Preoccupied: to be so engrossed with thoughts of something or someone that you are unable to engage in other things. Our word comes from from the Latin praeoccupare which literally means to “seize beforehand.”
When my heart and mind are already occupied with other things, there is no space to being present to others, primarily God Himself.
Sure, I may be bodily present; however, in a state of preoccupation my soul is not spacious enough for the people that God places in front of me, be they my children, neighbors, or strangers. In a worried, frenetic, preoccupied state, souls have all the welcome of a pin cushion, according to Henri Nouwen.
When God occupies my thoughts, however, He tunes me to the times set directly in front of me. Among the great privileges of the children of God is the ability to leave the things that used to preoccupy our time and energy to the God of abundance. Our Father will look after our needs, so we need not obsess about them and the details; rather, we are invited to make space in our hearts for the needs, concerns, and delights of others.
After all, is not that what Jesus so poetically tried to show in his lilies and sparrows speech in the Sermon on the Mount? You need not be preoccupied with all those things, even the important and necessary things. Those who do not know Yahweh must chase after those things, but those who are adopted into God’s family are invited to a whole different way of living in light of the Fatherhood of God (Matthew 6).
I cannot be a place of safety and hospitality to others if my own heart has not been stilled and filled with God’s presence and peace.
I know this. I write about this. Yet, I forget about this all the time. Before I know it, my heart has returned to its pin-cushion place, all crowded and cramped with concerns which were meant to be recycled into prayer.
I don’t realize that my heart and soul are preoccupied most of the time. But my children and husband do. They see the blank stare and hear the “uh-huhs” that are dead giveaways that my heart and mind are elsewhere. They are the compassionate cues from my Heavenly Father that I have been living like an orphan again: worrying and fretting when I could be praying and trusting.
In stillness before God, I am able to invite Him to walk with me into my pin-cushion heart. Embarrassed by the accumulated clutter, yet safe enough in His secure strength, I am able and ask Him to help me remove all the pins gathering there. One by one, the Lord pulls out burdens that were not mine to carry, pins of past failure that needed forgiveness, and an unnecessary pricks for all kinds of possible future scenarios.
Suddenly, my soul becomes spacious again. Yes, there are still needs and errands and responsibilities; however, there is also the fresh reminder that I have One indwelling me who provides and guides and gives wisdom and energy.
I’ve no need to be preoccupied with my next hour or my next week or my next month. My Father, who both created time and stands outside of it, is already there. But more importantly, He is here.
And He has people who need a spacious place to process their own pins, some of whom do not even know yet that there is a loving Father who dwells in abundance who wants to know them.
By God’s grace, may we become those whose hearts have space for others. May daily time with our Heavenly Father provide the removal of pins that prohibit us and others from experiencing His doting care until the day when we shall bodily dwell with Him without the presence of pins. Amen.