Do you ever make pretend comments?
My husband and I have a shorthand saying for when we feel that the other person isn’t truly listening to us. One person will be telling a story — maybe something that happened with the kids or at work — and the other person has their mind elsewhere and is only half listening. The result is that the listener will make “pretend comments” in response to the conversation: generic phrases with no real back and forth to show interest or true understanding.
Eventually one of our pretend comments will betray us, and it will become clear that we weren’t really listening in the first place. And it stings a little when you discover the person you were talking to wasn’t giving you their full attention.
I can imagine God speaking to us during our rushed quiet times and our distracted Sunday morning worship: “I don’t want your pretend comments. I want all of you.”
After all, how are we supposed to know God more when we are distracted during the times we intentionally set aside for him? How are we supposed to love our neighbors well when we don’t take the time to give them our undivided attention?
The answer, it seems, is to commit to being present to our everyday moments, even the ordinary, mundane ones.
More than just silencing our phones, we must silence our overactive brains, slow our rush to check off the next item on our to-do list, and hush our thoughts about what happened in the past, in order to focus on the person right in front of us — be it a sales clerk, a friend, a sleeping baby.
This is easier said than done. How can we practice presence with those around us?
Researchers have written whole books about mindfulness to answer this question. Here’s what has worked for me:
Tuning into my senses
One surefire way to bring myself back to the present is to shift my attention to my five senses. What can I hear, smell, touch, see, or taste in this moment? Focusing on what my senses are telling me grounds me to my current reality. It allows me to enjoy what’s happening right at that time in a deeper way.
Limiting use of my phone
Instead of reaching for my phone first thing in the morning, I make it a point to drink my coffee, read, and pray after I wake up. I’m still working on my phone use in the evenings, but one thing I’d like to try is getting an old fashioned alarm clock so that I don’t bring my phone into the bedroom. I’ve also removed all the push notifications from my apps which has eliminated unwanted interruptions.
Practice in the waiting
I take the opportunity to practice: when I’m in line at the grocery store, sitting in the dentist’s office, or stuck in traffic, I take some deep breaths. I try and notice who and what is around me. Instead of reaching for my phone, I allow myself to be bored, to let my mind wander.
Engage in reflective listening
Practice being fully present when someone is talking to you (even your kids!) This is the hardest one for me, but so important! Instead of thinking of what I’m going to say next, I think of how I can confirm and validate what the other person is saying. I think of questions I can ask to deepen my understanding of them. I have a friend who’s great at this, and I always leave my conversation with her feeling known and understood.
It’s unrealistic to expect that we will live mindfully one hundred percent of the time. But taking these tiny steps to train ourselves to be more present will go a long way in helping us to live in the moment as God’s kingdom dwellers.
How about you? Do you struggle with distractions? How do you practice presence and live mindfully?