Instead, You direct me on the path that leads to a beautiful life. As I walk with You, the pleasures are never-ending, and I know true joy and contentment. Psalm 16:11
It is so easy to get caught up in the whirl of life and miss the moments that make us smile. While much of our day to day existence can be summed up in one word, “busy”, this should never be our goal or our defining characteristic. The serious overtones of our environment have the potential and most often the effect of slowing sucking the color out of life. Unfortunately, all we are left with is a faded black and white photograph that is barely recognizable and believe that this is the essence of truly living.
The hopeless despair that permeates much of our world can be rooted in overwhelming busyness that is never satisfied or a need to escape that only comes when we sleep away our days believing that when we wake up, things will be different, except they never are. How do we live in such an interesting ever changing world that has somehow become mundane? Even though no day is ever the same, no spring flower fest is ever exactly the way it was last year, no landscape remains static – real life can never be summed up in a “Groundhog day” experience that repeats in an unending loop.
These observations are not the result of endless study or research, they are simply the musings of someone who has stopped long enough to process what is right in front of our eyes. We have become the product of our environment. To be fair, these characterizations do not fit every person alive on planet earth. There are the few who remain relentlessly optimistic in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary. What is their secret to navigating this dismal landscape without losing their luster? Might I suggest that it is not the result of blind faith, or irrational thinking, or even abject denial of truth. No, it really comes down to valuing the moments life gives us and cherishing them as gifts to be opened and treasured.
I remember one Christmas when I was in such a hurry to open a gift that I ripped the plastic cover off the craft set that was inside the beautifully wrapped package. Bows were flying, paper was ripping and pieces of the prize inside became mixed into the mess that was all around me. But in my frenzy to discover the contents of the gift, some very important pieces became lost and the craft set, while still a project that could be done, would never be finished. We never did find the missing parts, despite a search through all the discarded trappings of Christmas.
Sometimes this is how we live life. We see and receive the package and are so eager to get on with the business of the day we rip open things that were not ready to be revealed. We gloss over the directions in pursuit of our own way of conquering the problems we face. Somewhere along the line we have lost the value for the slow, methodical, savoring, and seeing that are really at the heart of living.
It was my Birthday. I was turning 55. My natural tendency is to hurry through the “fun” so that I can get back to work. Now you know I live a very boring life. In my zeal for a productive, meaningful legacy, I have exchanged the urgency of the now for the promise of what will be. But this day was different. I thought about what I wanted to do. What sounded like a fun adventure? Where did I want to eat? How did I want to spend my time. This is a process, so it wasn’t a plan for a whole day just a few hours, but it was progress.
So, we went to a small town, just fifteen minutes from our house, and enjoyed lunch while sitting our on the patio of a small local restaurant. The weather was perfect and the space peaceful and inviting. We ordered fish and a spinach salad. It was worth savoring every bite. My husband and I shared some engaging conversation about the present and our future aspirations. Now, I know you weren’t prepared to rehearse the details of my day but that really is the point isn’t it? We all believe we don’t have time for the details. After all, life is really just about the big things, the impactful projects, the influence, the award worthy accomplishments, at least that is what the world tells us.
Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with the rest of the day’s highlights or low lights, except this one. We went into a small gallery filled with eclectic pieces. It was a collection of the work of local artists and spanned the gamete from jewelry to prints, to paintings. I know, I promised no more insignificant information. Just inside the door, hanging on the wall was a painting. A whimsical, colorful, picture of sheep. It was a mixture of flowers and backgrounds that were not necessarily a coherent backdrop but a mixture of smaller scenes mashed together to form one larger picture. Somehow they all beautifully and seamlessly meshed and created something like I had never seen before. The colors were bright and cheery and the scenes recognizable but not exact.
The best word to describe my reaction is to say that it made me smile. It brought such a sense of joy and lightness to my heart. Now, how could something so meaningless in the grand scheme of life be so deep. I think it really is that for just a few hours on my birthday, I let myself enjoy the moment, the present. I could fully appreciate the playful painting and recognize that my life really needs to be more about those times than all the grandiose aspirations that fill my mind and days.
I am in no way suggesting that every goal is to be discarded on the heap of instant gratification, that would be equally disastrous. However, hope doesn’t spring from the monotony of living with some future utopian existence in mind. In fact, how will I know what that feels like when I get there if I don’t take the time to experience small glimpses of it along the way.
It always amazes me how Jesus was never in a hurry. He was certainly a man on a mission, but not at the expense of squandering time that could be spent with people he loved and cared about or for most importantly getting away to be with His Father. We never look at Jesus and remark that He was unproductive or unfruitful, on the contrary, we see His accomplishments as worthy to be emulated. Maybe the model isn’t about doing more faster, it is about being present when it matters the most.
At the risk of being cliche, life is short. We can never retrieve the missed moments and opportunities of yesterday, but we are completely in control of how we embrace today. Stopping to fully take in the interesting, beautiful, even the mundane things that are all around us, is where true life is found.
So go ahead and find something that makes you laugh, smile, or stand in amazement. Find the value in someone you love, celebrate the seemingly unimportant, and give yourself to finding the peaceful satisfaction out of a life well-lived. Memories are not made under pressure they are discovered by the observer who takes the time to stop and pull back the covers on the unseen to find the unexpected.