only Mine. Actively pursue abiding in Me the True vine and source of life. Any other sources are counterfeits that might give temporary relief, but only My Presence can truly restore your soul. Allow me to cut away all the unnecessary things that get in the way of you hearing Me or enjoying abundant living. With the Holy Spirit’s help, determine where I am calling you to say no to something in order to say yes to that which is My best for you. Trust that there will be plenty of time in your 24 hour day to do My will. And My will for your life will always include living in my Presence as a priority.”

Editor’s Note: This prophetic prayer of invitation that Cassie senses in her spirit at the end is an amazing invitation to refuel, redirect and reunite your agenda with God’s. Will you accept this invitation?
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Cassie Dodds Cassie Dodds is the leader of the women's ministry at St. Andrew's Church, Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. Magazine Issue

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