The Christmas Present

It’s that time of year again where we exchange gifts with our loved ones and friends as well as begin to plot out our New Year’s resolutions. I remember it was around this time last year when I was going through the RCIA process when one morning after mass we all gathered together and our lead catechist asked us all if we had any New Year’s resolutions in mind. I had a pretty one track mind at the time with my only goal being to be baptized and to be able to fully take part in our faith. However I will never forget what one of my favorite catechists had to say was his New Year’s resolution. While I loved all of my catechists Barry was a favorite of mine because of his brilliant mind, down to earth personality, and his over all out of the box style of teaching. When asked what his New Year’s resolution was he answered with something I had never heard anyone say before, his “resolution” was the same thing he had committed himself to doing every single year since he was a teenager and that is to “just be present“.

Barry proceeded to tell us all that his mother had Parkinson’s disease when he was growing up and one thing that he had learned during that time was how to be fully present in the moments he had with her and with the people around him. For about thirty years he has kept this diligent practice of trying to be completely conscious in every moment. Now that doesn’t seem like such an amazing thing until you begin to sit down and really reflect on it. When I did this I began to realize that one of the reasons why I enjoyed learning from Barry the most was because of his great ability to simply live in the present moment. When you were with Barry whether one on one or in a group he treated you as if you were the only person in the room and when you spoke he listened, I mean really listened. He genuinely hung on your every word and then he would take a thought of yours and expanding it into something deeper. You never left an encounter with Barry feeling like he wasn’t paying attention to you or that he didn’t care. Whatever you were saying or whatever you were doing Barry always gave you one hundred percent of his attention. Thinking of it now the way Barry treats people reminds me of a quote by the soon to be canonized Mother Teresa, who once said, “I believe in person to person. Every person is Christ to me, and since there is only one Jesus, that person is the one person in the world at that moment.”

It is clear to see why it was so easy for me to bond with Barry when he always made himself physically, mentally, and emotionally present. For a notorious daydreamer like myself this example of constant mental cognizance is truly inspiring. In our modern-day society I think it is fair to say that most of us are just muddling through our lives without too much thought or attention on our present states. We are so busy with life, work, family, and what not that we very seldom stop and really focus on what we are doing when we are doing it. Think about it, can you remember 90% of what you did today from the time you woke up until now? How “present” would you say you were when you did whatever it was that you did? Were you really conscious of your surroundings or would you say you just naturally went into autopilot? Are you just going through the motions giving half your attention to things and people while the other half of your mind is almost always checked out? And what about the last year? Do you feel like you really lived in 2015 or are you left wondering where all the days went?

If your answers to any of the above questions made you stop and think then maybe this year instead of making the same resolutions you always make but never follow-up on you can join me in making “just being present” in our lives our new resolution. Of course learning how to live in the present moment is way easier said than done so I’ve come up with a few baby steps we can all try to take this year to help us learn how to really live in and make the most of our time in the present. The first is to spend a few minutes everyday in silence with our Lord. Try and learn how to just be still and at peace in His company. It will be difficult at first, but keep at it.

Secondly try not to multi-task so much. Instead of trying to juggle several things at once slow down and focus on the most important task at hand. If it is really important then it deserves your full attention anyway. If it isn’t important then there is no need for you to rush it. Next you need to learn to make time. There is an old saying if you want something done ask a busy person, this is because busy people don’t “find time” they “make time”, so try to make time for the things or people you may have let fall by the wayside. Rearrange your schedule to allow yourself some time to sit and be present instead of rushing around worrying about all that you have left to do.

Figure out what is important in your life and what isn’t. We all feel incredibly busy in this fast paced world but are we really too busy to give our full attention to something or someone? The answer is no. We may think we are, but we aren’t. Take a few moments and think of all the things on your to do list. How many of them really NEED to be done and how many of them are we placing false importance in? Where are you devoting your time and focus the most and is that really the place it should be on?

Then next step is to go to confession. Get rid of all those sins that might be weighing on your shoulders. Even if you think you’ve only committed a few “little” ones a lot of “little” ones can add up to a big burden. Also you need to know your own mind. Start paying more attention to what you think or worry about the most. Is your brain filled with anxiety over the future or your insecurities? Are bad memories, old injustices, or past sins on constant replay in your mind’s eye? Or are you like me a hopeless daydreamer lost in their own alternate realities? Learn to recognize where your mind wanders off to and then practice dragging it back to the present when your thought process isn’t being helpful.

Less thinking, more listening. When you are having a conversation with someone stop focusing on what you are going to say next or what they are thinking about you. Instead try to really listen to what it is they have to say and try to just enjoy your time with that person. That leads me to my next step: Have a meal with someone. I mean a real meal. Make some time and sit down with either your family, friends, or someone you’d like to get to know better and just eat. Go into it with no other intentions than to just enjoy the meal and the time you’re spending with the one you’re sharing it with. Don’t focus on conversation topics, any problems you might have with that person, or any other agendas. Just make up your mind to have a nice meal with a nice person. You’ll be surprised how refreshing a meal with no strings attached can be.

This one is for all my fellow space cadets out there whose minds are constantly orbiting around their dreams. Work as hard as you dream. Having dreams and making goals is important, but what is more important is the work it takes to make those dreams come true. It is okay to dream about your plans for the future, but don’t let your future dreams keep you from living in the present.

Forgive. Yep it wouldn’t be a true Catholic list without forgiveness being somewhere on it. Arguably forgiveness is one of the hardest practices of Christian living, but that is what makes it one of the most important ones. First learn what forgiveness really means in the Catholic sense because so many people get this confused with what the world teaches about forgiveness then go to confession. Let God forgive and heal you. Once you’ve been forgiven by God learn to forgive yourself and then work on forgiving others.

Tackle your addictions! Everybody is addicted to something whether it is to substances, technology, food, or even drama we all are slaves to something in our lives. Take some time this new year and figure out what it is that you’re shackled to then take practical baby steps to free yourself from those addictions. And last but certainly not least, volunteer. Nothing gets you focused on the present moments more so then when you are busy focused on helping someone else. Especially when it is someone who really needs it.

In conclusion perhaps the best gift we can give ourselves and others this year is the gift of our full attention. Let’s not let another year pass us by without us knowing it. The present moment is a gift from God, how are you using it?

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