Jim Elliot, the famous missionary murdered in Ecuador, said, “Wherever you are, be all there.” It is simple advice, but it wields life-changing power.
My oldest son isn’t loving middle school. When I expressed surprise and disappointment over his revelation, he said with incredulity, “Did you like 7th grade?”
“Well, no,” I answered, “But I didn’t go to your school.”
His curriculum is like nothing I ever encountered in middle school – it’s humanities-oriented, full of rich, timeless stories, and beautiful writing. But he is yet twelve, thirteen later this month. And he likes the predictability of algebra, but isn’t yet enraptured by the power of story.
I didn’t have much in the way of guidance for him. I didn’t say, “well, buck up, buddy, it only gets harder.” I didn’t offer any specific ideas at all.
Instead, I counseled, “you know what’s a really great thing to learn: wherever you are, be all there.”
I explained how this could apply to school: don’t wish you were somewhere else or doing something else. Engage in an intentional and all-in way, no matter what you are studying. Be present in the moment and you might be surprised how much you actually like it. I told him this not because I’ve mastered it. Lord knows I have not, but I do find reward in it, even with school, even with healthcare corporate compliance studies.
The wisdom of Elliot is universal, no matter your life stage. If you are in the midst of mothering wee ones – be all there. Be willing to let dishes sit, and laundry and dust pile up. Keep your expectations low. Consider it a wonderfully productive day if you snuggled with your baby, and an outrageous victory if you also showered. Because it’s gone before you know it, and worrying about accomplishing items on a list distracts from being all there.
If you are stuck in traffic with your older kids, turn the radio off and talk, or turn the radio up and sing, but be where you are. Don’t stress about what’s next, or how you might be late.
Have you ever stopped to think about what keeps you from being all there? Is it worry? Is it longing for something else? Is it technology? For me, my phone is the chief enemy of “thereness.” It beeps and dings at inopportune moments. And yet I need it — just today, school called when Nate had a headache and I was out running errands. Still, I can be better about using it wisely, about making sure it doesn’t have the power to ruin my thereness.
In the end, Elliot’s wisdom is just a corollary of the Psalmist’s, who wrote, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (90:12).
Ahh, yes, may we Jacksons be present in the moment, all there. May we have hearts of wisdom, numbering our days aright.
Annie Dillard wrote that how we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives. From present moments, to days, to lives. Be. All. There.