I came home from work just in time to tag team with Cherie and send her off to a regular monthly gathering of women. I took off my work-hat and donned my dad-hat, diving deep into the list of what we had to accomplish for the night. I finished the dinner Cherie had graciously begun, tackled the spelling lists and practiced with both kids, hemmed Joshua’s pants for his school concert the next day, paid out commissions for the kids’ weekly chores (a few days late as we’d had a commitment every night that week so far), and watched my 7-year-old reenact her Constitution Day presentation.
On the outside, I might’ve looked pretty impressive as a dad. I’m often good at cleaning the outside of the cup. But on the inside, all that doing was motivated by exhaustion and a desperate need for relief. I was cranking through the to-do list, rushing the bed-time prayers and songs, all with my eyes on the prize: sitting down with a glass of wine next to the fire after the kids were asleep. I had pegged that moment as the chance to breathe for the first time since morning.
As I sat in the firelight, congratulating myself on the accomplishments of the evening, I felt my heart rise, and with that rising came quiet conviction.
I had missed everything.
I didn’t remember tasting the elk steaks we ate for dinner from a bull I harvested and packed out from deep in the Colorado wilderness last year.
I didn’t remember the joy on my daughter’s face as she giggled about the funny twist in Oliver Ellsworth’s fame: he’s the one who didn’t sign the Constitution.
I didn’t remember what happened in the last chapter Joshua and I read together about the epic quest of Geronimo to defend vanishing Indian territories.
I didn’t remember singing or praying with my Abigail; I didn’t remember the feel of her skin, and I didn’t remember if the moon was casting a glow into her childhood wonderland of a bedroom.
I was there. But I wasn’t there…at all.
Solomon was right: there’s nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1).
In His brilliance, precision, and deep kindness, Jesus tells the story of a farmer scattering seed, offering a saving insight into the nature of God’s Kingdom (Matthew 13): both the extravagant sowing of the Trinity, and what gets in the way of those seeds germinating and bearing fruit within us. This story has meant so much to me over the last ten years, and on that December evening, I needed its saving power all over again.
There once was a generous farmer who scattered prolific seed far and wide over the land. The seed fell on ground that included four different growing environments. Some seed fell on what was actually good soil, but as the seeds sprouted, all good growth was “choked out” by prying weeds, which by nature use up tremendous resources but bear no fruit.
Jesus goes on to explain that this particular soil condition represents the heart of one who genuinely encounters God, but the seeds sown in that encounter never mature. The weeds of mistaken conclusions about where true treasure is to be found, leading to worry and a deep commitment to less wild-lovers, choke out all the could-have-been life.
As I read the parable yet again, chewing on it as the aspen logs crackled and popped in the fire, a question rose in my heart. You know how it goes; these conversations with God are more nuanced and intuitive than we can easily put into words, but my question was something like this:
“Father, You have my attention. At any given moment, how much of my capacity to connect with You and others in the present moment is being choked out by anxiety and commitments to my false comforters?”
His answer came immediately to my heart:
I was shocked.
What shocked me truly was not the number, but by how deeply this percentage resonated with my experience of the evening and of much of my life in the previous weeks.
As I sat with God, a passage from The Screwtape Letters came to my heart. It wasn’t just any anxiety that was choking life in me, it was two very particular forms of anxiety: worry, which relates to fear of the future, and regret, which relates to fear of the past.
In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis articulates the sinister work of our enemy to use these particular twin thieves of worry and regret to short-circuit our connection with God. Remember the ironic strategy in Lewis’ narrative: it is the imagined correspondence of an older, wiser demon to his younger charge. In his letters, Uncle Screwtape refers to the Godhead as “the Enemy.”
To his young protege, Screwtape writes,
Humans live in time but our enemy desires them to eternity. He, therefore, I believe, wants them to chiefly attend to two things. To eternity itself, and to the point in time they call the Present. For the present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only…is freedom and actuality offered to them…
His ideal is a man who, having worked all day for the good of posterity (if that is his vocation), washes his mind of the whole subject, commits the issue to Heaven, and returns at once to the patience or gratitude demanded by the moment that is passing over him.
Much of Satan’s work can be exposed in this sinister strategy: to disengage us from the present moment and therefore shift us away from present-tense union with God.
But we need not fall prey; connection with God is always available.
He desires to connect with you right now. Right here. In the very moment you are reading these words. Whatever else He is up to, He is always our fiercely loving and pursuing Father who is initiating and leading a rescue of our hearts. His gaze is ever toward us, His favorite sons, that we might come into ever deepening relationship with Him. And His invitation is rooted in calling us back to the present moment where He IS, the only place where we can encounter His voice, love, nourishment, and freedom for today.
Consider these words from Tozier in The Pursuit of Man:
But for all our fears we are not alone. Our trouble is that we think of ourselves as being alone. Let us correct the error by thinking of ourselves as standing by the bank of a full flowing river; then let us think of that river as being none else but God Himself. We glance to our left and see the river coming full out of our past; we look to the right and see it flowing on into our future. But we see also that it is flowing through our present. And in our today it is the same as it was in our yesterday, not less than, nor different…
Start with a simple exercise. I mean it: try it right now.
Breathe. Three deep and full breaths.
What do you smell? Breathe and tune in until you can answer.
What do you taste right now?
What do you hear? Listen carefully.
What do you feel?
What do you see?
Breathe. Through tuning into your five senses, allow Father to slow you down to the pace of your soul. Now attend to the atmosphere of the Kingdom of God, the joyous, energetic, affectionate, generous, powerful community of the Trinity into which you have been wholly invited. Experience connection with the love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit right here.
Right here, you can be present to God.
Pause. Breathe. Listen.
Can you sense a shift? An awareness of Him as deepest Reality?
Now ask Him how He wants to lead you in the coming week so that you can give your family the very best gift you could possibly give them this Christmas:
It’s that simple. And that profound.
You, present to God and to your own heart, is the best gift you could give. You, present and available to both give and receive love and affection this Christmas season.
Ask God what is set against you being present to Him, your kids, and your wife in the coming weeks. In particular, where are worry and regret depleting the resources of your soil?
Take a moment to write down what He says.
Father, thank You for Your unwavering presence toward me. Thank You for Your kindness, for Your generosity of heart, for Your intimate counsel. You are such a good, good Dad.
To preserve your presence this Christmastide will require fierce intentionality. It’ll no doubt require letting go of things, people, and invitations that feel impossible to release. It’ll require surrendering obligations around the holidays that are sincerely good, but aren’t God’s best for you and your family.
It’s trial and error. It’s training. No one said it wouldn’t be messy. We are yet apprentices in Kingdom-living. But the promise is that choices to live in concert with the nature of the Kingdom will most certainly bring Life (Matthew 13; John 10:10, 17:1). And as we let go of other attachments and yoke ourselves to Jesus, learning from him how to live our life as He would live it if He were us, there will be incredible lightness and ease.
As for me, I’ve set my heart on being present this holiday season. I’ve spent too many of those after-work-nothing-left evenings doing all the right things but not being present to any of it. The pain of missing the moment has formed my preference for the goods of the Kingdom. I want the Kingdom more than anything.
For my heart, being present includes a few simple and heroic steps:
These steps are flowing into choosing rest, prioritizing play, exercising stillness, nourishing my heart in some great books, great worship, some great friends, and some great adventures outdoors. And, in particular this season, choosing to be present means rejecting cynicism toward the “holidays” and letting the Deep Magic of Christmas unsettle me and heal me once again (You might be strengthened by reading more on that here).
Come with me.
Some will not understand, but others will be so deeply blessed by your courage. And your Father will champion your faith in action.
And as you slow down, do less, and love more, you will in turn give PERMISSION to those in your world to do the same.
There is a way. A path. A Narrow Road.
Rest assured, it leads to life. It always has.
Right here. Right now. Lean into His offer. Lean ever closer into Him so that you might grow and become the kind of person who is more present this Christmas than you have ever been.
Your family will thank you for it; if not now, then years from now.
And your Father will rejoice.
Endnote: To into some great family Kingdom stories this holiday, check out these books:
The Indescribable Gift by Richard Exley
The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans
Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
The Carpenter’s Gift by David Rubel
Come and See by Monica Mayper
Good King Wenceslas by John M. Neale
Stranger in the Woods by Carl R. Sams II and Jean Stoick
The Miracle of Saint Nicholas by Gloria Whelan