“We need to be fully aware and awake in the moment. Too much time in the past leads to depression: regrets, bad memories, shame, guilt, bitterness, old wounds— all that lies in the past. Too much time in the future leads to anxiety: what if that happens? What if this falls through? Fear. Worry. Concern. It’s all in the future.”
-John Mark Comer, My Name Is Hope
This book has been so central in my healing journey. In My Name is Hope (highly recommend!), author and pastor John Mark Comer writes about anxiety and depression. One of my biggest takeaways was the importance of living in the present moment.
Now I do believe that it’s sometimes helpful to reflect on the past in order to learn, grow, and even heal from painful experiences.
However, I know from personal experience, that dwelling too deeply on the past can lead to persistent sadness and regret. I can waste precious time rehashing painful memories, analyzing past conversations with people, and regretting wasted moments and opportunities. The truth is that there’s nothing I can do to change the past. It has already happened. Therefore, all I can do is invite God into the pain of my past and choose not to let it define me.
The same thing is true about the future. On the one hand, it is important to consider the future and set goals and plans.
However, I know from personal experience that it’s easy to spend way too much time lost in future possibilities. I can always find something to worry about. And the truth is that most of the things that I worry about never even materialize. Even more importantly, I miss the beauty of the present moment because my mind is caught up in future moments.
Recently I’ve discovered several strategies for being fully present in the moment. The following are some ideas that are helpful to me:
5, 4, 3, 2, 1 mindfulness: This is a fun exercise for getting into the present moment. I discovered it by reading many online articles about fighting anxiety. Basically, I go through each of my 5 senses and notice what my body is experiencing. I call it “5, 4, 3, 2, 1 mindfulness” because I notice 5 things I see, 4 things I feel, 3 things I hear, 2 things I smell, and 1 thing I taste.
For example, right now I am sitting in my bedroom.
I see tiny rays of light coming through the partially closed window blinds, the soft glow of lamplight, my blue beta fish swimming in its tank, my waterfall photograph on the wall, and my tall, white bookshelf full of my favorite books.
I feel the soft pillow behind my head, the cool comforter that I’m sitting on, the scratchy carpet beneath my feet, and the smooth keys on my laptop keyboard.
I hear the soft buzz of my box fan, the tumble of the clothes dryer, and the clicking of my laptop keyboard.
I smell the calming scent of lavender room spray and the subtle odor of sunscreen that I wore earlier today.
I taste cool, refreshing raspberry sorbet that I am eating as I write this blog post.
I love this exercise because it helps me to notice all of the things that are happening right around me and to thank God for them.
Exercise: Exercise always helps me get into the present moment. Although I’m not the most athletic person, I love running. When I run, I find myself focusing on my breathing and my running pace. This helps me to stay focused on the moment. I also am a major hiker. I love getting out in nature and experiencing the beauty of God’s creation. I find that I most readily embrace the present moment when I’m out exploring all of the sights and sounds of a new hiking trail.
Worship: I love listening to worship music. Especially when I’m feeling anxious and afraid, music always brings me into the present moment. Especially when I’m driving, I like to sing along to worship songs and really focus on what the words are saying. These are such peaceful times with the Lord, spending time in His presence.
Written or verbal prayer: As someone who struggles with anxiety, I find that my mind often wanders when I try to pray. Therefore writing prayers to God in my journal helps me to stay focused on my conversation with Him. Sometimes I find it even more helpful to actually speak my prayers out loud to God. When I’m driving in the car, sometimes I’ll simply talk to God out loud and process life with Him. It’s amazing how this helps me to stay focused and present with the Lord.
Silence and solitude: I’ve mentioned this before, but silence and solitude are such important practices in my life. In many ways, silence and solitude discipline my mind to stay present. When I remove all of the distraction and noise, I’m left with just myself and God. It’s then that I can most clearly hear His voice and experience His presence.
Intentional time with others: Although I’m an introvert, I love spending time with people, especially in one-on-one settings. I find that I most readily embrace the present moment when I’m face-to-face and communicating with someone I care about. Something I try to practice is intentional listening— seeking to hear what the other person is truly saying and feeling without just waiting to jump in with my own thoughts. It’s amazing how fully present I feel when I get outside of my own mental orbit and seek to truly understand what’s going on inside another person.
I’d love to hear from you! What are some strategies that you utilize to more fully engage in the present moment and experience God there?