Pausing to Recognize What Really Matters
My flights are reserved for writing.
I don’t rock out to music on planes. Don’t scroll through emails or social media. Don’t sleep. Don’t even crush Candy Crush.
It’s treasured work time where all the tugs and pulls of my life are set aside so that I can write blogs, create posts, layout chapters, and even complete books (Yes, much of ON FIRE was written at 36,000 feet!)
Which is why I got nervous on a flight years ago when a very sweet, extraordinarily extroverted, older lady sat down next to me and immediately began talking.
After we exchanged some pleasantries I opened my laptop and prepared to get back to my writing, back to my task, back to my life.
Then a voice from my right asked, “Where are you going?”
After smiling, I offered a somewhat terse response and got back to work.
Then she asked, “Why are you going there?”
I answered, not moving my gaze from my screen.
The questions continued: “Where are you coming from? Why? What are you working on? What’s it about?”
Finally, I put up the white flag, shut my laptop, turned my head, and focused on her.
For the first time, I noticed she was impeccably dressed, had beautiful brown eyes, and an ever-present smile.
I stopped answering her questions with short answers. I opened my mind, thawed out my heart, and started asking her questions, too.
Her name was Susan and she was from New Jersey. She had three adult children and seven grandchildren. She’d been in Denver for almost two weeks with a dear childhood friend.
“I bet that it was wonderful to reconnect,” I said.
She looked back at me, smiled warmly and shared “Oh, I was actually there as part of shiva.”
Having heard of shiva, but unfamiliar with specifics, I asked about it.
Susan shared it was an ancient Jewish mourning ritual. Her friend’s husband had just died of cancer. Part of the custom in their faith is to intentionally mourn the loss of family members – and to assist loved ones in their time of despair.
Now, this is not the standard of mourning that I am used to. The kind where we show up to the funeral home, wait in a line, offer a handshake, a hug or a few words of encouragement, and then move on.
No, Susan was describing a dedicated time of mourning before the burial, then intentional grieving after. And various other stages that follow for a year. It’s all done to recognize the immensity of the loss. To provide space to weep and lament, a network to lean into, and the foundation to begin healing.
This woman flew across the country, to sit with a friend for more than a week. Not to fix it, not to do things, not to even to tell her that everything was going to be okay soon. She went just to sit, to be, and to ensure her friend knew she wasn’t on her own.
My friend, I pretended to not have two minutes for this lady, Susan, before finally deciding to focus on the person just inches from me on the flight. And today I remain thankful I did.
How Intentional Pauses Can Improve Your Day and Life
Frequently, we can become so wrapped up in our tasks, our responsibilities, our stuff, our life that we miss the chance to be fully present with the colleagues, strangers, friends and family right in front of us.
Susan reminds us, by living out her faith in helping a friend mourn well, that the best part of work, relationships, suffering, joy and life isn’t the race; it’s the decision to occasionally shut the laptop, ignore the timelines, focus on another person, and do life together.
(On my most recent Live Inspired podcast, Mike Mattingly shares times in his life when he slowed down, what he learned, and what it means to us. Mike is a singer, songwriter, and sojourner. He’s a father and a husband. And he’s a dear friend whose story, music and heart will deeply inspire you. Listen here…you might even get treated to a little Purple Rain at the end!)
Now, my friend, this story is not an invitation for you to quit your job, stop working hard, or to completely unplug from society.
No, this is a reminder that sometimes in the race to get things done, we can miss the very reason why we’re doing them in the first place.
So, as you start your week, strive to slow down, to pause, to take a breath, then another, and to allow the worthwhile things and people in your life to catch up to you.
You may even discover they’re sitting right next to you.
This is your day. Live Inspired.