One of the greatest skills you can develop is the ability to be appropriately present to others within any given context. This is a must-have skill for ministers, but even if you aren’t a minister, the ability to be present will enrich your life and contribute to your maturity.
At first, being present sounds so easy. You just listen or pay attention, and that makes you present. Not so fast. Life is full of factors that make being fully present difficult. Sometimes you are tired, and you just don’t have what it takes to be present. Other times, you are so opinionated that overcoming the wall of the self and being fully here and now becomes almost impossible because your opinion colors everything. It is also possible that you are ready to be here mentally and emotionally, but the other person to whom you want to be present makes it difficult: she may be agitated, or she may communicate in a confusing way. In short, being appropriately and fully present is a skill that can be developed, but it requires some of your intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and even analytical reserves to marshal. Moreover, it takes a trained eye and ear to recognize the subtle absence of a conversation partner from a discussion that appears to be fully with you.
Let me share with you one of my observations in which you can see how a person seems to be present but in reality is not. A few months ago, I was visiting a family when I witnessed a dialogue between the parents and their daughter. The daughter was visiting the family from another state, so they were exchanging their news. After listening to their discussion for fifteen minutes, I slowly noticed several things. First, it was mostly the parents who asked questions about the daughter’s life, and the daughter answered — she liberally shared information and seemed happy to share about her life. But she asked very few questions about her parents’ lives though they had not seen each other for some time. Second, the parents’ questions were in depth while the daughter’s questions were shallow — she rarely followed up a question with more probing questions and was satisfied with the generic answers her parents gave. Third, she guided the conversation — if she did not want to answer a question, she simply changed the subject without acknowledging the shift in conversation, and her parents went along without vocalizing their need to be heard or their concerns to be taken into account. I concluded that the daughter was not fully present to her parents because the entire conversation revolved around her life, and she never showed the same degree of interest in her parents’ lives as the parents had shown in hers. Outwardly everything was fine, but inwardly the needs of the parents went unsatisfied and unacknowledged.
But what exactly is the skill of being present to others, and why does it matter so much?
Being present means giving yourself to others — your attention, your emotion, your empathy — and receiving them as they want to be received without immediately putting them into a mental box or category. It is a gracious gift in which you give and receive in such a way that you enrich someone’s life just as someone enriches yours. This skill requires recognizing and handling a certain degree of vulnerability because it assumes an openness to the other person. Being present has many forms, levels, and degrees. For example, I can be physically in the same room as my partner but I may not be there mentally or emotionally. The opposite of presence is absence. For every person, the decision on being present or absent is a judgment call because it is impossible to be attentive indiscriminately, and sometimes it can be downright dangerous. Is the person, situation, or event, etc. worth being present for it? What happens if I’m absent — is the other person in danger if I leave?
By being fully present, you perceive reality more sharply and live it more intensely. Also, being fully present helps you understand others better. Usually, people sense when you are there with them right in that moment, and that sensing helps to establish and sustain better relationships.
Below I list a few tips that will help you be fully present in your conversations or actions. But don’t fool yourself. You have to practice with effort to learn how to be fully and graciously present to others. It will take some time, yet it is doable. So here we go.
Did you like this article? Then check the link below for another relevant blog post.
Also, please share this post on social media. Let others learn from it too.