The Power of Being Present in an Age of Urgency

From Jeff: This is a guest post from Sundi Jo, who is a writer, speaker, and small business owner in Branson, Missouri. You’ll find her engulfed in the social media world, spending time with family and friends, or on Twitter and Facebook.

I was in a movie once. Now, I’m famous. I even went to the premiere and brought my mom and best friend to watch. I felt pretty important until my mom asked me to rewind the movie in the theater because the scene went by too fast.

Being Present
Photo credit: Dave Stokes (Creative Commons)

I may have forgotten to mention I wasn’t the star. I didn’t even have a speaking part. I sat at the table with a complete stranger and was instructed to laugh when I heard the word “Action!”

After three takes, I got up and went home. I prepared myself for the agent to call and the deals to start rolling in. Six years later, I’m still waiting for the call. My 15 minutes of fame was more like 10 seconds of, “I’m sorry, who are you?”

This doesn’t just apply to being an extra in a movie. This is the way the world works. We’re busy. We don’t have time to pay attention.

What are we busy doing?

In our urgent world, there are distractions everywhere. Between kids, marriages, and the incessant pull of Facebook, there is no shortage of things demanding our attention.

I want my life to be slower in a culture set on being faster. Here are just a few examples:

  • We use the microwave to cook our food more quickly, and stand at the counter to eat so we can move on to the next task.
  • We drive faster cars.
  • We get 4G because 3G just doesn’t do the trick anymore.

We multitask because, after all, we’ll be more productive that way… right?

And we can’t tell the difference between Starbucks and Folgers, because apparently we don’t “slow down to smell the coffee.” Or is it “smell the roses?” I’m too busy to remember.

Life is moving, but are we living?

I have a friend named Sandy whose cell phone is from ancient times. She doesn’t text, and social media is a foreign language to her. I think she’s crazy, really.

I often want to shake my friend and yell, “Welcome to the 21st Century, lady. Get with the program!” But then I look at her and see peace. She just is.

Sandy can sit in silence for hours. After about two minutes, my legs are shaking and I’m twiddling my thumbs, anxious for something to fill the awkward gap. I envy her that.

Don’t get me wrong. Social media isn’t all bad. It’s how I put food on the table. But it can quickly become a distraction when my priorities aren’t in line.

If I’m not careful, I’ll use texting and instant messaging as my default relationship-builders. But that’s not a life; it’s a fabricated existence.

And what I really want is to make it to the four-minute mark while practicing stillness without going mad. So I’d better get back to the heart of it all.

What really matters

I don’t remember the name of that movie I was in. But I do remember standing in a circle and praying with a group of people who had lost their homes from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina that same year.

I’ve lost count of the how many photos I’ve seen on Facebook of kids with chocolate-smeared faces. But I remember the friends and family mourning the drowning of a young man down the road.

It’s those things that tug at our hearts we will remember most. It’s the tears we’ve shed with family. It’s the all night conversations we have with friends we see once every three years.

Here’s what I’m trying to say: I want my priorities back in line.

Day by day, I’m learning to re-prioritize. I’m making efforts to talk on the phone more versus texting. I’m closing the laptop when I’m finished with a project instead of staring into cyberspace. I’m allowing myself to be more vulnerable in my relationships. I’m choosing to live.

I’m not where I need to be, but I’m not where I used to be, either. Thank God. I want the word “busyness” out of my vocabulary. I want to be available. Focused. Present.

Don’t you?

What priorities do you need to realign today? Are you living or just busy? Share in the comments.

114 thoughts on “The Power of Being Present in an Age of Urgency

  1. I want this too, Sundi!   I resisted upgrading to a Smart phone for years, just did it this past Spring.  I like it’s convenience, but I so understand why your friend doesn’t want to.  Great reminder

  2. Sundi,

    Wise words. As I’ve been going through a significant life transition, I’m becoming more aware of how busy people are — or think they are — and how little they really need to be.

    Starting with myself.

    1. It definitely opens your eyes to your surroundings when you stop being so busy. I’ve been using the words of wisdom from Joyce Meyer. She says to be productive, not busy. If I can’t remember what I did today, then I was busy, not productive. 

  3. This feels like a daily battle anymore. The difference between being active in an online environment and feeling completely overwhelmed is increasingly shrinking.

    Being completely present is one of the true compliments that we can give to one another. I’m with you. I want to be fully “here” (wherever that “here” may be at the moment).

  4. There is real power in being able to say no to some of the “busyness”.  One of my practices is putting the phone on the counter at home, and walking away from it in the evening.  That said, I still fight being busy.  Now, I’m trying to practice saying “no” to some opportunities so that I have the ability to be present.

    1. I’ve been keeping my phone on silent a lot more lately. Also, I’ve been saying no to more things, including the “good” church things. Sometimes I can do too much, even when it’s positive things. 

  5. Sundi,

    Thanks for the reminder!

    I can’t catch up either. That is as long as I’m playing someone else’s game. I’ve resisted a smart phone for that reason. And to get ahead of the fray, wow… that’s another question altogether. So I too choose stillness, being present and available.

    It’s the only way I can get at the question, “Now, what am I meant to do? What’s the next step?”

    Sundi, It’s so great to see you growing in your passion and your presence (stillness).

    Thank you for sharing your life!

    1. Thank you Bob for the encouragement. I never want to stop growing in my passion. Happy to share my life if it inspires others. And you’re right – Jeff is awesome for creating this cool place. 

  6. Sundi, there’s no doubt anyone who navigated to Jeff’s site to read your article struggles with distraction and lack of presence. I’ll admit, while reading your incredible post, I took two phone calls, refilled my half-full coffee cup with Folgers (or was is Starbucks!?), responded to a Facebook post, sent a “Thanks” to a new follower on Twitter, and empathized with a sick co-coworker. 
    All that to say, I re-read your article after closing my office door and you have absolutely challenged me to be intentional about prioritizing my priorities.
    Thanks, Sundi!

  7. I think the big issue for writers is our (necessary) focus on deadlines. We’re always living in the future. That article/essay/book has to be finished by tomorrow, or next week or next month. To be really present, we have to let go of those deadlines — but if we let go of them too much, then we might fail to meet them. It’s a conundrum, I know! I’ve done mindfulness classes and I know how important it is to live in the present. It’s something I work on every day. Thanks for the reminder!

  8. Beautiful.  I started to have some cognitive dissonance with the social media upkeep & distractions since when my wife entered her third trimester.  Now we have a 12 week old boy and I have found the last 3 months a dizzying whirlwind of re-prioritizing.  It’s been chaotic, difficult, serene, and rewarding all at once.  

    I’m ramping my blog back up again and continuing to write, but I am budgeting my online time more stringently.  There is so much in the day that I want to be present for.

  9. Yes indeed. I’ve been yearning for a more simplistic life. I feel like time is just racing by and well, what do I have to show for it. In 3 weeks, I turn 46 and I’m like, heeeellooooo, is anybody in there? Ummm, where is time going? Sloooow down, but no, this fast paced New York City is maddening I tell you. There’s never enough time between one thing or another. It’s a bloody rat race. Bleck. 🙁

    1. Praying God shows you how to be a light of stillness in the crazy rat race of New York City. By the way, this might be a good book to read on being still from my friend @livingstill:disqus https://amzn.to/RzD0Gk

  10. I have learned the importance of beginning my day in quiet time.  I read my Bible, pray, journal and listen.  It changes my perspective on each day.

  11. Fabulous post, Sundi. I’ve touched on this topic in several posts lately. I think many of us are becoming more aware of the need for balance in our online presence. One of the comments I made in my post yesterday about busyness was:  What if we’ve confused our worth, our importance or significance with busyness, when who God is looking to use are those who will keep their calendars clear for Him? 

    1. I love that Patricia. I want to keep my calendar more clear for him. I’m tweeting that quote. 🙂 He’s been showing me ways to clear more time for him and it feels good just to know I’m available. 

    1. I’m had to make myself start closing the laptop when I’m done with a project, and stop going to bed with it. I leave it on the table so I’m not tempted to open it up and do something. 

  12. This is bang on. My wife and I recently had our “moment of awakening” and have consequently embarked upon a fairly significant load-shedding project. One happy result is something called 30 things in 30 days: jettisoning activities and things (including our house) that get in the way of doing what we love. The picture I’ve included is everything on my personal “keep” list. Yes, the coffee gear is technically not “personal”, but is “kitchen”, but it was the first thing on my list. Maybe I’ll tow the espresso maker with my bike…

    1. Insofar as social media is concerned, I’ve removed the twitter app from my phone (only do it deliberately from my laptop) and [spoiler alert] #30 on the list of things we’re getting rid of is…Facebook. Even Starbucks cannot aspire to such heights of creepy, take-over-your-life evil…

      1. Thanks, Sundi.

        The differences in our life:1) Time: we have more of it.2) Money: we need less of it. Shockingly less, to be honest.3) Environment: we are creating one that is beautifully uncomplicated.4) Health: we are fitter, therefore we are happier.Getting back to time, this is really what it boils down to, and the reason why this story struck a chord with me. We found that we were spending so much time on “obligations” that we didn’t really want to do. Things as simple as yard work, and projects around the house, which neither of us enjoy (I’m the reason they sell first aid kits at Home Depot next to the saws…). Solution: we’re getting rid of the yard, along with the house. The garage sale will include the garage, all the stuff in it, and my mortgage. We’ll live in an apartment – rented or purchased, not sure yet – and enjoy the park instead.My wife took it a step further and has taken a leave of absence from work. We’re heading to NZ for the winter to bike around South Island. We haven’t been this connected in a very long time.

        We don’t have kids, but even if we did, we would still be doing this. I don’t buy the argument that kids need houses, yards, elaborate play areas, and loads of toys. Kids need people who love them and spend real time with them. 

        It’s all about time. Because that’s the one resource you’re not going to get more of.

  13. This is a lesson I’m currently learning. It takes practice, focus and discipline (more attributes I’m currently working on). I wrote about this issue last week. My take was about my awareness of the enemy who was seeking to destroy. This kept me from noticing the enemy who was looking to DISTRACT me.  Praying that we all learn to be still

    1. You’re right Diana. I recently realized I was being distracted with both good and bad things and I’ve had to figure out which ones God really wanted me to be a part of. So thankful for His grace. 

  14.  Thank you for sharing! This is so important for our society! We have to remember human touch is what makes love go around!

  15. Great reminder Sundi. It’s a tricky balance, for those of us who ‘need’ it. (bloggers, teachers, online entrepreneurs e.t.c) . Once we learn to keep the balance, we the better for it.

  16. I loved this post. I see more and more people trying to unplug their digital selves and talk more. My family is working on tech-free times and places to set boundaries and really stay in touch with each other. Of course, we also have bad habits and I have plenty of friends who are heads-down in the digital world. Here’s my observations: https://wp.me/p2ioO1-41Typed on my iPad which I updated to iOS 6 as soon as humanly possible. :-/;-)

  17. One of the worst things in our modern life is being in the middle of a conversation with someone and checking my phone.  It’s like saying “Let’s see what’s better somewhere else.”  And we all do it.

    Also I just blogged about out instant lifestyle over at https://DavidHelmsBlog.com 

    It’s not all bad, but it does distract us from what we really need and true growth.

    1. Excited to read your post David. I’ve really had to work on that with my phone as well. I put it on vibrate, stick it in my pocket and refuse to allow myself to look at it so I can actually be “engaged.”

  18. Sundi Jo,
    Great post. I was almost too “busy” to stop and read it! I love “If I’m not careful, I’ll use texting and instant messaging as my default relationship-builders. But that’s not a life; it’s a fabricated existence.”
    This is something I’ve been pondering of late…My default is busy. But what do I really accomplish? Stuff gets done. But people are pushed to the side. Thank you for your honesty. Here’s to sitting still for more than four minutes! 

  19. Very nice post. What I’ve found helps tremendously, if practiced [somewhat] regularly, is to focus on your breath. By focusing on breathing slowly, through my stomach, in through the nostrils, out through the mouth, I’ve been able to center my mind and balance my emotions with incredible effectiveness.
    Thanks for sharing.

  20. “If I’m not careful, I’ll use texting and instant messaging as my default relationship-builders. But that’s not a life; it’s a fabricated existence.”

    Says is all right there. I’m guilty of knocking on doors, starting “relationships” and even trying to maintain them through texts and messages. I think most of us stay “busy” by being attached to phones and other devices and in the end, we’re not being more productive at all – we’re merely catching up with what everyone else is doing.

    1. Yes. I can find myself doing the same with Facebook. Scrolling through the daily updates, catching up on what others are doing can quickly be an excuse not to follow up with friends because I already know what they did with their day. 

  21. Absolutely. These past couple months I would say I am trying to become somewhat of a minimalist in different areas of my life, mostly at home. My goal: Get rid of the “stuff” that clouds my perspective and also the so many pointless things I “do”=Decluttered life, time for reflection, and do more of what matters.

  22. Great write, Jeff.  I had to laugh at that last reference of staring into cyberspace after finishing a project.  I spend too much time online as it.. need to get better at walking away!  

    You seem to really understand what’s important in life.  Admirable! 

  23. This is a great message. I’ve been very conscious lately of simplifying my life and being present for my daughter, my loved ones, and myself too. We’d all be better off if we’d all take the advice

  24. Great post, Sundi Jo! I have found that the whatever gets my attention when I first get out of bed drives my me and my day. Email and Twitter can quickly become the tail the wags the dog.  The hardest and most empowering thing I can to start my morning is give my attention to God.  Starting with the question “What do You want to teach me and show me today?” sets me on a journey of discovery and intentionality, not busyness for business’ sake.

    Thanks for the reminder. 

  25. I’m getting there. Slowly but surely. I know we chatted a little about margin Sundi Jo the other day and this is a key part of the equation. I need more of it. I’m getting there and thankfully, I have a plan with some steps. I’ll be implementing this and talking about it more really soon.

  26. I like each post and find I re-read them often. The idea of living without a cellphone makes me a bit queasy and then I recall the years without one. No cell phone, PC’s weren’t yet heard of and I grew up without TV.and a home phone line. We had a payphone down the block and TV I saw a couple times a week. Sugarfoot and I love Lucy.In an emergency we paid a neighbor lady ten cents for a quick call. No car.We walked alot and it was so taken for granted that there wasn’t an argument about any of it. I learned to print and read simple words before I stated school.I could tie my own shoes and dress myself. I could tell time with a numerical clock. My brother let me use his transistor radio when he worked on Saturday’s. We had a kitchen radio.No FM in those days. Outside was a world to explore,learning the name of bird species,trees,plants, house maintenance,gardening.Knowledge that people pay to learn now. Life was peaceful,work was hard and when we were done for the day,we knew we had accomplished something.That felt good. We read and spent time writing nice letters to family and friends. Thank you letters for gifts were heartfelt and sincere. We did more as a family,and had more family in the same town or one close by.Technology is fantastic,although so was being born in 1955 and growing up in the 60’s and 70’s. I could life off the grid very nicely.That is if I could afford to.Anything really good for us in our tech world is too expensive unless you are Bill Gates.

  27. I, too, almost missed this due to i-busyness. Sighs.
    Trying to upload a lengthy purchase on a cloudy day in a 1-bar area, I managed to miss a great webinar. And then had to cancl the upload! It took 3 hours to upload 20%. Sighs.
    Then I come here and all I can say is, “Yes, yes, yes!”
    And my husband would add, “Amen!”
    I know I need badly to be published, but it’s going to take Someone with more smarts and more power than I have to make it happen. I have just seen that. If He wants it, it will happen. I say that every so often, but I’m really beginning to believe it.
    And He will NOT weed my herb beds, so I need to get busy!

    1. Continue to let God be your strength and He’ll come through. He always does. He’s teaching me though that I have to clear other things out so I can make room to hear Him. 

  28. Wow! Some great thoughts that I have been experiencing this week and just today. I’m trying to prioritize my life, struggling along, not always getting done what I want or should, and end up frustrated at the end of the day. I love your idea that we need to take the time to slow down. I told my husband this morning I need to just be home sometimes, and just be. Just be.

  29. Great post Jeff.  I like the story of your friend who ignores social media.  I too find it envious some days that ignorance is bliss.  Since we can’t claim ignorance of the buzz and hum then maybe we can gain balance.  Keep going.

  30. Thank You for this post. I think any sane and rational person wants to be present and not allow for the things of this world to drive them. I just had to take a moment and thank you for this post.

  31. Thanks for writing this post, Jeff.

    Gotta start smelling the roses, and appreciating the movies. 

    You know sometimes in movies, they make those moments so special, the camera focuses in on the small actions – like dad making toast for his kids, family eating together – and then you wonder where these things happen in real life…like what happened?!

    and then you realize, it’s cause your mind was elsewhere when you were eating breakfast, or you weren’t really present (:

    Now, I know why.

    Thanks again, Jeff.

  32. Good question, Sundi.

    I find myself to be quite busy a great deal of the time–specifically because I am so dead set on living deliberately and pursuing the ideas I come up with rather than just sitting on the couch. Contrary to what you are saying here (though it’s certainly a valid point in this culture!) I think if I’d be much less busy if I gave in and stopped fighting to live deliberately.

  33. Wow, what a powerful message for today. I agree, so many of our tech devices are more of a distraction than an aid when we devote so much time to them. Thanks for the reorientation. wb

  34. I hate talking on the telephone, but can’t stand texting either.  If it all went away tomorrow, I don’t think I’d be that sad.

    I loved your post. Made me feel a little guilty, though.

  35. I hate talking on the telephone, but can’t stand texting either.  If it all went away tomorrow, I don’t think I’d be that sad.
    I loved your post. Made me feel a little guilty, though.

  36. A blessing to read & I totally agree! I’m going to share this on my FB page so other moms like me who may struggle with priorities like myself can be encouraged by your blog.

  37. Hi Jeff,

    Great post, I want my priorities back in line also.Being focused is the very thing I am working on. I tend to always be thinking of the next thing to say or do. Or planning what I will be saying or doing tomorrow, instead of being present where ever I am. One of the things that is helping is I started a paper route, ( helps put gas in the van) my children help me. It is boring rolling 1600 papers and putting them in plastic bags so we talk. I have three children still at home and sometimes all three help, sometimes only one or two. It is always a blessing even though I don’t like doing a paper route. We are present with each other. God is so Good. I never thought this would be a benefit of a paper route. Maybe washing dishes by hand is not such a bad idea with all of them helping. 

  38. Awesome post! I think God is using posters like you to remind ME to “slow  down and smell the roses,” so to speak, because this is the 3rd blog I’ve read that is discussing the “overconnectedness” we live in today. We’re so connected that we’re disconnected, I think. 

  39. Yeah it’s true that we have stopped living our lives and have lent ourselves to the technology and allow ourselves to be guided by it ( it should have been the other way round).  The idea of re-prioritizing is good, only if you have realized that you want to be yourself at least for a few hours a day. 

  40. I have zero grasp on the passing of time, so rely on timers to pull me out of la-la-land. Otherwise, I’d get sucked in for hours without realizing how long I’d been lost in cyberspace. I limit my blog-reading time, my email time, my twitter time… each forum gets a specific part of my attention, & then that’s it. Done. Move on.

    I read somewhere that when you’re trying to focus (or meditate, or go to sleep, or relax your mind, whatever), you could imagine yourself standing at the edge of a river. Any stray thoughts that come along are okay — you just treat them as stones & toss them into the water, watching as the stream washes it away. Eventually you’re supposed to reach a point where you run out of stones. I’m not there yet, haha, but I do enjoy dumping my worries, fears, or distractions for a bit. I’d call that a win-win 🙂

  41. I have too much time on my hands and find myself stuck and not venturing out to make actual friends – I mean, in person friends.  Its too easy to become a hermit!  So my goal is like yours… be present, yet be present outside of my cocoon.  As one gets older, this becomes a different kind of effort.  Effort, nonetheless.  Some go in one direction, others go in another yet we all are trying to do the same thing: connect with others.  My priority is to make friends, besides my dog! 

  42. Love “Life is moving, but are we living?” (and also Hugh, from gapingvoid, “Doing what you love is the new wealth”) as this weeks inspirational push!

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