This year I resolve to be "fully present." As I crouched over the toilet Christmas night anticipating the 24 to 72 hours of violent upheaval and lemon-lime Gatorade that I knew lay before me, I vowed with Scrooge-like desperation that if only I was allowed to survive to see them again I would never refer to my kids as a distraction to my reading, writing, or other work. Academics and ministry would at least occasionally take a backseat to Lego and Charlotte's Web. Further I resolved to understand my wife's impending jury duty not as a miserable start to the year but an opportunity to be the consummate family man, packing lunches and allowing my bride the simple pleasure of reacquainting herself with the world of adults. Devoting full attention to whoever I happen to be with and whatever I happen to be doing, my goal is to enjoy the blessings of the present rather than wishing away circumstances and constantly preparing for what may lay around the corner. There's nothing quite like being brought low before the porcelain altar to help reorder your priorities. Given the bold resolve mustered from the cold linoleum of the bathroom floor several days earlier, you can imagine my self-loathing when I switched off the TV the other night and realized I had just celebrated the new year with a week's worth of college football games, many of which were largely meaningless affairs and none of which involved any school to which I have a personal attachment or affinity. Each night's game ended somewhere around midnight making it difficult to focus on more pressing matters during the day...like writing this paragraph for example. Worse yet I realized my need of repentance on several fronts. I had developed a bitter dislike of University of Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron's girlfriend during the Sugar Bowl. ESPN's camera crew seemed annoyingly intent on broadcasting her reaction to every play. I stood in judgment over my brethren at Baylor University, a private Christian school, wondering whether the money for gilded football helmets and black uniforms (the school colors are green and gold) might have been better spent, especially since they ended up losing anyway. And while I may have wasted time in front of the tube I still felt personal superiority over a certain other class of revelers.
Every New Year's Eve since 1907, with the exception of two during World War II, has included the famous ball drop from atop One Times Square. The latest edition a week or so ago included over a million people crammed into Manhattan for hours, in freezing temperatures, with no access to restrooms, and allowed to bring nothing other than the several layers and in some innovative cases the adult diapers they were wearing. What could get me more excited about the prospects of a new year than being one of over a million people in the frigid streets, many wearing saturated diapers, and listening to Miley Cyrus? In retrospect it apparently takes nothing more than a string of over-hyped college bowl games.
It is amusing to think in such terms about the ways we choose to mark the passage of time. But averages indicate that if we're fortunate most of us will only receive somewhere in the neighborhood of eighty rides around the sun, each one a little quicker than the last. Only about eighty Christmases, eighty New Years, and eighty of whatever your favorite days or seasons are in between. My genetics seem to indicate I'll have a few more than eighty. Maybe you smoke and thus should expect a few less. Write off at least a dozen of those favorite days as either lost or severely hindered by stomach viruses and so forth and the number is more sobering. But I digress. All this is simply meant as cause to consider the best use of our days in relation to just about everything we typically do.
There is no textbook providing instruction on being "fully present." If there was I imagine it might contain advice related to living quietly and minding my own affairs (I Thes. 4:11). In contrast to using social media to project frustration regarding the perceived persecution of a reality TV celebrity perhaps there's wisdom in limiting ourselves to the challenges right in front of us; ones we can actually address in our own neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and families. "Do your best," the textbook might say, "to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15). Each of us has plenty of work to do whether we get paid for all of it or not. Followers of Jesus are tasked with the added responsibility of trying to understand how God's word applies to their work. This book might also include an exhortation to maintain focus upon "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable," anything of "excellence" or "worthy of praise" (Phil. 4:8).
After all, our day to day circumstances are what they are not by chance but by God's providence. As such there is with the correctly attuned perspective beauty in all of it, even...norovirus? I suppose I probably would have no real appreciation for the finer qualities of lemon-lime Gatorade were it not for such afflictions. Recognizing God's providence and by extension his blessings in the day to day may be more difficult than I initially anticipated, but I still think it's a worthy goal and good way to mark the passage of time in the new year.