The Practice of Presence

Lessons From a Tired Mama Mariah Velásquez Part 12 of 13

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Be With Me

Here. Now. This present moment brings challenges for all of us. For parents with young children, worlds of work, school, and parenting have collapsed into one. What once felt like normal productivity is now a distant dream. Exhausted. Stretched thin. Overwhelmed.

As the mother of a little one running all around and of another growing inside, I have also been juggling the demands of working remotely. I have wanted a roadmap through this pandemic; I have yearned for deeper connection with God and for gratitude rather than pessimism in a very demanding time.

Each day is a challenge. Even as I write this, my toddler is pulling at my pant leg, yelling for my attention. Or is this the invitation? As one who cannot help but live in the present, my seventeen-month-old son Leandro invites me in. When I want to retreat to mindless distraction as a way to avoid feeling overwhelmed, he invites: Come! Look! Play! Stare into my eyes as I pull your hair. Sit on the floor with me. Make animal sounds as we read. Be with me.

Small children teach us how to be present with God in each moment. As I spend time with my toddler and reflect upon motherhood I am learning how to practice God’s presence.

Praying like a Toddler

My toddler is honest. Whatever Leandro is thinking and feeling shows in the arch of his eyebrows or the waves of his arms. I too will begin with honesty. Over the past two months, I have often felt very dry. Dry, dry, dry. Like every droplet of water had been used up. Even my will is shriveled. I don’t even want to try to be present with God. And so I wait with my dryness. As I wait, I shoot short, desperate prayers to God.

In this dryness, I find Julian of Norwich’s writings deeply comforting. As one who lived through the black death, waves of people dying around her, and spent much of her life confined in a small cell, Julian has much to offer.1 I encourage you to dive deeply into her writings. She shares: “(F)requently our trust is not complete for we are not certain that God hears us . . . for we are frequently as barren and dry after our prayers as we were before . . . (The Lord said to me): ‘I am the ground of thy praying.’”2

When we feel dry, barren, isolated, we are not alone! God is the ground we stand on. Julian explains that God wills good for us, then gives us the desire for it, then helps us pray for good. God meets us in our dryness.

Walking Like a Toddler

One bright spot in this time has been walking through the neighborhood with Leandro. He looks around, takes five steps forward, stops, returns to climb over a rock, then zigzags forward. He shouts to the crow cawing, feels the tree’s bark, watches the passing truck.

For many, the pandemic has stripped us of productivity. Without task lists, what do we have? Our journey with Jesus is like walking with a toddler. We can become too worried about a destination or fitness goal that we miss the invitation to be together, to crouch down in wonder at a passing ant, to make eye contact with the neighbor pulling weeds.

Jesus wants to walk with us, not because of how quickly we can get to the destination, but because we are here, now, together. Julian of Norwich encourages, “God is everything that is good, as I see it, and the goodness that everything has, it is He.”3 Jesus invites us to connect with him in and through the goodness in the people and creatures around us as we slowly walk together.

Nearness Like a Baby

I also learn from the little girl growing inside of me. I may reach lunchtime and realize I haven’t been aware of her yet today. If I lay on my back and become still, I feel her tumbling and kicking her tiny legs. We connect in this moment. Then I can notice her subtle movements as I resume other activities.

Connecting with God can be like this. In moments when we are preoccupied, he is no less present. God is near, moving and active. We learn places, postures, where we most easily notice God’s movements. Then we more easily notice his presence in busy times.

Brother Lawrence encourages, “(God) asks you to console yourself with Him the oftenest you can. Lift up your heart to Him even at your meals, or when you are in company—the least little remembrance will always be acceptable to Him. You need not cry very loud: He is nearer to us than we think.”4

Just as a growing baby is near, God is nearer than we think.

Loving Like a Mother

As a mother, I will go through any measure of difficulty, pain, sleeplessness for my children’s wellbeing. When I reflect upon the way that God loves us with this intense, nurturing love, I am left speechless. Could my love for my children be only a glimpse of God’s love for me?

Because of this love we can trust God as Leandro trusts me. Startled by a passing car, he grabs my finger or hides behind me, knowing he is safe. Dallas Willard says, “Faith—trust—is the key that unlocks our readiness to receive God’s sufficiency in our lives . . . To have faith in God is simply to trust God, to rely upon him in the face of all fears.5

We can trust that we are safe because our little hand is wrapped around God’s finger.

Being Present with God

The gift of the present moment is the gift of relationship. We see God’s immense desire for relationship with us through a child’s longing for connection. “In an act of grace God placed in all of humanity an essential orientation toward relationship. The most powerful drive a child has is for relationship.”6

As I have learned with Leandro and his baby sister, God invites each of us: Come! Look! Play! Be with me.

How to Practice Presence

  • Five-minute call. If you feel isolated but with little energy to cultivate friendships, try this: Find one friend to call each morning for five minutes. Simply ask one another, “How can I pray for you today?” If possible, pray together in the moment.7
  • An honest prayer. Next time you do not want to pray offer a short honest prayer to God. Stomp your feet or lay on the ground. Let your tear-filled eyes gaze into God’s eyes and share.
  • A toddler walk. See an ant crawling? Hear a chickadee? Stop. Take a deep breath. Turn in circles, walk forward then back, zigzag. As you walk, notice Jesus’ presence with you, his delight.
  • Wake with God. When you first become aware of the morning light, greet God, perhaps singing, “This is the day that the Lord has made.” Notice how this helps you become more aware of God’s presence throughout the day.
  • Learn to trust. Before navigating to a news site (where one glance can bring many fears), imagine sitting in God’s lap. Notice what difference it makes to read surrounded by loving arms.
Footnotes
  1. Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, Translated and “Introduction” by Barry Windeatt, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), xii.
  2. Fr. John-Julian. The Complete Julian (Brewster: Paraclete Press, 2009), 185. Emphasis added.
  3. Ibid., 91.
  4. Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God (Pasadena: Still Center Publications, 1996), 30–1. Emphasis added.
  5. Dallas Willard, Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23 (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2018), 94­–5. Emphasis added.
  6. Lacy Borgo. Spiritual Conversations with Children: Listening to God Together (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020), 37.
  7. This practice was first recommended to me by my spiritual director and has been incredibly helpful.
Mariah Velásquez is Associate Director of the Martin Institute for Christianity & Culture at Westmont College and a fellow of the Cultura Initiative.
Listen to all parts in this 12 Spiritual Practices for the Pandemic series