The Practice of the Tiny Pause

My entire life, every year on New Year’s Eve, I gathered together with my mom and dad at midnight and we all clinked together our plastic flutes of sparkling grape juice. “Happy New Year’s!” we cried, and then drank the juice and went to bed.

Other than that, though, we never toasted at other times.  In fact, the act of toasting – raising one’s glass with others to commemorate, celebrate, or honor something – was something I generally assumed was reserved for weddings and holidays in general.  No one I knew ever engaged in the practice, and I never gave it much thought.

And then I met D & J.

I’ve mentioned them before, a married couple we count as dear friends and whom I have always admired for their generous, deep, and consistent hospitality.  The very first time we got together for dinner with them, D beamed at all of us around the dinner table.  “Look at all of us here together!” she said, delighted.  “I’m so glad we get to share a meal!”  She lifted her glass, and J lifted his.  “To friendship, and a lovely evening!”

I soon learned this was a practice of hers.  Around a table with friends she  or her husband always paused before the meal for a toast: to friendship, to joy, to laughter, to time together with people she very much liked.  I grew to love that little pause: it made our time together feel intentional, mindful, special.  We are all here together, the clink of our glasses said, and we have made the choice to be, and how lovely and wonderful that is.

Still, I was never quite sure I could carry it off myself.  Over our regular dinners of baked cod and pasta and our conversations about our days, it didn’t occur to me to raise a glass.  And then, when we went to Lisbon and settled down for our first meal in a new country, my husband paused.  And went for his glass.  “To Lisbon,” he said, “and to a wonderful time together.”

Something about toasting others at a table, marking the beginning of a meal with this little ceremony, reminds me a bit of saying a blessing before I eat (which I also do).  It is the briefest break for reflection, a moment to set the meal apart as something special because of the gathered people there: a way of saying that it is the intentional gathering of people that matters.

Toasting is an act that begets a tiny pause in the routine rhythm of the day.  And I have begun to see these tiny pauses as vital to my spiritual life.  How else am I going to find time to reflect, to reorient myself, to see where God is at work?  How else am I going to stop and think no, get a grip on that tongue of yours or this is something to be grateful about or Oh!  God did this!  Without tiny pauses I run on autopilot; I default to all my habits; I do what is comfortable.

A toast before a meal is a tiny pause.  Five minutes alone in the morning over your coffee is a tiny pause. Leaving your work computer for a few minutes at lunch to gather yourself is a tiny pause.  Once you start looking for them, the tiny pause is everywhere, a chance to say: Here am I.  And where shall I find you, God?

I encourage you to try to integrate as many tiny pauses in your day as you can.  But let me offer one final warning: the tiny pause can’t exist alongside the demands of our technological attention economy.  We’ve been trained to take our phones out at the slightest provocation: boredom, disagreement, uncertainty.  Instead of tiny pauses, we will our heads and our eyes with more and more content.  So if you’re having trouble finding the tiny pause in your day, I encourage you to put your phone away and step back from your computer.  You will find at least five minutes.

God can work a wonder in the briefest of moments.  Give Him the opportunity, and you’ll be surprised what you find.  Something as simple as a toast before a meal can be a way that we return to God’s presence and recognize His blessing and His work.

 

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