The Precious Present

James E. Hayes, D. Min., M. Div., Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

I’m a big fan of Anne Lamott. Her irreverent eloquence and sharp insights rendered palatable by humor have inspired me in important life moments. She helps me to understand that each moment is precious.

A recent read of “Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace”, stranded me in a moment. It began in the beginning, the preface, titled “Victory Lap:”

The worst possible thing you can do when you’re down in the dumps, tweaking, vaporous with victimized self-righteousness, or bored, is to take a walk with dying friends. They will ruin everything for you.
First of all, friends like this may not even think of themselves as dying, although they clearly are, according to recent scans and gentle doctors’ reports. But no, they see themselves as fully alive. They are living and doing as much as they can, as well as they can, for as long as they can.
They ruin your multitasking high, the bath of agitation, rumination, and judgment you wallow in, without the decency to come out and just say anything. They bust you by being grateful for the day, while you are obsessed with how thin your lashes have become and how wide your bottom… When you are on the knife’s edge — when nobody knows exactly what is going to happen next, only that it will be worse — you take in today.

These words guide my reflections as I continue to ponder the virtue of gratitude and generosity for 2019. I am often distracted by “multitasking, agitation, rumination and judgement.” I can get so tangled in the distractions that I miss the beauty of the moment; inattention rules the day.

Lamott’s insight into the reason terminally ill folks “ruin everything for us” is that those left with little time appreciate every time. I am sure this explains why generosity makes us feel better. When we acknowledge how precious the present, gratitude naturally follows. Even breath inspires gratitude—which I believe leads to generosity. As you have received, give.

Examples at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center abound. Clients suffering from anxiety or depression benefit from mindfulness exercises that deepen our appreciation of the moment. Families and communities of faith torn by conflict, through intervention, come to an appreciation of letting go of little things in order to focus on the ties that bind. Trauma victims gain insight into a life of many moments rather than only the horrific. It’s all hard work, but the rewards are great.

My mindfulness exercise or “Moment of Grace” in this composition is to simply sit for a moment in the presence of all those who steward resources in such a way so as to make our work possible. People who have volunteered time, struggled to train in order to help others, or donated to help us help others. Just sit there with all those folks—many of whom I’ll never meet. Take in today.

May the generosity of all involved lead to a deep spirit of gratitude, acknowledging that we are part of a work bigger than any of us as we strive to bring understanding, hope and healing into the present moment through our mission.

Each moment along the way is precious.

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