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Having two children has allowed me to become familiar with the practice of fidgeting, and by this I don’t just mean putting up with “ants-in-their-pants” while seated upon a wooden pew during a lengthy church service. I’m referring to the practical use of small toys, or Fidgets, to keep one’s fingers busy, release tension and anxiety, and help with focus in a world of distraction and overstimulation.
Fidgets have been running in fads for years now. In fact, based on the ebb and flow of newly invented fidgets, my son now has an entire drawer in his bedroom dedicated to fidgets! In my memory, it all began with the classic “fidget spinner,” which took the world by whirring storm, spinning its three-pronged disc on its axis. Balanced on one’s thumb, or poised between thumb and middle finger, its gentle spinning vibration was soothing, its effortless turn, mesmerizing.
Then, you may have noticed the major increase in assorted types of “thinking putty” that arrived on the scene in recent years. I suppose Thinking Putty is not very different from old-school Silly Putty, but these newer-fangled putties are many colored, textured, and scented. They are stress-relief in moldable form.
Last year, my son closed out the school year by purchasing a Pop It. While his was square and tie-dyed, I’ve since learned they come in any and every shape, size, and color. It is like bubble wrap that never wears out and doesn’t startle as much as its plastic wrap cousin. I even caught my husband idly tapping away at the pop it one morning while eating his breakfast and reading the news.
Simply put, there is a lot of nervous energy in the world. We have an incredible tendency to fill our lives to the brim with activity, and activities. Idle time has become frivolous. Boredom, something to be remedied. Peacefulness? Well, I’m not sure it is considered something to be sought after unless we think of it as one more achievable goal to be jammed in with all the rest of life’s aspirations.
Whether we like it or not, however, there are moments and places when we are forced to be still. This happens most for me when I wait in the parking lot at my children’s schools, waiting first for one and then for the other to be released. More often than not, I wait less than 10 minutes at either school, yet I’m likely to pull out a book to cram in a few minutes of reading. If not, I’ll respond to text messages, make my grocery list, or talk to my sister on the phone. I do not sit in the quiet of my car and do nothing. I cannot. I will not.
We have a hard time being still even in the waiting times of life. Think of waiting rooms at doctor’s offices, biding our time at the hair salon, sitting in the hallway before the music lesson, or waiting for your coffee date to arrive. What about airports, subway stations, and the lines at the DMV? We really don’t know what to do with ourselves when we wait, but we do feel like we must DO something.
Even the smallest amount of time to ourselves can seem like too much time because we are overly used to rushing. Given some space, anxiety creeps in- sometimes just to tell us we’re not hustling along fast enough. Other times, our stillness can lead to feeling genuinely scared out of our minds with worry about the forthcoming diagnosis, the child’s behavior in school, the aftermath of the latest earthquake, the on-going pandemic, climate change for goodness’ sake! Give your brain some quiet space, and watch what filters in.
In a classroom, where children must be still and quiet, to learn, energy trembles out of fingers and brains struggle to focus on the one necessary thing. I’ve seen this to be true in offices, in meetings, at church, and as mentioned earlier, at my breakfast table. We find movement compulsory. Brains and bodies ought to be engaged with something at all times. Yet, the thing I have come to enjoy about fidgets is that even though they involve tapping, spinning, or molding, they actually help us slow down, focus, and become more still.
I went to church this past Sunday to find that our Care Ministry Director had planned a special coffee-time craft to bless our anxious hearts. She had put together many small packets, stuffed with materials to make Contemplative Keychains: one long cord, ten pony beads, and one key ring. Following the directions on the included card, we could each make ourselves a simple, sweet keychain that, in times of waiting, anxiety, and stress, we can slide the beads back and forth along the cord, breathe, and pray. It is a tactile reminder of God’s presence.
Hooked onto one’s set of keys, stashed in the pocket of your coat, or hung from a child’s backpack as they start the school year, this new “fidget” pairs beautifully with a Breath Prayer. A Breath Prayer can be inhaled on one part, exhaled on another part. They are typically very, very short. It isn’t about words, after all. It is about experiencing God’s presence. With my contemplative keychain, as I wait in the car for my kids, or wait to get my teeth cleaned, or sit in the pew before church, I can slide one bead along the cord for each word that I pray, quietly breathing and focusing my attention on God, present with me.
There are many Breath Prayers, and often, they can arise directly from the longing heart of the one who prays. But, the first Breath Prayer that I learned, also called the Jesus Prayer, arises from the words of a blind man calling out to Jesus to be healed:
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me!”
Other short, scriptural Breath Prayers can include:
“My help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.”
“When I am afraid, I will trust you.”
“Come, Lord Jesus.”
Again, sliding the beads back and forth, word by word, allows God’s presence to seep into our quiet, waiting moments. To be sure, our prayer could just as easily be:
“Help me, help me, help me.”
“Peace, peace, peace…”
“Restore my hope.”
And so forth.
One great fear that I have, with all of our rushing about, is that we will forget God; all that God is in our lives, and even that God is in our lives. Whatever we can do in this wild world that we live in, to remember and know God in our lives, we should. And probably, we should start with the small, stolen moments when we fear we aren’t rushing enough.