One of my favorite childhood memories is when my Grandma would take me for an outing wherever I wanted to go. The possibilities were endless. So many places to go and see, but the best part of the outing was going on adventures with her. We’d get some lunch at the closest Teriyaki restaurant and then go shopping. I’d pick out some art supplies or a soft sweater from the sale rack. The objects she purchased for me were cool, but the real gift was her listening ear and her presence. She made time for me; sometimes even a whole day gallivanting across the city with energetic curiosity for what was next. Those moments together taught me a lot about what it means to give the gift of being present for a friend.
Here are some ways that I’ve learned I can be present for the people in my life:
- Your Physical Self – There are times when being physically present is the most wonderful gift you can give someone. Being with them to give a hug when they’re having a rough day, celebrate the little wins in life with some coffee, and be able to share in the joys of the moment over dinner. Invite them into your home to sit on the sofa with you and chat about life. There is something about the presence of another human being that brings warmth to our human soul.
- Your Attention – I really appreciate the quote by Jim Elliot that says “Wherever you are, be all there.” Have you ever been in the room with someone, but noticed that their mind was really somewhere else? I’ve been guilty of it before and I’ve also been on the receiving end of it. It can make you feel that what you have to say in that moment meant is not important. The truth is, what you have to say is valuable. Being fully present every time someone desires to talk with you is not always possible. It is possible to make an effort to show the person your conversing with that their words are of value. You can put other tasks or distracting items, like your phone, away during the conversation, look them in the eyes, and allow your mind to focus on listening to what they are saying – not your to-list or what your response will be.
- Your Safety – Being a safe person to share thoughts and ideas is another level of giving your presence to someone. The safety created in a conversation can be shown to a person by being present. It shows them that you truly care about who they are and what is on their mind. Creating a safe environment for deeper conversations requires that you be a trustworthy person. Being a person others can trust does not mean you always agree with them. It’s ok to challenge their ideas and action to help them grow. In my experience, safety in a conversation comes from the peace in your body language, the compassion in their word, and the empathy in their heart that allows you pour out your thoughts without judgment.
- Set Good Boundaries – Being present is not about always being available, but being fully there where you are with someone. Setting boundaries, both with the person you are with and outside influences to your interaction. If you feel you are needed whenever something pops up, it’s hard to have a meaningful conversation. In order to fully present in the moment, you are going to have to say no, or not right now, to other opportunities that will arise. Knowing ahead of time what your boundaries are will help you to be confident in sticking to them. You could look at setting boundaries with your time, with what type of distraction you will allow (emergencies are an exception), and even what words you will allow into the conversation.
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29
- Give Options – Have you ever been in a conversation where you could have answered “yes” or “no” to ever question the person asked? I’ve been in those conversations before and was the master at giving the shortest answer possible. If you caught me as a tired introvert, I apologize. You probably were the recipient of my lack of sentence structure. One way to divert the short answers from people is to ask questions that require a thoughtful answer. Don’t cut people off from sharing their ideas, or phrase the sentence in a way that demands they answer in a way that suits your needs. Be open to their point of view and be curious!
Take time to enjoy the people in your life and be fully present for them.
Question: How can you practice being more present today?