By: Allie Marie Smith
Halfway on the drive to one of our favorite surfing beaches our phones lose connection. Before we drop service, my fingers are often glued to my phone as I find various ways to keep my mind and thumb occupied. But as we reach the entrance to the windy coastal canyon framed with golden hills and expansive oak trees, I surrender my device and begin to soak in the wonder right in front of me. Gidget, who still manages to sit on my lap, sticks her head out our van’s window, her pink tongue dangling in the wind. As we round that final bend, the deep blue ocean makes its appearance and I feel instantly refreshed. For a day it’s just us, the salty air, and the beauty of the sea. In a noisy and distracting world, God politely whispers, inviting us to live fully present and engaged with the life He has given us before it passes us by. It’s a much-awaited invitation our souls crave to accept. The question is, will we get quiet enough to hear it? Will we show up for our life? Busyness, constant pings, and phone addiction make us strangers to our own lives. All the noise prevents us from hearing God’s whisper inviting us to a better life.
Living distracted and detached from our actual life takes a toll on our happiness and mental health. I’m sure it’s not news to you that much research overwhelmingly links social media use to heightened levels of anxiety and depression. Skyrocketing rates of suicide among teen girls are correlated with the onset of smartphones and social media Even with this knowledge, we keep returning to the time-sucking digital places that make us anxious and sad. I don’t know a single girl or woman who has an emotionally healthy relationship with social media. I’m no exception.
As we constantly refresh our screens seeking new “likes” to things we have posted, and as we watch the filtered high- light reels of friends, celebrities, and strangers unfold before us, we experience envy and comparison and it steals our joy. Meanwhile, our own life goes neglected. These thieves rob us of contentment: “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones” (Proverbs 14:30). Living immersed in the online lives of others is making us sick while keeping us from the true connection we crave.
We live in a culture where it seems everyone is producing their own filtered reality show on their phones, competing for attention. FOMO or “fear of missing out” on what other people are doing is real and it’s what keeps us coming back for what’s making us sick. We’re afraid to miss out on other people’s lives, but are we afraid of missing out on our own life? I believe the more we know about the daily ins and outs of other peoples’ lives, the more asleep we are to our own lives. We are called to live spiritually awake: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead” (Ephesians 5:14).
How do we find the path back to peace in a loud world that never slows down? How do we find a sense of value in a world where the noisiest girls online get all the attention? It’s in the stillness, in the calming of our minds, that we find respite. As we shut out the distractions, we wake up to the life in front of us. As the Dutch professor and theologian Henri Nouwen said, “God is always where we are. Not in the past (with its disappointments) nor in the future (with its worries) but in the present where love can touch us.”
While God can use significant events to get our attention, He doesn’t shout or fight to make Himself heard amidst the unnecessary chatter of our lives. God is always speaking, and it’s only when we’re present that we can hear Him. He is that still, small voice kindly beckoning us to be quiet in His presence so we can be filled with peace and joy.
Living in the moment means living without escaping into the past, avoiding the distractions of the present and not fearing the future. It means we are then awake to the gifts right in front of us. As my dear friend Kate Merrick says in her book Here, Now, “We are meant to breathe in today, and only today.”
You are made to live wide-awake to the story God is writing in your life. The psalmist writes, “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11). Ultimately, living in the present is an ongoing journey of abiding in God through His Spirit, moment by moment, breath by breath. To be present is to be fully engaged in the ordinary, mundane, difficult, and beautiful moments of your life.
Presence is a spiritual discipline. Living present means leaning in and investing in your dreams and desires. Presence is also sitting with uncomfortable feelings. It forces us to hear the lies we’ve been believing and search for the truth. It’s immersing yourself in both the good and hard parts of the season you are in. It’s giving the people you are with your full attention because you see their worth. It’s setting boundaries with technology and even deleting those addictive apps for a while or forever. It can look like being mysterious online so you can be spiritually alive and live awake offline. It’s unplugging and getting outside in creation. It’s savoring a day of rest each week. It’s quieting all the noise so your thoughts can wander uninterrupted. It’s learning to gain strength from the practice of solitude. The path to peace is paved with presence. Presence births contentment and contentment cultivates joy. You were made for both.
While our infatuation with the lives of others might keep us from living rooted in the present, we are also sometimes consumed by the past or preoccupied with the future. Understandably, unhealed hurt, trauma, abuse, and loss can make us live in the past. On the other hand, we can spend our moments in anxiety, afraid of the future. We can also fall into the trap of thinking that our lives will finally begin at some future moment. When’s the last time you thought, Once I lose that weight, I’ll be happy, or Once I meet that guy, I’ll be happy, or Once I fill-in-the- blank, I’ll be happy? We can find ourselves ruminating on the past, anxious about what’s ahead, or imagining a happier future while the present is passing us by.
Gidget is my daily teacher in the art of presence with many lessons to share. She does not multitask, dwell on the past, or worry about tomorrow. When she eats, she does so with focus and gusto. When it’s time for a good scratch, she lies on her back, kicks her four paws to the sky, and wiggles hysterically. And when it’s time to play, she gets the “zoomies,” running circles in our backyard with a smile on her face.
God is inviting you to breathe in life one day at a time. He is hoping you will wake up to the life He’s given you before it passes you by. He promises to be your provider, giving you everything you need for each moment. God will safekeep you or “hem [you] in behind and before” (Psalm 139:5), enveloping you with love and protection. He will heal your past hurts and fight your battles. You are invited to be transformed by His Spirit moment by moment as you live present and wide awake to the story He is writing for you right here, right now.
Adapted from Wonderfully Made: Discover the Identity, Love, and Worth You Were Created For: by Allie Marie Smith (©2021). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.
Allie Marie Smith is the Founder and Executive Director of our ministry, Wonderfully Made®. She is an award-winning author, speaker, podcast host, and certified life coach. She lives in North Santa Barbara County where she loves surfing and adventuring up and down the California coast with her husband, Paul, and Golden Retriever Gidget. Connect with Allie at her personal website alliemariesmith.com and on Instagram at @alliemariesmith.