Personal Growth: Being There
group magazine: November-December, 2004
by Steve Merritt
Years ago, as the result of an ill-fated rope-swing accident, I ended up with a “Teflon brain”—my short-term memory was wiped clean, and anything that happened, anything that was said, just didn’t stick. For about three days, the lights were on but nobody was home.
I’ve only been able to use the amnesia excuse once, but ordinary minds can be like this too. At least I know mine can. More than we’d like to admit, we aren’t “all there” in our conversations with people. Our minds wander off, and for some reason we don’t really connect. Maybe it’s because our brains are flooded with details, or we’re thinking about a story we can share that tops the one we’re listening to.
Let me share an illustration of someone being present that will help highlight what it means to not be present. I was speaking at a national youth convention, and during one of the lunch breaks I was sitting with some of the other speakers, listening to stories about their latest books or seminars. A friend, busy with running the convention, stopped in for a quick bite. He began to tell me about a seminar he was teaching, which led to some personal things that were going on in his life.
He spoke with a presence in the moment that took us to a depth of sharing that was nothing like the conversations I had listened to earlier. Before I knew it we were talking about our lives, our dreams, our families, and our struggles. He shared in a way that let me into his life and invited me to give my heart in return. Even though the entire conversation lasted less than 15 minutes, the moments with him were the most refreshing and heartfelt part of my day.
Here are four questions I think we must ask ourselves if we hope to be present to others:
1. Do you know how to be present to yourself? Do you know and understand yourself under all the masks and layers? Do you know your insecurities, as well as your God-given gifts and strengths? What’s your heart toward others—not the fickle one, but the one God has given you?
2. Are you aware of how others impact you? This is very important because with-out this awareness we often react automatically and forgo the opportunity to influence others.
3. Have you cultivated a “been there, done that” mentality? Those who are forgiven much, love much. People of presence know what it means to be forgiven, so they’re able to dispense grace to others.
4. Do you have nothing to prove, nothing to lose? You must be able to relax in who you are and who God is, as well as risk who you are and who God is, to be able to connect with others.
Steve Merritt is a longtime contributor to group and a counselor whose practice focuses on teenagers. He lives in Washington state.