There is no greater test on my restraint and self-control than when I am playing Barbies. There I sit on the kitchen floor, fake plastic dolls in hand, while the four-year-old girl I nanny for tells me what my Barbies should be saying and how they should react when a giant dragon comes to eat them. I fight the desire to pull out my iPhone and check instagram, respond to an email, or read the latest updates on bloglovin’. I mean, I’m bored and she seems to be fine with my absent minded “oh no, watch out for the dragon!” comments as I scroll through my phone. Being fully present would be a much harder option.
It seems to be that way most of the time, doesn’t it? And not just when we’re playing with little ones. Being fully present to the people we are with is not an easy task, nor is it a natural one. Even without our smart phones pulled out, we spend so much time in our own heads, consumed by our own needs, tasks, and desires. Half-hearted responses are normal in conversations, multi-tasking is acceptable, and passing through relationships intent on accomplishing the next item on my to-do list is how I often find myself operating. Being fully present is not a gift easily bestowed.
But what if we were to try it? Try giving the gift of our full attention? What if we looked people in the eye when talking to them? What if we listened when others were speaking, not just to form a response, but to actually understand what they were thinking and feeling? What if we sat down, face to face, and let go of the chores and errands and need to always be accomplishing? What if we just did one thing at a time? What if we didn’t check our phones once during a conversation, even if it rang? What would happen if we tried being fully present?
I don’t think it is an accident that the word for being aware of and alert to the current moment, place, and person is also the same word for a gift.
Because anytime we give our full presence to another we are offering them presents. Because our greatest need and desire as humans is to be known, to be in companionship with others. Our deepest craving is not for a clean house, a successful career, or a perfect GPA. Not really. Our craving is for intimacy. And intimacy can only be found where presence is given.
And the best part of it all? The gift of presence is always reciprocal. As soon as you offer all of your attention, your full awareness, you are able to then receive all the gifts of the moment. These are gifts that won’t linger past this minute. They are literally once in a lifetime opportunities. You’ll miss them if you look away, if you tend to the urgent emails or mentally check out as you go through the to-do list in your head. The gift of presence is a rare gift – bestowed only on those who will offer the gift themselves.
I put the phone to the side and will myself, if only for a few minutes, to be present to the Barbies, the make-believe conversation, the little girl in front of me. And with the toys come sweet giggles, adorable comments, and a precious moment with a girl who is offering me the wondrous gift of her presence.