"Do now, do now, what you will wish to have done when your moment comes to die." [St. Angela Merici]

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Mind the Gap

By Micky Wolf

When my husband and I travel, it has become a custom to bring home a beverage mug which usually depicts a graphic or wording indicative of the area we visited. These mugs serve as great reminders of a particular journey. Some stir joy and delight. Others in our cupboard may prompt a poignant recollection of time spent with family or friends. 

Several years ago we had the great joy of traveling throughout Scotland and England with our daughter who was living there while pursuing her graduate degree. A memento of that visit, “Mind the Gap” is a mug that brings a smile and wonderful memories every time I fill it with morning coffee, afternoon tea or hot chocolate. These words are set against a white background, adjacent to a colorful group of lines depicting various destinations of interest in the city of London which can be reached by using the popular, inexpensive and clean transportation system known as The Tube, or Underground.

Left to our own devices, her father and I would have likely barely managed a brief visit to this huge, international hub bustling with people and activity. Grateful for her knowledge and experience, we were soon hopping on and off the tube like pros, even if it was fairly obvious we were tourists.

We soon recognized a familiar refrain every time a door opened or closed as we stood on the platforms awaiting the ride to our next great adventure. “Mind the Gap”, a very British voice intoned. How they manage those things with computer-generated technology is a marvel in itself. Sometimes the voice was feminine other times masculine, however, the voice was always clear and specific. “Mind the Gap”. 

“Mind the Gap” is first and foremost, a warning. There is a space between the edge of the concrete platform and the exterior of the cars in front of you. Failure to notice the gap, if ever so briefly, may result in tripping into the space between the two, a misstep sufficient to badly twist an ankle or break a foot. The locals are quite familiar with the directive—maybe too familiar? 

It seems our day-to-day journey as Christians has a lot in common with paying attention with where we place our next step. Are we aware of any gaps, an ever-widening space between God and self?

Our state of being—our attentiveness to God’s voice—is crucial if we hope to follow His direction for our lives and heed His warnings to be alert.

3 indicators we may not be paying attention to our spiritual life and being:

1.      Other things than God are the focus of our attention.
It does not take much at times to distract us from keeping the eyes and ears of our heart on God. The plethora of electronic devices alone is more than sufficient to draw our attention away from Him, His purpose, His direction. However, it would be unfair and irresponsible to blame technology for our laxity or ambivalence.

There are many reasons our attention may drift—a primary explanation? Ease and comfort wrapped in immediate gratification. The hard but necessary truth? Just about anything we want, we can have in a matter of seconds, minutes or hours, therefore, it matters little “why” we desire a certain thing or experience.  Believing we do not have the luxury of time to ponder our choices and decisions we bolt into action, giving little thought or prayer to the “still small voice inside”. [1 Kings 19:11-12] Whether “it” is good or bad for us in the short or long term, we go after it. Because we can.

Giving our full attention to anything requires time, energy and interior resources. In the busyness that defines our present culture it is easy to take the path of least resistance. Why read the entire book if the condensed version is available? Why walk to and from the pharmacy if the car is sitting in the garage? We are not sinners doomed for Hell when we make these kinds of choices. At the same time, when it comes to our relationship with God, failure to make Him the focus of our attention risks creating a gap between us.
2.  Familiarity with the process clouds our clarity.

Familiarity breeds a lot of unpleasant offspring. If contempt is at the front of the list, confusion, fuzziness, indifference, apathy and yes, even anger, fall in line with little hesitation.

The bright side of familiarity is having a level of comfort and ease with a process, a person, or a circumstance. We enter church on Sunday morning. We do not have to struggle with which door, where to sit, when to stand, sit or sing. On the other hand, there is a darker aspect to these behaviors and actions—they may be so ingrained in our thoughts and feelings we miss incredible opportunities to learn something new, be inspired or enlightened.

Over time we may become so accustomed to a certain voice, including God’s, we risk taking it for granted or blindly assume we know what the voice is speaking to us. These kinds of attitudes—on our part—serve as traps, eventually creating or increasing space in our relationship of intimacy and closeness with God.

3Outward appearance prevails.

It is not unusual for any of us to want to present self as “having it all together, knowing the ropes, having great knowledge, being able or capable”. It is even better, we reason, when these kinds of behaviors seem effortless on our part. As human beings we can be more concerned with how we look, the confidence we exude, the command we have of our life and the things associated with that life.

Eventually, we begin to believe there is not a whole lot we need to be warned of, and if we do by some slim chance need a reminder, then please, allow it to happen beyond eye or earshot of other people. One day, we seem surprised with a different kind of question nudging our consciousness. God, are you still there? I don’t hear you. Where did you go? Sadly, the gap that existed as a sliver of space may now be a gulf extending beyond the horizon.

“Mind the Gap” is something that matters a whole lot to God, so much so that He provides numerous ways for us to be aware, at the earliest sign, of  any space threatening to separate us from Him.

3 ways to Mind the Gap while minding the Master and heeding His voice:

1.    Choose to intentionally listen to God.

Our Triune God is neither mute nor disinterested in our daily life. Making a choice to listen for His voice seems simple enough—which is why it can be so challenging. In making the specific choice to be attentive, we soon discover He is speaking to us through nature, our spouse, family, and co-workers. He may speak to us through the song on the radio, the newscaster on the TV. The key to intentionally listen is openness, humility, commitment and believing we can learn to discern His voice and presence from all the other noise within and around us. The art and practice of Christ-centered discernment needs to be incorporated into the rhythm and pace of our day. How much time, energy and interior resources are you willing to invest in order to become more attentive to the Master?

2.    Occasionally take a different route.

Most of us are constantly evolving as human beings—or we ought to be. Our physical body, our intellect, feelings, behaviors and attitudes need regular check-ups. If we believe there is only one way to the office, one path for a daily walk, one meal to eat on Sunday afternoon, we will eventually become dull and stale. God longs to be heard in our hearts, in His desire to pour out blessings of inspiration, encouragement and deeper revelation about who He has created us to be. In this instance, if I refuse to budge from my little spot of earth, how can I hope to be available to receive all that He desires to give to me, or draw from me, as gift to Him, as well as other people in my life?

3.     Drop pretenses.

From an early age we take on unhealthy and selfish habits and behaviors as ways to feel and think we are important and have value. We pretend to be someone or something else, struggling to create self in an image we believe others will love and appreciate. At some point, we neglect the nudging of the Spirit to take the time and surrender self to discovering our unique worth and purpose as a one-of-kind-human-being made in God’s image and likeness. Dropping our pretenses and pretentiousness is a first sign we are willing to listen to God’s voice speak Truth rather than pay attention to the world with all its dead-end distractions. What do you need to let go of—by ‘putting aside childish things’ [1 Corinthians 13:11] to take the next step in humility and trust?

Heeding God’s voice produces good fruit in our lives. Will you hear His voice today?

Try something different this week:

Choose to intentionally listen for God’s voice in whatever manner He may wish to speak to you. Can you describe His presence? In what way is He speaking Love and Truth to you? Does He desire to get your attention, alerting you to your next step?

Take a different route. Whether driving to the office, running an errand or meeting a friend, purposely take different streets or paths. What does it feel like to be in unfamiliar territory? Aware of unusual terrain? Amidst new faces? Open yourself to His invitation to experience something out of the ordinary. What are you feeling? Thinking?

Drop pretenses. Aware today that you will be with other people, in person, on the phone or by any other means, consider the ways you think or behave that may be coping mechanisms you have adopted over time in an attempt to assure yourself of being loved and accepted. What one behavior or thought pattern can you give to God? In what way can you surrender yourself into His arms of love and compassion?

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