When I was much, much younger than I am now, I recall assuming there were an infinite number of hours in the day. The days and weeks seemed so slow. As a child I remember carefully calculating the year by how much longer it was until Christmas arrived. I treasured Christmas because it heralded our family’s annual adventure to Middle Tennessee where we’d spend the week with my grandparents and a host of other family members in the log cabin. My father always made our road trips exciting and as a child, the anticipation was more than I could bear. It was far more than a Christmas trip; it was a cherished family experience. I can still hear him praying over us before we pulled out of the driveway (something I couldn’t comprehend then, but that’s an entirely different blog).
Along our journey, there were certain sacred landmarks, like enormous firework stores in Chattanooga that assured my sisters and I that we were getting closer. We knew it wouldn’t be much longer and our eagerness to arrive escalated with each passing moment. Exiting off the interstate and turning right, I can still visualize the then, cozy little town of Mount Juliet where time seemed to stand still. From the right side of our van, we passed the grocery store where my grandfather bagged groceries (something I have deep admiration for now) it was certainly a notably different vocation and pace of life for the World War II veteran.
I was attentive and the scenery was vivid, the sacred images are embedded within me. With each passing mile, it was as if we were leaving all our worries behind and entering sacred space. Obviously, that’s not how I would have described the experience as a third grader. But now I look back on those vivid memories and value them as holy moments. Stepping into their home was like stepping through a portal, a gateway into the sacred. Oddly enough, I can still feel the carpet on the stairs between my toes, I can still smell the country ham and my grandfather’s red-eye gravy cooking each morning and I can still see flames dancing in the fireplace warming the living room where we’d all gather. It was one of the few times I remember my father taking naps; something else I couldn’t comprehend at that point in my life. As I type this, more sacred memories are flooding my mind and once again I find myself asking where the time has gone.
How many times this past week did you find yourself wondering where the time had gone? If you’re reading this obscure little post, I hope you pause and allow your mind to wander and reminisce on life-giving, sacred memories. It took me having children of my own and the unique experiences we have together before I could begin to comprehend what my mother meant when she’d tell me that time only seemed to speed up as we age. She’s still the first to remind me to slow down. My father preached for fifty years and loved inviting people into the journey of being a follower of Jesus. He modeled what it meant for me to be husband and father, but it is my mother who has always invited me to slow and recognize the sacred, holy moments right in front of me.
Oddly enough, it seems as if I paid better attention when I was younger. I certainly had a greater sense of awe and wonder. When I reflect on precious memories and family experiences then and now, I often ask myself why I hadn’t been more present, attentive and aware in those moments. Why didn’t I pay closer attention? It seems that as I got older, I spent a great deal of my life moving at such a rapid speed that my surroundings often became like blurry scenery. Why didn’t it occur to me to slow down? Honoring the precious relationships and moments in life requires a certain kind of pace. A much slower pace. I’m on a mission to slow down and hopefully help set a much healthier pace for myself and those who are on the journey of life with me.
In her book, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, Barbara Brown Taylor wisely shares that the practice of paying attention is as simple as looking twice at the people you might easily ignore. She goes on to say that to see takes time, like having a friend takes time. According to Brown, and I tend to agree, the practice of paying attention is one way into a different way of life, full of treasure for those who are willing to pay attention exactly where they are. The practice of paying attention is a discipline and takes time.
As I look back, I’ve had wise friends and loved ones encouraging me to slow down, but it’s taken me some time to grasp the significance of what that really means. Maybe you, like me have had seasons of life where you were attempting to maintain an unrealistic and unsustainable pace of life. Maybe it’s taken you some time to begin understanding why it’s important to slow down and to really pay attention. I have found that slowing down, like paying attention is a discipline. They both must be practiced, especially if we are to ever develop the practice and discipline of being present in our relationships, present in the world around us and present with God.
Is your scenery blurry? Are you rushed? Have you filled all the margins in your life? Allow me to invite you into practicing a new pace of life. Slow down. Be present long enough to pay attention to the people and circumstances right in front of you. Life is full of sacred and holy moments, pause and recognize them as treasures. Remember, it takes time. Look twice at the people and circumstance you might easily ignore. In what ways will you be willing to pay attention to exactly where you are today?
Jon Micah is the Family Discipleship Minister at Hendersonville Church of Christ. He is the husband to Jenn and dad to four amazing children, Christine, Lara, Jack, and Luke. He’s an avid Houston Astros fan, occasional action chef, and loves camping and spending weekends with his wife in Chattanooga.