What did you have for breakfast? Can you even remember? If not, you’re not alone — most days I can’t. Not that I’m so busy that I forget, but I’m distracted, hurried, preoccupied–those words pretty much sum up my experience lately. It’s a weed that’s grown back many times in my life.
I started this ordinary day a little differently. (There’s great invitation offered when our days start like this, a little differently.) Today started with a chocolate-covered strawberry! Now that’s a great way to start a day — experiencing strawberries — and that got me thinking about how I’ve been living lately. I’m not talking just about food, but how I handled this strawberry exposes a pattern that spills over into the rest of my life.
This thought started last night when my daughter made a plate full of chocolate-covered strawberries. She left a couple for me for this morning! I saw them sitting on a plate in the kitchen. I ate one on first sight. Soooo good. As I walked out the door, I grabbed the other in a napkin and headed to my car. I got settled in on the road and grabbed the strawberry in all its sweet, red, juicy, chocolate-covered goodness, and chomp, chomp, chomp, swallow. It was gone. Just like that. Hastily. Thoughtlessly, really. The whole process took seconds. Seconds! I have to admit, I felt a little empty sitting there with only the memory of what I could recall it tasted like. Tasted? Did I even taste it? Wow, some memories fade so quickly.
I’ve got to do a better job chewing my food. I’m sitting here thinking about how that works — if I chew more slowly, I’d actually benefit from it. Slowing down helps my body’s digestion. And, even better, slowing down lets me actually taste my food. (In my head I hear a parental voice saying, “Your taste buds are in your mouth, not your stomach!” 😄) Sometimes I’m just excited about what I’m eating and so I shovel it down in huge, efficient bites. Or I’m just so busy and hurried, ready to get on to the next thing, or distracted by everything going on around me that I just scarf it down. I don’t chew it well. I don’t linger, letting myself take in the flavor. In the end, I don’t enjoy what was meant to be enjoyed. I miss out on the best part.
That’s when the thought comes to me about how I’ve been living lately. It dawns on me that I often live life this way, like eating those strawberries. I can feel the effects of this way of life. My appetite has grown dull. I don’t have the attention span that I used to have. I’ve actually become a little lazy in my relationships and distracted in my conversations. Because I ‘eat too fast’, the food I eat tastes bland, and that is a fitting metaphor to much of my life.
I rush through conversations, not lingering on what’s being said. Instead, I spend too much time thinking about what I’ll say next. Or, I allow my mind to drift to what I need to get done after our interaction—distracted, planning, and scheduling. I go on vacations, and then busy myself to the point of distraction. My phone screams at me in it’s quiet, vibrating voice. My mind is so busy sometimes I can’t think straight, cluttered with chores and to-do lists and worries.
I’ve tried to fix it through efficiency, productivity. Ugh. I have such a love-hate relationship with these words. Efficient. Productive. Busy. There are times for them, sure, in business, in a trip to the store, when you need to finish an hour-long task in 30 minutes, but not in the more important things in life. Friendship. Romance. Happiness. Exploration. Fun. A walk around a mountain lake. Laughing with a friend. Letting someone cry on our shoulder. Hugging my children. Heck, even eating strawberries. These things require extravagance, generosity, time, presence, whole-hearted engagement.
I don’t want to let this idea go without letting it change something in me. I think the solution to my problem is close. Maybe simple, even. I’ve tried all-or-nothing approaches, they haven’t worked. Maybe it doesn’t need to be radical as much as it needs to be intentional.
So much of life is in the way we see. We don’t see a desert at seventy miles an hour from an Interstate the same way we see it at, say, thirty from a two-lane. . . the Great Plains from a two-lane the same way we see them from a bicycle. . . the Appalachians from a bike the same way we see them when we hike the trails. . . And the mountains in the same way when we hike as when we stop and stay in one spot for an hour or a day or a year. . . there [are] two ways to see the world. . . One is to stand back, squint, and see the landscape in a beautiful blur of colors. The other is to go down on your hands and knees and examine the flowers one petal at a time.
~ From “The Everlasting Stream”, Walt Harrington [edited]
So, today I’m going to make a few readjustments: I’m going to adjust my engagement. Slow my pace. Add pauses. Linger in moments. Not like holding my breath until an explosive exhale, but long, slow breaths, filling my lungs with air. Focused. Ready to ask questions of the person talking to me. To engage, and hear, and deepen the conversation. When I come home at the end of the day, I’m going to look my wife in the eye, and pause. I’ll ask her to share with me her day, and I’m going to be fully present and not just think about my day or the chores that I need to get done now that I’m home. When I eat, I’m going to slow down there, too. Breathe in the aroma. Actually taste my food not just make it another effort in efficiency.
And in my faith, here’s an area that I think is even more important. More, because it is the headwater of all my other efforts. Nothing I’ve ever learned or tried has impacted my life as much as attention given to the growth, maturity, healing, and development of my soul. It impacts everything else. Not coincidentally, it is one of the hardest (and most assaulted) growth areas of my life.
Efforts in faith often lead people toward doing more, striving, adopting a “nose to the grindstone” sort of approach. But, what I’m suggesting, what I’m trying to learn, is how to reduce, not strive. Pull back, not add on. Strip away, not heap on more. Life already bombards me with more than I can handle. World affairs. Global pandemics. Family needs. Heck, even Netflix begs me to watch more TV series’ than I have hours in a day. My response is simple: I’m going to pause. Listen. Create intentional pockets of quiet, instead of filling every minute. I have had some of my best, most inspired thoughts in paused moments. I installed the One-minute Pause app on my phone, setting it to remind me twice a day. I’m going to shift my engagement a bit, marinate, deepen, in a series of small choices to pause along the way.
I’m looking forward to what’s ahead. I have a feeling my appetite is going to come back.
P.S. UPDATE: Several days have passed since I wrote this. I have to admit, my efforts to slow down have been met with opposition. It was naïve of me to think the patterns I’d fallen into would be so quickly dismantled. It’s been hard. My first few bites (ok, first few meals) I didn’t catch myself stuffing my face until the meal was over. My first few days of using the “Pause App” went well, but then I’ve seen the notification pop-up and paused my pause, telling myself I’ll get to it in a second, once I finish this one last thing. (Truth: There’s two notifications on my screen inviting me to Pause right now.) But, something good is happening, too. Last night I cut my food into smaller bites and slowed down to savor the flavor. It was a Sautéed Lemon Chicken Piccata with seasoned rice. It was so good. And, yes, I’ve missed several pauses, but the One-minute Pause app is making a difference. I can feel the shift inside. I’ve paused 28 times for 87 total minutes. 28 times I’ve given space to my soul and invited a deeper connection with the Father. My adjustments haven’t been radical, but they are having a positive impact. It’s been like a pit-stop for the soul. And I think I’m just beginning to feel the effects of my efforts. I’m going to keep going… or I should say, pausing. 😉
It’s been a journey of trying. I’ve written about it to capture a snapshot what I’m learning. You might find these helpful.
— Something is Sucking the Awesomeness Out Of Your Life
— Space to Breathe Again
— What a Few Minutes of Quiet Can Do
— Waking Up Again To The Point Of It All
— Hesitating to Believe? Maybe it’s time to take a walk!
— And more…