Stopping Time

Clocks have a way of taunting and antagonizing us. Right there in front of us, minutes pass before our very eyes, as if to say “You’re running out…better hurry!” Perhaps that’s part of why until recently we’ve only had one working clock in our house, and that’s on the kitchen stove. Even that one is set for a few minutes fast as if I can somehow outsmart those glowing green numbers or trick myself into being on time. I have trouble with it. Being on time that is. So of all people, I’d love to have the superpower of stopping time.

My husband says it sounds a bit ridiculous for me to say “I try to be on time.”

It’s like saying “I strive to wear shoes. I see other people wearing shoes. I make up my mind to wear shoes. But then…I just find myself with no shoes on!”

—Kaleb Deese

Touché. His point is that being on time is not an unachievable concept. It’s something people do every day. So I have now completely edited my paragraph about my striving hard after the discipline of punctuality. And I’ll spare him, my darling husband, the verbal homage to the value of being on time. He called my bluff. But maybe JUST MAYBE my chronic running lateness has something to do with the fact that most of our clocks are stuck somewhere in time.

This picture was taken sometime in the afternoon. Not 8:35. Definitely not 8:35.

For years, we have joked that we leave our living room clock where it ran out of “juice”—At 8:35–so that our company would never leave. “Awe…don’t go…it’s just now 8:30,” we would laugh.” At least a few times, our people stayed longer.

And that’s all we want really isn’t it? We want our people to stay longer. We want the laughter to never stop. We want the good times to linger and our babies to never grow up. Hence the popular hashtag #timeslowdown.

Yet another frozen clock in our house. Not 3:20 at all.

What if we COULD slow down time? What if we could freeze our children right where they are— smack in the middle of their cutest ages—mine with all their blonde curls and snaggle teeth. I think I might just do it! The older I get, the faster time flies and paradoxically the nearer my long-ago memories seem. It’s frightening at times—jarring. Almost as if we’re on some type of decline and the further we move into time, the steeper the downward slope becomes.

What speeds it up? Is it really our age? OR our distractions and preoccupations—not being fully present because we are more spread thin than ever—mentally and spiritually?

Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.

—Bilbo Baggins in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings

As the mental load increases, our ability to settle in and soak up moments subsequently decreases and we lose any sense of wonder. As children, we didn’t have the mental load—we only had wonder. Deep, radiating awe about the little things. We chased fireflies and watched them glow—really watched them. We caught lizards and watched their “goozles” (as we called them) blow up like a balloon and deflate…over and over. In wonder. And time moved sooooo slooooowly. Beautifully, magically, wonderfully slowly.

When is the last time you lingered in wonder? Do you find yourself distracted by all that’s swirling about? What is all this distraction stealing from us? Not just beautiful moments, I’d contend, but also the ability to settle into the moments and savor them.

Morning glories in my front yard. They have no clock, yet they know when it’s time to bloom. And look how they glow with the morning sun!

In her book, One Thousand Gifts, author Ann Voskamp proposes that we can find more joy and live more abundant lives when we slow down moments and weigh down time by being thankful. It’s through gratitude that we stop and observe, look deeply at the beauty of our experiences and surroundings, and that we can really soak it all in and ultimately slow down time. By stopping—really pausing to be in awe and wonder—we defy the steepening incline and dive deep into a buttercup’s pistol and stamen or close our eyes and feel salty ocean air on our cheeks.

From Scripture to spiritual books to secular articles I’ve read in Psychology Today, there is a universal agreement upon the powerful impact of gratitude, awe, and counting our moments and days. Teach us, Oh Lord, to count our days. Let us no longer be blinded by the blurring day to day mental traffic whizzing by our minds’ eyes.

In his book, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis uses the characters Screwtape and his nephew Wormwood to represent the ongoing attack on humans to draw them away from God and His ways- to distract and blind them. In this excerpt, the senior demon, Screwtape, is trying to help his nephew in his agenda to make a new Christian slide away from his faith. (Remember that “The Enemy” Screwtape is referring to is God, since Screwtape wants only to lead Christians away from God.)

As this condition becomes more fully established, you will be gradually freed from the tiresome business of providing Pleasures as temptations. As the uneasiness and his reluctance to face it cut him off more and more from all real happiness, and as habit renders the pleasures of vanity and excitement and flippancy at once less pleasant and harder to forgo (for that is what habit fortunately does to a pleasure) you
will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention. You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday’s paper will do. You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but in conversations with those he cares nothing about on subjects that bore him. You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room. All the healthy and outgoing activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at last he may say, as one of my own patients said on his arrival down here, “I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked”. The Christians describe the Enemy as one “without whom Nothing is strong”. And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes that he does not like, or in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give them a relish, but which, once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off.
You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,

Your affectionate uncle,

So if in fact our enemy is out to destroy us (which he is), and if in fact our separation from God is the enemy’s end goal (which it is), then how is this enemy using our chaotic running to and fro to lull us into an unawareness and complete distraction from God and His Glory all around us? The stupor induced by our smartphones and mindless scrolling. The autopilot drives to and from work. The meaningless nods we give neighbors as we pass instead of stopping for a long porch visit or a prayer. All these things…they push us further down that steep, time-robbing slope.

So stop to visit. Linger longer. Hold the hands of your little people and look into their eyes as you talk to them instead of over the top of your iPhone. Stare at the shapes in clouds and let your mind be in awe. Smell your babies’ hair and watch it grow. Be warmed by the sunlight falling white on your kitchen sink, smell the crackling fire and let the smoke scent soak into your bones. Get soaked up in wonder and worship. Really worship. This… This is the closest we can come to stopping time.

A Giving Ear

This little garden gift brightened my day one morning when I walked into my office to be surprised by such cheer. My friend and colleague, with a true “giving ear”, grew the zinnias as well as the herbs used to make the homemade pesto. How she hears and knows me so well. (Photo by Whitney Caves)

We all long to be understood, to be known. It’s a common human trait and underlying drive. We want people to “get us”–really get us. And so I like to GIVE based on that simple truth as well–to show the ones I love that I have been tuned in and that I get them. 

I suppose my theory would be that in order to be a good gift giver, you must first be a good listener–an observer. Pick up on cues, ask good questions, and really listen–all year long–to what your loved ones are saying and what they enjoy. Then pick creative ways to help them feel loved.

One Christmas, it hit home when a friend opened a gift I picked for him and immediately said “Ahh! You listened to me!” This same friend, who is characterized by his gratitude and cheerfulness, every year at our Christmas gift exchange says “It’s just so good to be known.”

It’s not all that difficult really. We had been together at a store only a few weeks before. He picked up an item–a shower speaker to be exact–and said “Hmmmm. I might like one of these. I think I’ll tell my mom to put that in my stocking.” Then he thought a minute, I presume analyzing the frivolousness of such a request, and said, “Nah… I don’t really need it.”

You better believe that when a Groupon popped up for shower speakers, I was on it! And he loved it. He loved that I heard him– that I listened.

I’ll give another example from a recent Christmas. My mother-in-law serves people in her kitchen nearly every single day. She works hard harvesting and cleaning vegetables, chopping, mixing, stirring, baking, then cleaning and starting all over again. On a previous trip to her house, I noticed the sprayer in her sink was shot. I thought of how often I use my sprayer, and I cringed at the thought of going without. And this is a lady who uses her dishwasher only as a drying rack (or to “hide” things she might say). She loves to hand-wash those dishes! So I set out to lobby and shop for a new faucet and sprayer for her. She was delighted! And all it took was tuning in–having a giving ear.

I often tell my clients that they should each seek to understand before seeking to be understood. (My dear husband taught me that).

If we seek to understand rather than to be understood, it’s likely we’ll end up with both.

Many conflicts I see in my office as a therapist can be boiled down to one or both spouses feeling misunderstood in some way. One will look at me and say “See. He doesn’t get it”. So I hang in there with them, teaching them to not give up on one another, until they both feel understood. And the goal is for each of them to grasp the magnitude of always seeking to understand. I could expound on this for days in a a future blogpost, but what it comes down to is this:

Let the ones you love know that you care by really listening and tuning in. One way to do that is through using a “giving ear”.  

Gift giving is one of the languages of love that author Gary Chapman notes in his book The Five Love LanguagesWe gift-givers (yes–I’m one of them) are cut from the same cloth. We cry when we open a thoughtful gift and feel like our hearts may explode, and we feel overwhelmed with joy when we come across the “perfect gift” for someone we love. We feel most loved when someone takes time to note our likes and longings and wraps it all up and tops it with a bow.

So from someone who gives and receives love through gifts, allow me to offer a few

Tips on Using a Giving Ear:

  1. Begin by observing your loved one when you’re out and about. At the mall, at the antique store, at the dollar store- it doesn’t matter. Notice what she is drawn to- what does she pick up then put down? What does she smell of, comment on, pick up to read?
  2. Ask “dream” questions every now and then. “If you could do anything. . .?” “If you could go anywhere. . .” “If you could have anything. . .”
  3. Here’s a simple one. Observe his activities and interests. My husband is a beekeeper and a Tolkien fan. He likes chess and anything handmade, especially if it’s wooden.  He likes trees and nature and all things California or Yosemite. He plays basketball and likes to read and hike, and he’s a handyman. See! There’s a whole slew of gift options for such a person
  4. Ask outright. Who says we can’t do this? “What would you like for your birthday?” You may be surprised at how well this question is received. If your significant other wants you to be a mind-reader (and there are times you should be) then best of luck with the other 6 strategies. But don’t assume.
  5. Take mental notes. Repeat repeat repeat. This is the most important step. You may think of a great gift when you hear your loved one make a comment. Take it a step further and don’t forget it! Repeat the idea to your self a few times at least until you can get to a place to. . .
  6. Write it down. Keep a running list of gift ideas for people in your life. Save it in your notes on your phone or keep a file. You’ll be glad you did when it’s birthday or Christmas time
  7. Keep it simple. Don’t think “extravagant” or “expensive”. Think “meaningful”. For our 10th anniversary, one of the gifts my husband gave me was a wooden jewelry box. “Oh this is cute,” I thought and offered my thanks. Then. .  . I opened it.  (Let me preface: One of my favorite movies is The Sound of Music and one of my favorite songs is “Edelweiss”. It was in our wedding, I have sung it to all of our children as I rocked them. My husband learned it on the guitar–one of his first songs–for me to sing along to. It’s just special.) So you can imagine when I opened the little box and it played “Edelweiss” I nearly crumbled. “You win!” I said with tears. He “Got me.”

So go and give the gift of listening. There’s more to this story. There’s more to it than the art of gift giving. It’s truly a way of showing love. And for your people who speak and receive love through gifts, you might just be speaking their language in a way you never have before.

(PS…click the link to get your own copy of The Five Love Languages. You’ll be so glad you did!)