About 8 years ago my dad had a stroke. Two, actually. It was really bad. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever experienced. It was nothing short of a miracle that he survived and he is doing amazingly well today.
I am not sure what was more painful, seeing him in the hospital bed unconscious for weeks at a time or seeing the excruciating rehab process he had to go through. His stroke had messed up the part of his brain that controls most of his body functions. He could barely talk, he couldn't swallow, he couldn't walk, and his entire left side was almost completely paralyzed. The doctors didn't know if he would regain any function at all.
While spending hours and hours at the hospital with almost nothing to do, I became fascinated by the brain. Our neural pathways control our entire body, and the more they are used the better they get at communicating. It’s why we get better at doing the things we do often. It’s why we can learn to ride a bike, get better at sports, remember things through repetition, ect… Muscle memory is really neural memory. Practice doesn't always make perfect, but it definitely makes better. Our brains remember which pathways affect what and get more effective and efficient.
I have been playing a lot of disc golf lately. For about the last year and a half I have been actively trying to improve and get better. This last week our pastoral team was in Texas and we had a chance to play some down there. We got to a 220 foot par 3 and I threw my first ever hole in one. Lots of practice and a bit of luck helped me throw a perfect shot.
What is something you got better at with practice?
Those pathways that my dad had for things like walking were broken and his brain had to discover new pathways to communicate to his legs and throat and body. It’s really an amazing process to watch. It’s also extremely frustrating for the person going through it. That frustration and pain brought about an amazing healing and relearning process. It was weeks of being tied to the ceiling so if he fell he would be caught. It was months of eating nothing but liquid because he would choke on solid food.
Many of us are unaware of how the things we dwell on are affecting us. Just like learning to play a new sport, when we dwell on the wrong things, we are strengthening those neural pathways in our brains. It's the same for the neural pathways that are used when we experience fear, or anxiety or shame. It's a survival adaptation really. If you live in a place where there are predators trying to eat you, allowing your body to perceive and process fear faster would be beneficial to your survival.
Those things we dwell on--the neural pathways we use often--begin to shape us. Awareness of these things is an important first step. So here’s a question to help us get started.
What things are consuming your attention right now? Make a list.
I am going to go out on a limb and say that most of us had answers that can be put in two categories: worry about the future and shame about the past.
Maybe these are things that you thought about, but were not willing to share. That’s ok.
Maybe you are better than most of us and had a better answer, but for many of us worry and shame run pretty rampant in our brains. We’ve built up those neural pathways pretty well, which has given us the ability to slip quickly into worry and shame in a moment's notice.
Both worry and shame deal in the “not ____ enough” currency. I am not good enough, strong enough, brave enough, smart enough, pretty enough… or I don't have enough.
Shame says you can't escape your past and worry says you can't avoid the inevitable. Both steal your ability to have hope for both yourself and others. Both worry and shame are lethal to thriving.
The failure comes because of our failure to be fully present.
When we dwell on the past or future we are unable to be here, in this moment, the only moment you actually have the capacity to bring change to.
How do shame and worry affect a person’s ability to live in the moment?
In ancient Greek there are two words for time:
Chronos - measured and counted time
Kairos - lived and experienced time
Chronos is quantitative. Kairos is qualitative. Chronos speaks in minutes and hours. Kairos speaks in moments.
For example, if you tell me you went on vacation, I would not ask you how much time you had. I would ask you what kind of time you had.
Life is measured in Chronos, sure… But what is more interesting is a life measured in Kairos. In the moments that matter. Choosing to be present here and now in this moment and discovering what God is doing now is living in the Kairos.
After John the Baptist is arrested in Mark 1, Jesus makes the announcement that the time is now for the Kingdom of God to come near. He isn’t saying the right number of days has passed; he is saying the Kairos has come. The moment is at hand. Now is the time.
Jesus models living in Kairos, in the moment, by the way he sees distractions as an opportunity. When Jesus’ teaching is interrupted, He heals (Luke 5:17-19); when His sleeping is interrupted, He calms the storms (Luke 8:22-24); when His travels get interrupted He heals the blind (Mark 10:46-52). And there are many other stories of Jesus being interrupted.
It’s almost as if, for Jesus, the interruptions are the point. Jesus was living in the moment and seeing opportunity all around him.
A Jesus that was so worried about his schedule or the things He needed to accomplish would never allow these interruptions to co-opt his time. But Jesus did not live according to Chronos. Instead, it was about Kairos. It was about the moment and being present in it.
What things make it difficult for you to live in the moment?
After looking at the way things are on this earth, here’s what I’ve decided is the best way to live: Take care of yourself, have a good time, and make the most of whatever job you have for as long as God gives you life. And that’s about it. That’s the human lot. Yes, we should make the most of what God gives, both the bounty and the capacity to enjoy it, accepting what’s given and delighting in the work. It’s God’s gift! God deals out joy in the present, the now. It’s useless to brood over how long we might live.
The challenge today is to be aware of the impact of worry and shame and make a conscious effort to live in the moment. To see the world for what it is now and to do our part. To work towards removing ourselves from the worry of tomorrow and the shame from yesterday.
There is a challenge in 2 Corinthians 10:5.
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
Many of us are living in an unconscious state, so focused on shame and worry, and need to move on to the rehab. We need to start making new neural connections. Better ones, more helpful ones, more healthy ones.
Worry and shame can cause us to take an inactive role in our lives.
What is the impact of seeing life as something that happens to you instead of something you participate in creating?
We need to rehabilitate our minds to dwell in the present instead of in the past or the future. This moment is all we have.
Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.
You do not know what tomorrow will bring.
You can't fix the past.
You can't change what the future holds.
This moment is the only thing that you have power over.
What will you choose to dwell on?
What goodness can you give to the world?
What neural pathways are you going to invest in?
How will you practice being present in the moment?
Take it Deeper
Read James 4:13-17
How do you become more fully present?
How do you live life in such a way that you don't feel like time is always flying?
How do you create a life that’s actually worth living?
What are healthy things to dwell upon?
What are moments in the bible in which Jesus was interrupted?
Write out the things you will choose to dwell on.