BY REV. DUANE LARSON - SPIRIT LAKE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
Nothing is more frustrating than running to the store to get the ingredients for that special dinner/dessert, then coming home to prepare it only to realize that you somehow forgot one of the ingredients. Then, you try to remember how you forgot – did I leave it in the car or maybe they forgot to bag it? After you run through the whole previous trip to the store in your mind, you realize you can’t remember and you’re going to have to go back. We all love the trip to the grocery store for one item, the one we forgot. Unfortunately, it seems this happens a lot during the Christmas season. Maybe we are getting older and it comes with the territory or maybe it’s because we are just so busy this time of year and have too many things to do.
You can’t do two things at once. Multi-tasking is a myth. Our brains can only focus on one thing at a time. Some people can switch from task to task fairly quickly, seeming to do two things at once, others cannot. When we are faced with multiple tasks, all competing for our time and attention, it’s easy to lose track and forget. So, we make lists or create a calendar and agenda to help us get all this stuff done. Focused on one thing at a time, someday we’ll get to end of that list … hopefully. It’s good to make a list.
Even armed with a list or calendar, we often forget about something very important –the present moment. Reading chapter 2 of the Gospel of Luke reminds me of the importance of being, "in the moment." The shepherds have been visited and told of the wonderful events of that night, a "savior is born," and when they hear this news they agree, right now, to go and see this savior.
When they arrive, they tell everyone there what had happened and what they had been told. Mary hears these words and tucks them away in her heart. The words are important and later they will make even more sense, but right now she is fully engaged with her newborn child and with Joseph. She is fully present. This moment is not about focusing on the hardships she and Joseph endured on the way to Bethlehem or the challenges they will face in the future. It’s about the amazing new life right before her and experiencing this miracle of God right now.
We spend much of our lives looking back; remembering our mistakes and wishing we could have the moments back when we made them; remembering the wrongs that have been done to us and reliving the pain and bitterness; remembering the list of grievances we have against others. Looking back can be all-consuming if we let it. And even when we do manage to not look to the past, often we are worrying about the future. I have found that we humans are gifted in our ability to imagine things and particularly good at imagining the worst possible scenario. It’s almost like creating a video in your head about what’s going to happen, or what could happen. Worrying about the future, like looking back, can be all-consuming.
In all this looking back and worrying about the future, we often forget about the present moment, right now – where we are, who we’re with, what we are doing. And when we aren’t in the present, we miss the best and most powerful of moments and opportunities, we miss life.
When we gather to worship, I ask people to set aside their regrets about the past and their worries about the future for just a few brief moments so that we can experience together the presence of God. I believe that’s where we can most powerfully experience God, right now, in the moment. When we are focused on where we are, who we’re with and what we are doing, we have the opportunity, like Mary, to experience the wonder of what God is doing in us and in this world — right now. Being present, fully focused, is the best gift we can give ourselves, our families, and our friends this Christmas.
So, think less about giving presents and more about giving presence this year. Make a commitment to be fully present and engaged with your family and friends on Christmas day. Let go of the day before and don’t worry about Dec. 26 until it arrives. In the moment, look for God and see what God is doing. You, like Mary, will be amazed. You can only focus on one thing at a time. Focus on now.