We’re beginning to figure out that happiness is going to cost us something. When we forgive it costs us our pride and when we give (being generous) it costs us our stuff. What if we said that in order to be happy, it’s going to cost you your attention.

When you look back to people in your life that brought you joy, they are the ones who paid attention to you, the ones who were and are PRESENT. Who is, or was that person for you? Your mom? Your dad? Your BFF? How about a teacher or a manager or a colleague? You know the people I’m talking about – the ones who are (truly) ‘with you’ when they’re with you.

Let’s face it, not everyone has this gift; the ability to be present in the moment, so the important conversations or opportunities don’t slip away. We don’t mean the opportunities to make you rich or drive your career, but the ones that build relationship with the people you care about the most.

Interruptions can be a hassle. Think about it, you’re on your merry way when someone ‘interrupts’ your plans. For those of us who are more task driven, this can really drive us crazy. But what if the people in our life were not viewed as interruptions, but opportunities to grow relationship and make each other better. Henri Nouwen (a famous professor turned spiritual director/servant) once saw students as interruptions, until he realized that more than research and academics, they were the purpose of his calling – they were his business.

Jesus was well documented as taking interruptions in stride. More than that, he welcomed the person in need who interrupted what he and his disciples had on the agenda that day. We learn from Jesus as much as anyone else, to welcome change in our schedule and see what God has in store for that ‘moment’. We can pick two spots in the gospel (out of many) that highlight this. In Mark 10:13-16, Jesus welcomes children to his side. When others thought they might be a nuisance, Jesus says, “Let the kids come to me. Don’t stop them. The kingdom of God belongs to people like them.” This is in a society where children were to be seen and not heard. In another instance (Luke 10:38-42), we find Martha & Mary entertaining Jesus in their home. The traditional take on this story is that Jesus honours Mary for being present with him, while Martha is cooking. There’s a little more to this story. In the 1st century, there were places for men and places for women. Men were found in the common rooms, the places where learning and conversation happened. Women were found behind the scenes (kitchens and working rooms). Never were the two spaces brought together. So when Mary chooses to be with Jesus, she’s crossing an invisible (social) barrier. She’s saying that she doesn’t care about what other’s think, she wants to be with and learn from Jesus. Even more significant is that Jesus welcomes this and doesn’t shun her away. He also breaks the barrier so that he can be present with her.

What’s the best way to be present with others? The art of Listening. James says (1:19) that we should ‘be slow to speak and quick to listen.’ If we just took this verse and others in the scripture more seriously, we’d be more present and seize the important moments in our lives. Listening is both a genetic skill and a learned skill. However we acquire this skill, we need to add it to who we are and how we interact with others. If we do, we’ll be able to ‘practice the presence of people’. We wanna be happy, but we often make the mistake of using selfish means to get us there. In this case, happiness/joy will cost us our attention. However, Being Present with people, (truly) being with them, will add value to their lives and bring us much joy in return.

Mitch Albom (in his book, Have a Little Faith) says this about his childhood Rabbi, “He had a way of looking at you in the eye and making you feel like the world had stopped and you were all that was in it.”

I want to be known for that. How about you?

(check below for some bonus footage)

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small group questions:

Talk about someone in your life that really listened to you. Someone who you felt was present. How did that make you feel?

Jesus seemed to be in the ministry of interruptions. On numerous occasions he welcomed the person vying for his attention. These turned into powerful moments of healing, help, wholeness. What can we learn from Jesus in this? How hard is it for us to implement this in our lives?

When you read the Martha & Mary story, what do you get out of it? (Luke 10:38-42)

Read James 1:19. Nice to read, but hard to execute? What are some ways this can be true for you and the (important) relationships you’re in? Any initial steps you can take to be at James advice for us? (cf Proverbs 10:19, 17:28)

(bonus footage)

Tips to Listening:
– stay focused on what others are saying, not on what you want to say
– watch your body language
(conversations are 3 parts: 7% content, 38% tone of voice, 55% non-verbal communication)
– think about the differences between you and others (gender, generational, etc.)
– put down what you’re working on
– find something to value in the other person

A blog post about the ‘one word’ I wanted to focus on in 2014 (inspired by Thalita Murray’s blog)