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  • Katie Smith

sitting with nothing

I'm not sure who invented fidget toys, but I have a love/hate relationship with them. They really suffocate self-control and inhibit creativity, but like my sensory-kid, I definitely benefit from kinetic sand and squishy balls. They melt me away from frustrations around me.

While they are fun for fidgety fingers, more often than not those popular toys serve only as deadening devices. They numb our senses and hypnotize our minds. The temptation to escape or ignore the world happens with everyone battling fear, anger, or hardship. But my sensory-enhanced son has remained sedentary for almost five weeks now, and he manages to remain calm even when all his toys are taken.

There's a certain level of self-dependency, anxiety, fear, or dissatisfaction in those who can't sit still. I know because I was once had it. My mind would race and unravel if I sat in a quiet room too long. I needed to keep busy or at least play soft music to keep me sane. When screens, tunes, phone calls, books, or anything else remains "essential" to keep us calm, we have not yet experienced the freeing joy of fearless faith.

The late author and counselor, David Powlison, wrote many books about how to endure suffering. Facing the cancer that would kill him, he wrote about this temptation to melt away from the world in the midst of turmoil. He explained that his escapism was to "bury his nose in a long biography of Joseph Stalin." There's clearly nothing wrong with reading, he noted, but the "temptation is not to engage in the present." Then after a while, Powlison would hear the good Shepherd's voice reminding him: "Jesus was on the cross, facing death, yet still fully engaged with life--caring for his mother, speaking words of life to the thief next to him--and [we] can stay engaged too" (pg. 81 Safe and Sound).

We can and should be praying in our stillness--talking to our maker and sustainer about anything and everything, and learning to listen. It's taken many trials, one after another, to teach me how to be fully present, rather than looking for the next best thing. I would either wish away the hard moments or covet the carefree ones. But satisfaction accompanies contentment, and contentment follows an appreciation for the present after enduring and engaging in the trials of life.

Peaceful contentment is not our natural disposition. Like retail stores, we are always putting out the next holiday trappings even before the current one is over. Few people can remain present for long. Restlessness creeps into our bones and steals our joy. Fear and escapism are a result of missing the engagement gift--engage in the right now. Opening the process can result in a greater joy than just one day of celebration, just as Advent gives more enjoyment than celebrating one day of Christmas.

We have to learn to read, ride a bike, and tie our shoes. We must also learn to sit still and appreciate the present of presence. "Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him" (Psalm 37:7). Watching Levi grapple with watching the world around him has opened my eyes to appreciate so many good things about today. When I keep my eyes on what is set before me, I can endure all that one day has in store. "So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble" (Matthew 6:34).

Here's to enjoying the present without fidgeting at the feast...

~Carefully and Carelessly Unfidgeting

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