Here is what I want this school year more than anything – to pause.
I know that might sound strange, but I mean it.
More than wanting my days to go perfectly or my schedule to be orderly (because let’s face it: that’s completely unrealistic), I want to fully redeem the moments I have. I want to restore the moments I’ve been given by learning to be present to God, to myself, and the people around me.
And in order to do that, I have to pause.
I’m aware of the ugly tendency in myself to see my days as things to be conquered, as to-do lists to tackle and check off, instead of opportunities to be present to God and to other people.
I have friends and family members in my life who are much better at being present to the person and moment before them than I am. And those are the friends whose kitchens I love to step into and in whose presence I love to linger.
But I need help and reminders in order to do that. I can feel guilty for stopping for a moment to actually sit down at my kitchen counter to eat my lunch next to my child. Or pausing mid-morning to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee instead of taking cold sips from my to-go cup in-between emails or tasks. Or, most importantly, pausing during the rush of the day to notice the presence of God, what He is saying, and where I am in relation to Him.
This summer, to help me see and understand the importance of pausing and creating a regular rhythm of margin in my life, God did something unusual. Through a tour guide and a cup of coffee, He helped me see my life through an entirely different lens.
During the month of July, our family took a trip to Italy. We hiked as far north as the Dolomites and swam as far south as the Amalfi coast. And quite by accident, we ended up in Rome directly in the middle.
The day we were scheduled to fly home, our airline went on strike and the entire airport shut down. The earliest the airline was able to rebook our flights and get all six of us home was four days later. But instead of flying us back from our original city of departure, they rerouted us through Rome. So we packed our bags, found a hotel, and spent four unexpected days in the Eternal City.
Those unexpected days turned out to be some of the best days of our trip. Part of what made our stay in Rome so wonderful was a tour guide we found at the last minute – Giovanna, or “Jo” for short. She was great with the girls and knowledgeable about everything from ancient ruins, to art in the Vatican, to coffee.
During our time with her, while strolling from one sight to the next, we stepped into a coffee shop for a mid-morning shot of energy. While waiting for our order, we asked Jo what some of the differences between Italians and Americans she had observed after working with so many tourists through the years.
She said, “You know, one thing I’ve noticed is that in Italy, we don’t use to-go cups for coffee. When we drink our coffee, we sit down. Or we stand up at a coffee bar and drink our coffee out of a cup and saucer while we visit with a friend, or take a deep breath, or…pause.”
“Coffee shops have started carrying to-go cups for Americans when they ask for them, but for Italians, drinking coffee is something we slow down to do either by ourselves or together in community.”
Have you ever had a moment when you suddenly realize you and your culture are crazier than you had ever realized?
I stared at Jo for a few minutes while I mentally retraced our steps in Italy – from Venice and the Dolomites in the north, to Florence in the middle, to Sorrento in the south, I suddenly realized I had not seen one to-go cup of coffee. Even in the hotels we stayed in along the way, not one had a coffee pot in the room with to-cups or even real cups and saucers beside it. To get a cup of coffee, you had to go down to the lobby or restaurant and…sit down.
It was something that had actually bothered me: where in the world was my coffee pot in my own room where I could drink my cup in grumpy but glorious morning isolation all by myself?
I thought having your own coffee pot in your own room with to-go cups beside it was a global thing.
Nope. Turns out it’s an American thing.
And I felt immediate conviction.
Because pausing, slowing down, and having margin is something I’ve been working on with the Lord for quite some time. Ever since quarantine with COVID ended, I have attempted to make pauses in my day a part of my daily routine. I’ve scheduled them on my calendar and plugged alarms into my phone, but when that alarm goes off, here’s what I usually do – turn it off. And then move on to the next thing.
Because let’s face it: who actually, in real life, has time to pause?
Turns out an entire culture does.
Turns out my avoidance of pauses in my day – of sitting down to have lunch with my kids instead of shoveling food in my mouth between answering emails, or stopping to enjoy an after school snack with them to hear about their day, or taking five minutes to take a few deep breaths, listen to a Psalm or chapter from the Gospels being read aloud, and lay my mounting needs, concerns, questions, and failures before the very real Presence of a very real God – isn’t unattainable or unrealistic; it’s just plain old pride, spiritual laziness, and self-sufficiency.
Even if I’m not saying it out loud, when I turn the alarm off on my phone, or answer that phone call in the car, or respond to emails instead of eating lunch or a snack with my kids, I am rehearsing the narrative in my head that says, “My day is up to me, and it’s all up to me to figure this out. My being present to my email, task, screen, or text is more important and necessary to my success than being present to my children. Or my spouse. Or my neighbor. Or my God.”
I think spinning my wheels and getting more things done will propel me further down the path than sitting down and sitting still, taking time to know myself, know the person in front of me, and know my God. And perhaps even more than that is I think having a clean calendar and empty task list at the end of the day is a better use of time than being known by God.
All this from a cup of coffee.
Because Jo’s one comment about her entire culture’s ability and willingness to pause told me what I really believed was true, not what I professed to believe.
Ruth Haley Barton says it this way in her soul-searching book, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: “Many of us are choosing to live lives that do not set us up to pay attention, to notice those places where God is at work and to ask ourselves what these things mean. We long for a word from the Lord, but somehow we have been suckered into believing that the pace we keep is what leadership requires. We slide inexorably into a way of life that offers little or no opportunity for paying attention and then wonder why we are not hearing from God when we need God most.”
What I’ve slowly come to understand about myself is that it’s not enough for me to spend time knowing God and being known by Him in the mornings; I have to pause multiple times throughout the day to connect with Him, unburden my mounting concerns to Him, confess my failures to Him, notice the places where He has been moving, directing, opening doors and closing them, and then listen for the quiet wisdom, healing, direction, and peace that He offers for my soul.
I’ve learned that if I don’t pause to connect with His presence and the presence of others throughout my day, my time with Him in the morning is something to just be checked off my to-do list instead of a relationship to be maintained.
So what about you?
Are you good about pausing throughout your day? At sitting down at your counter, table, or kitchen to connect with yourself, your God, your children, or your friend?
And if not, can I ask you – why not? What are your real beliefs about yourself and the rhythms of your day instead of your professed beliefs?
As Ruth Haley Barton writes, “Do I even have mechanisms in my life that create space for paying attention, so that I don’t miss the places where God himself is trying to communicate with me?”
This school year, consider pausing.
Consider scheduling a reminder on your phone or scheduling something on your calendar to help you pause.
Mentally trace your steps through the day and carefully construct mechanisms that give you margin to connect with yourself as you really are, with your God as He really is, and with the people around you God has placed to help you notice His presence and goodness in your life.
Like me, you might turn that alarm off and move on to the next thing instead of pausing more than once, and you might find yourself rushing instead of slowing down to listen, but that’s ok. Perfection isn’t your goal – connection is.
And your soul and my soul will be better off this year for the space we make to pause.
“For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel
‘In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and trust shall be your strength.’
But you were unwilling, and you said,
‘No! We will flee upon horses;’
therefore you shall flee away;
and, ‘We will ride upon swift steeds;’
therefore your pursuers shall be swift…
Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you,
And therefore He exalts Himself to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for Him.”
To help you pause throughout your day, considering downloading the Pause App from John Eldredge or the ESV Bible App to help you read and listen to Scripture out loud. Both of these apps have been great helps to my soul to connect with God in the middle of my day.