Practicing the Presence

Practicing the Presence

Justin McGee shares how his restlessness in life lead him to reflect on God’s presence while spending time alone and without distractions. He invites you to join others in a new group called Practicing the Presence that currently meets via zoom every Thursday evening at 8pm.

I am a restless soul. It is either intricately woven into my DNA, or I have allowed the little anxious hamster to spin incessantly within for years with no repercussions for their squeaky wheel keeping me awake all night.

My personal restlessness picked up steam over the past year or two. I transitioned to a new job – I went from a middle school teacher to a high school teacher – and so much of the new gig matched my personality and my loves. My first year in the high school was my best year as a teacher, yet almost immediately, the restlessness set in. 

Early into this school year, I was asked to coach varsity football at my school midway through the season. There were some issues with the staff and the program was struggling, and I was asked simply to encourage the kids I had taught and/or coached for many years, ensure that they have a positive experience, and help keep kids from quitting. As someone who had been a part of this particular football program almost every year since I roamed the sideline as a 6th grade manager with little Styrofoam cups of water to hydrate the players, I was honored to step in to serve a program I love.

As the hamster spun and spun and spun during this 2+ month period of working 90 hours a week as a coach and a double AP teacher, his little heart couldn’t keep up with the racing of his legs and the already growing restlessness turned to anxiety, and the anxiety turned to despair, and the despair turned into the wheel being dislodged from its bearings with the hamster and his exercise equipment being propelled into the wall of the cage – only to shatter the wired, metallic wheel and the tiny heart that couldn’t keep pace.

The restlessness was no longer this little thing that always led me to pine for something more or something different but latent within it was a chaos indicative of a brokenness that had long been shattered and haphazardly mended back together by Elmer’s glue and used bubble gum. 

So, I decided to leave the teaching business after this school year and pursue other opportunities that wouldn’t take so much from me and provide me time and space to rekindle my love for the Lord, myself, and others. In other words, to seek the peace of Christ.

And then – COVID-19 hit. 

Man, was it disorienting and frustrating. I had been in the midst of my worst year professionally, I had realized that I had some underlying issues that had never truly been addressed, and now, I was being isolated in my home – away from my church, away from my family and loved ones, away from the magic of my students for the last time. How was I going to manage this?

I had been reading a few books on grief, joy, and the Enneagram, and there was one thing that was present in all of them that God used to really grab my attention and remind my of how He speaks to me…

I desperately need solitude to survive. Solitude is what draws me to the quiet, simple love of God. Solitude is what re-energizes me to be with people. Solitude is what compels me to serve. Solitude is what sparks dreams in my heart when a hope for a future is flickering on the verge of extinguishing.

So, in the midst of my isolation I began to choose solitude. Without a phone, without music, without a book, I would sit quietly on my porch, drink some Avoca coffee, and listen to the birds chirp, watch the squirrels leap from limb to roof, and ask the Lord to be present in my life – to provide peace to my restless heart.

And in His mercy, he did.

Of course, as the shelter-in-place continued and subsequently lifted, and as I made the fateful decision to adopt a dog who is anxious as the mere sound of the wind rustling the trees, those intentional moments have dwindled. I have chosen other things – some that seek peace; some that don’t – but I know that those minute moments on the porch are what I need most to rest in his presence when the hamster wheel begins to smoke, and I’m going to pursue them again.

This is why we at Restoration are offering Practicing the Presence: a Thursday night gathering for the next 8 weeks. We realize that during this time, more than any other, we are all experiencing a restlessness, a sorrow, a despair that is uniquely common to all of humanity, and what we need right now, more than anything else, is the peace of Christ that comes from being in His presence. The same peace He gave me on the porch.

Each week, we will be engaging in a tried and true spiritual practice to encounter that supernatural rest we all desperately long for. Through moments with scripture, prayer, reflection, and community, we will ask God to show up and bring us peace knowing that He offers it freely to us. As I experienced through my moments of solitude, as we have experienced through Lectio over the past few weeks, God has been merciful to do just that.

Just as He always is.

We invite you to come and sit in the presence of God with us this Thursday – to slow the legs and heart of the hamster that pitters and patters with a restlessness that is hard simmer on our own, but is joyfully quelled by a loving and gracious God.

We hope to see you there.

Join Practicing the Presence and receive Zoom call information for this Thursday at 8 pm.