When I was around 9 or 10 old, my Dad took me and my older brother, Danny, to the Cabarrus Creamery. Although connected to a large ice cream factory, it was a simple store front that served excellent frozen treats directly to the public. I vividly remember the details of my banana milkshake that day. It was so thick that it stood three inches above the top of the glass without spilling over. I was in chubby kid heaven. However, a few minutes later, I looked deep into my glass and I noticed a harsh reality. My milkshake was halfway gone. I was devastated. In my euphoric state, I had forgotten all notions of pace and conservation. I was nearly overwhelmed with sadness and regret. Although I still had 50 percent of my shake remaining, I was already grieving the end of the enjoyment. My sadness ruined the experience. My future had invaded my present.
Contrary to popular belief, human beings simply cannot multitask. We are very capable of handling a number of tasks or events in succession, but only if we are willing to show up and attend to each one. I was not a much younger man when I finally noticed that I tend to spend large time investments in the past or the future, rather than the present moment. It is sad and frustrating to pass through each moment on the way to something, someone, or somewhere else. Life is meant to be lived in the present.
Since we can only do one thing at a time, it seems like our best chance at fulfillment and joy is to attempt to do each thing wholeheartedly. This is where our values can effectively come into play.
I am certainly aware that each of us may have a different idea when it comes to the definition of values. My own definition, in conjunction with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), is extremely specific and practical. Values are present-tense ways of being.
At the risk of sounding extremely nerdy, I need to add that values are most wonderfully expressed using adverbs. They answer especially important questions about relationships, vocations, hobbies, and even spirituality (everything really). For example, imagine that you have a limited amount of time to spend with your children or perhaps your spouse (most certainly true). These relationships are especially important to you and you want to enjoy them to the fullest. In the moment that you are with them, if you are willing to slow down and be present, you could ask yourself a simple question, “How do I want to treat this person that I love (right here and right now)?” Your answers would vary, but would sound something like, “lovingly, attentively, graciously, carefully, generously…”
This is certainly not goal-oriented. This is an intentional approach to pursue a present-tense quality of life. Regardless of circumstances, feelings, conflicts or even the behavior of the other people involved, I get to choose the characteristic and qualities of my own way of being. I can show up and be present in full pursuit of value-laden life. I can live one moment (at a time) to the fullest.
As I think about my milk-shake story, I wish that I had been able to be present that day. Both my father and my brother have now passed away into eternity. I regret the way in which the future stole from my present. I could have enjoyed it more fully and savored the brief moment in the presence of two of the people that I have loved the most. I could have loved them in a value-filled way. Life is indeed a vapor that quickly fades away (James 4:14). How will you stay present today, right here and right now?