Paying Attention: The Gift of Really Being There

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God cares more about who you are becoming than what you are achieving. Do you believe that? Do you believe that your heart, your character, and your motives matter more to God than anything you can “do” for Him?

I’ll be honest. I’m still working on moving that truth from my head to my heart. And this year as I think about the person I hope to become I’ve tried to focus on one word, (thanks to my friends over at One Word 365, for encouraging me in this direction).

I’ve got a rather odd little word that I’m mulling on over here. It’s the word “attend.” Here’s a few ways Merriam Webster describes the word:

  • to pay attention to
  • to look after
  • to wait for
  • to be present with
  • to apply oneself
  • to apply the mind or pay attention
  • to be ready for service, minister

In these forty days leading up to Easter, my Lenten fast has taken the form of unplugging more and practicing the art of paying better attention. And I’m surprised at just how hard it is. I find it hard to admit, but I’ve become rather addicted to distraction, and I don’t think I’m alone in this. It’s so easy to hop online for a moment or two in the times where we find ourselves waiting or bored or just needing a release. Turn on the TV, pick up the e-reader, check Facebook. But in distracting ourselves for a moment, we become habitually absent in the very life we are living, habitually absent to the very people we say we care about most, and worst of all, habitually absent from practicing the presence of God.

When I was working on As We Forgive, I ran across this quotation by Catherine de Hueck Doherty and included it in my chapter on helping others as they move toward forgiveness:

With the gift of listening comes the gift of healing, because listening to your brothers or sisters until they have said the last words in their hearts is healing and consoling. Someone has said that it is possible “to listen a person’s soul into existence.” I like that.

I think Jesus must have been the most “present” person to ever walk this earth. To be in His presence must have felt like being listened alive. I want to become more like that. But how often do I put aside my distractions to be that kind of person—to make space in my days, weeks or month to give my totally un-distracted attention? How often do I treat my little ones as worthy of that kind of total attention?

One of my favorite Christian writers, Frederick Buechner put it this way:

And when Jesus comes along saying that the greatest command of all is to love God and to love our neighbor, he too is asking us to pay attention. If we are to love God, we must first stop, look, and listen for him in what is happening around us and inside us. If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces, but the life behind and within their faces. (Frederick Buechner, Daily Readings in the ABC’s of Faith)

Giving the gift of our un-distracted attention is hard work because it is the work of selflessness. To pay attention and be present to my two-year old, my toddler, my husband, the girl at the checkout line, or the person I’m seated next to at the doctor’s office, is to tell them with my eyes, my gadget- and screen-free hands, my ears, my smile, and my heart that they are more important than myself. Giving my attention means honoring the image of God in my fellow man, woman, and especially child. It means that I come with the expectation that there are no moments that I’m supposed to cruise through on auto-pilot, but that every moment is there by design, that every moment is ripe with opportunity both to see God and to be His hands and feet.


What distractions compete most for your attention? Do you think you’d have more room for time alone with God if you gave up even one of these distractions for a day, a week, a month, a year, or forever?



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