Being Present, Not Impressive

I haven’t written in a long time. I tell myself it’s because I’m too busy with kids and dancing and training to be a doula, and trying to be a good wife. But really it’s because I’m afraid and maybe a little lazy. I’m afraid to sit down and put some time into writing, and not have it be worthwhile to anyone reading it. I’m afraid to put something out there that isn’t “profound” and “impressive.” I realize that the root of this fear is pride. I started this blog as both a tool to help me write regularly, and as an attempt to encourage those who might read it. I wanted to “write the thing I wanted to come upon” as Anne Lamott says. I wanted to provide an honest perspective on this life of faith and family — a real discussion of the struggle involved in bringing the abstract and spiritual into the daily, all too tangible messiness of life. But now I’ve allowed myself to get wrapped up in trying to say something that no one else has said — something that will cause people to say, “Oh, isn’t she wise” instead of causing them to feel encouraged and refreshed to face their own days. I’ve been wanting people to see me instead of wanting to point them to Christ. But I’ve been learning, slowly, about the importance of being a faithful steward, whether I think the result will be remarkable or not.

A year ago, after my fourth baby was born, I went back to dancing too soon. I planned to perform in a show when he was only three months old, so I had to be in rehearsals starting when he was four weeks old. Honestly, as the day of my first rehearsal approached, I knew I wasn’t ready, but I wanted so badly to impress people with how quickly I had “bounced back” after having a baby. I wanted people to see that I could be strong and come back and not miss a beat. “Already dancing on pointe after just having a baby? Wow!” I was blessed to be allowed to bring my baby to the studio with me, but I was still feeling conflicted. If he was in the packnplay, and I was dancing I felt guilty about not paying attention to him. If I was holding him or nursing him during class or rehearsal I felt guilty about not doing what I had come to the studio to do. Thankfully, my director noticed this turmoil, and basically gave me permission to quit the show. It was such a relief. I realized that I had wanted so badly to be impressive that I wasn’t allowing myself to be present in the stage of life I was experiencing. This was going to be my last baby (barring a big surprise) and I felt I was missing out on some of his precious newborn time.

If our goal is to impress, our focus shifts from how we can serve and just be to how we look. It becomes about how we are being seen instead of how our eyes can be open to truly see the needs of others. And we will never be satisfied. Because, really, no one is paying that much attention to us. And if they are, do we really want them to look at us and say, “I wish I could do as much as she does”? I know that what I really want, or what I want to want, is for people to come away from interactions with me feeling like they have been heard and seen and have a renewed strength for their daily struggles. In order for that to happen, I have to let go of the desire to be impressive, and just focus on being present with people.

These lessons have been reinforced over and over again through my training as a birth doula. A doula is a person who offers informational, emotional, and physical support for women in pregnancy and labor. In the beginning of my training I was caught up in learning about all the things I could DO to help laboring women. But the more I learn, the more I realize that it’s mostly about being a loving presence and witness to what only the laboring woman can do.

Silence and stillness are often the hardest, and most important ways to support someone. If someone comes to me with a struggle or a worry, my first instinct is to want to offer insight. I want to fix things for people, but also I want to have something to say. I’m learning that instead of trying to manufacture insight, it is more valuable to listen and then to pray. If I’m grasping for a quick response just for the sake of having something to say, it is guaranteed to not be as helpful as just being quiet and loving and praying.

Instead of trying to be impressive, let’s strive to be present. Instead of trying to be profound, let’s be silent, listen, pray, and wait. We serve the God who sees. Let us be a people who strive to really see each other.

  • Jenise Flowers

    What a thoughtful discourse, Megan. I really understand what you’re saying and have been caught in the trap you describe. Thank you for making me think about it and change my behavior!! I love you!