Growing up means that you are supposed to leave childish behaviour behind. I’ve think I’ve largely succeeded. If you disagree, I won’t play with you anymore, so there.
Seriously, I think I’ve developed a modicum of maturity. If I’m offered food that isn’t to my liking, I no longer decorate someone’s head with it, which does make for a better experience in restaurants. I no longer scream a deafening wail in the key of G when I’m upset. (The key of C is so much better.) But there’s one childhood habit that I’ve not been able to grow out of, and it’s about time.
Sometimes I’d like to suspend time. Extend the life of that spectacular sunset. Stretch that laugh-out-loud evening with friends so that it lasts a week.
It’s always been that way with me. As a child, I would go to the fair, luxuriate in the colliding smells of fried onions and candy floss, and then hop on one of those garishly painted carousels. But as soon as the ride edged into motion, I’d begin to worry: how much time had I got left to enjoy this experience? Would the chap with the bad tattoos controlling the ride give me my full quota of time to enjoy being astride the wooden horse with impossibly large teeth? As soon as I began the experience, I fretted about it coming to an end. The merry on my merry-go-round was spoiled because I was preoccupied with fear that it would go round too quickly.
I’ve been guilty of taking the same attitude in life more recently, too. Blessed with a lovely holiday, I spent much of it wondering (a) how many days of bliss we had left and (b) was this my last experience of this place? My joy was tainted because I worried about it ending.
That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look ahead, plan, prepare and even dream. But there comes a point when planning for the future becomes preoccupation with it, or when nostalgia for what was ruins our capacity to celebrate what is.
Paul Tournier famously said, ‘Most people spend their whole lives indefinitely preparing to live.’ I don’t want to daydream through my days, mentally elsewhere. I want to be fully present and be in the moment, now.
This business of being there is not just about time. Go into any restaurant and you’re likely to find a table full of people who are there in body, but elsewhere in soul. Fixated with devices, instead of being present, they are tweeting or Facebook-ing someone else, sharing useless information, like the marvellous news that they had porridge for breakfast.
And you don’t need a technology addiction to be absent. Have you ever felt the humiliation of talking to someone who is rather obviously looking over your shoulder, searching for someone more interesting?
Jesus was a popular party guest, and not just because he was good with wine. Whether it was lunch with Danny DeVito in a tree (Zacchaeus), fussing over children clamouring for a cuddle of blessing, or chatting with a wanton woman by a well, he was there, asking questions, listening, noticing. Those who tried to hustle him away from such vital encounters received a swift telling off. The whole incarnation story says this: God saw. He came. And he stayed, by his Spirit. Now, in a way that I honestly can’t fathom, we are assured of his full attention.
‘Love the One You’re With’ is very poor advice about intimacy – if taken at face value it is a recipe for divorce, heartache and some rather itchy diseases. But it’s a good mantra for friendship. When with those you value, ignore those demanding your attention via pesky social media. Love the ones you’re with, and especially when life is good, love the moment you’re in, because in a moment, it will be gone.