Not long ago we celebrated the American holiday known as Super Bowl Sunday. On this day the National Football League offers us the championship game of its season, one in which astounding athletic skill sets are put on display. This is no joke. These guys are strong, fast, and capable of delivering and withstanding physical trauma the likes of which we don’t see in many other sports. Whatever your particular sensibilities regarding this event, there is no denying that the position of the wide receiver is often highlighted for the athleticism and speed of the players filling that role. For those unfamiliar with the game, the position is so named because the wide receiver usually stands out wide from the other players on the line of scrimmage, and he is the target of passes thrown to him by the quarterback. Each year the best wide receivers in the league are chosen (along with players for the other positions) for the Pro Bowl, the NFL’s version of an All-Star game.
You may be anticipating that, given that what you usually read here has to do with neuroscience, and that if this is a story about football, then we’re headed to the topic of traumatic brain injury (TBI); but that’s for another time. Instead, this is about what being a wide receiver has to do with the mind. And about living in our world. A world in which much of what we do is a response to fear, or the word we use most often to describe it: anxiety. Much of what constitutes the fear we carry is non-conscious in nature, emerging from and leading to automatic sensations, images, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, many of which we are barely aware. This ingrained, well-practiced habit of responding to the world as if it is constitutionally unsafe and that we should be afraid means that we are constantly on the lookout for the next dangerous thing. It need not be a terrorist. It need only be the terror of the impending conversation with our friend, spouse, or employer. Our attention—and our lives, which follow it—is subsequently directed into the future, away from where we are actually living, in our attempt to predict where the next threat is to be found. This leaves us infrequently able to be present with those events—and especially the people found therein—that are offering themselves at this very moment. And so, we set our plans for the day, and anything that gets even the slightest bit in the way of them sets us off. We find it difficult to be open to that which reveals itself to us in an unscheduled manner. In our frenetic pace into the future, these things that are here and now—in which so much beauty and goodness is embedded—simply become irritants, disabling us from accomplishing today that which we intended, reminding us that we are not enough. As a result, too often and too easily we become even more anxious, moving even more quickly through an already too-quickly paced day.
At any given moment, to the degree that we are able to receive as a gift that which is immediately before us, we will realize reduced distress. For distress—anxiety—is an emotional state that is dependent upon the anticipated future. The more we live in the present moment, open to receiving as a gift from God whatever that time has in store for us, the less anxious we will be. And the less anxious we are over the course of extended time, the more creative and truly fruitful our lives become. We don’t necessarily produce more. Rather, we become more.
As we pay more keen attention to God’s active presence with us and our presence with him in the only time we have—now—we pay less attention to an anticipated future filled with anxiety. Less attention to the shaming accusation of not having enough, nor having done enough, fixed enough, taught enough, written enough, programmed enough, made enough money—simply not having been enough.
Today, consider becoming an All-Pro wide receiver. Reflect on what it would be like to fully welcome what the present moment has to offer, to be with it, to steward it, to love it, to be for that moment what it most needs—you and your attention to it. What if it were true that for every moment you occupy, God has no one else to be for that moment besides what only you can be, joining him as he goes about his business? But if your attention is somewhere else, what will become of the time-space that you actually inhabit? Widely receiving each moment gives us more opportunity than you might first imagine to become embodied joy, peace, and patience. Fleshed out kindness, goodness, and faithfulness. Fully present gentleness and self-control. And all along the way, integrating your brain, living into Jesus’ admonition to not be anxious for tomorrow—for today has enough worries of its own.
Think about it. I’ll see you at the Pro Bowl.