While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols (Acts 17:16).
Finding God in the everyday is a skill that we cultivate. We can practice it, learn it, grow in our ability to discern God’s presence and work around us. Finding God in the everyday is not a talent or gift that belongs to certain religiously inclined persons. All of us can do this. In fact we must do this. Failure to see God in the texture of our daily living means a flattened spirituality that gives Jesus a nod with occasional church attendance.
So if all of us can do this, then why don’t we? Answers are many, but a simple one might be this: We are a preoccupied people.
I don’t have a dictionary open in front of me right now – but let me take a shot a definition. By breaking down the syllables of the word, to be “preoccupied” means to be occupied in advance – something is already there; the space is already taken; energies and attention that might be directed in one way are already claimed and used by something else.
That definition is born of experience. I am frequently preoccupied. My wife is good at catching me when my preoccupations are clamoring around in my head and taking up too much space. I have to ask my kids to repeat what they said to me because I wasn’t listening the first time; I’m emotionally removed from what’s happening in the house; I’m distracted, somewhere else.
Preoccupations are intruders and thieves. They take what belongs to others. They steal time and conversation and attention from people you love, and they bend the inclinations of your heart away from God. Satan doesn’t need to lure you from God with lascivious temptations. He just needs you to be preoccupied. It’s actually his most effective strategy.
When Paul arrived in Athens, he had every reason to be preoccupied. In his missionary work he had just experienced hostile rejection. A mob had forced him to leave the city of Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9). Not content to get him out of their own town, they followed him to his next stop in Berea and made trouble for him there as well (Acts 17:10-15). Forced to leave yet again he went to Athens, leaving instructions for Silas and Timothy to come and meet him there.
Paul’s preoccupations should have dogged his every step in Athens. He had every reason to nurse his anger and hurt over the rejection he’d experienced. He had every reason to question his calling because he seemed like such a failure. He had every reason to anxiously wonder about the welfare of his team. He couldn’t have been blamed for losing sleep over how he would reconnect Silas and Timothy. He had plenty on his mind.
But Paul was not preoccupied. He was fully present in Athens. He was completely aware of his setting, the sights and places and people that filled the city. He engaged his context with energy and thoughtfulness and sensitivity. He made observations and used what he saw as the raw material for Athenian style discourse. Paul didn’t simply find God in Athens; he revealed God in Athens so that others could find him too.
What are your preoccupations today? What is it that floods the sacred spaces in your life and keeps you from living the great commandment to love God and love others? Finances, a job search, a regret, a hope not fulfilled, a hope crushed, an illness that raises nagging concerns. Begin the day by naming them, calling them by name from the shadows of your heart and mind. And then start paying attention. Who knows what you may see – and what God might show someone else through your life.
Lord Jesus, help me to be fully present to every place and every person I encounter today. In these moments of prayer I name my preoccupations before you. Grant a stillness that allows me to clear space that you alone occupy, thus seeing your presence in the everyday. Amen.