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Between ministry, business, family and friends, there’s so much that competes for our attention and many times at the same time! Often we find ourselves simply wanting to be there for everyone so much that it costs us the dearest ones around us. Having the world in our hand through smartphone technology doesn’t make it any easier. Fighting this battle I needed much self discipline. Let’s be assured, our household, our spouses and our children are our first ministry.
Sometimes that can be hard to put into perspective on an average day because the people we’re close to know us the best, and are the ones we’ve grown most comfortable with in daily life. But God desires to grow them and show them how much He loves them daily through us and by our example. God has put us in their world, and this is not by accident, but on purpose. How can Christian leaders be a better representation of Christ to our family and friends – to the ones that know us the best and get under our skin the most? That is a personal challenge for us all.
Here are some practical ways I believe we can be more present in the lives of our loved ones:
- Limit Screen time
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another… (1 Peter 3:8-9)
While this may be an obvious one, it doesn’t hurt to mention it again. USA Today reported in an article about Internet life that family time in the U.S. is eroding as Internet use soars. Our society is increasingly snared by virtual reality at the loss of present reality unlike the generations before us. We can see how the lack of focus on building relationships has created a shallowness and general disconnection within culture today.
I personally have certain hours of designated non-screen-time, which usually consists of not checking my phone or computer until noon and putting it away for the night around 8 PM. I also deleted a majority of the social media apps off my phone so I wouldn’t be tempted to check a million notifications the moment I picked it up. Some days I’m better at this than others but it’s a key part of opening and ending the day fully with my attention on my family. In a viable way it shows them they come first. Nothing is more important than the relationships in my household. They have my undivided attention, and they do not have to fight the rest of the world for it.
This also applies to being present with friends. It’s time we start a trend of being fully present with one another, and letting them know that this moment belongs to you. The cashier, the person we’re in line with, the stranger we happen to stumble into conversation with are in front of us for a particular reason: They are all ministry. Remember Christ has called us to represent Him and His love to all people.
- Ask Questions
Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. (Philippians 2:4)
How was your day? What are you thinking about? How do you feel about this? Turning attention away from an internal focus to an outward focus toward others is healthy. Our faces are looking outward rather than downward at tiny screens. We should enjoy conversations with people rather than conversing by text on a screen during sociable times such as breakfast, dinner, or coffee breaks. There is nothing wrong with communicating by text, but the person sitting across from you needs your attention while that text can wait.
There’s a whole world going on in the minds of those around us! Being intentional about seeking to understand each other is crucial. It translates to the other person as “I care about what you care about.” In a time when it seems everyone is shut down by being shut out, being present is a personal gift. Not only that, but God’s Word calls us out on this and tells us very boldly to take an interest in others and to do so genuinely. One of the most powerful ways we display the gospel in our homes and to those around us is by being in one accord. We can only accomplish that with good communication. That takes understanding as well as thinking, listening as well as talking.
- Listen to Understand
Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. (James 1:19)
Many want to be heard while few want to listen. But the truth is that people don’t care what you know until they know that you care. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Too many leaders think communication is listening with intent to jump in or interrupt with response, filtering everything through opinions, and mentally preparing to speak next, while disregarding what the other person is actually saying. Instead, really listen to understand – and here’s an idea – listen from the other person’s point of view. I wonder how many misunderstandings could be avoided if we all practiced that.
- Make Strong Eye Contact
Eye contact is the body language that reads, “You are my present focus.” Looking away or checking our phones makes it seem that other things are more important or that we’re just uninterested. If you’re like me and a master multi-tasker, you may be able to respond to an email, send out a text, read a book, and capture an entire conversation! Okay, I’m not that good. But sometimes we feel like we’re hearing the conversation perfectly fine while our body language is shouting otherwise.
They might not say it but they feel it. Several studies show that our personal communication is 10% the words we say, 30% of how we say those words as in tone, inflections, etc., and 60% is body language. Look them in the eyes and show them they are valued by giving them their moment.
It’s my personal and open challenge that we show those who are very close to us how much God loves them, by loving them the way He would intend for them to be loved. He is present to many at the same time; can we do no less with just one person?