When I was very little, my mom noticed that my left eye turned in, and she toted me to the eye doctor where he diagnosed me with a lazy eye, only not the type that is fixed by surgery, the kind that results from an abnormality in the brain. That meant I started vision therapy when I was toddling around the house, which meant I learned from a young age how to focus on a task for a prolonged amount of time. By the time I was 5, my favorite movie was The Ten Commandments, the 3 ½ hour Cecil B. DeMille epic starring Charlton Heston. I had the entire movie memorized since I watched it nearly every day.
Yes, at 5 years old, my chief desire in life was to watch The Ten Commandments every day during the summer. 220 minutes of Hollywood-influenced biblical drama.
I had a great attention span.
In school, my teachers inevitably appreciated my ability to focus and stay on task for abnormally long periods of time, and I, truthfully, enjoyed spending large quantities of time working on an assignment. In college, I would study for hours, diligently copying my hastily written class notes into a second spiral, organizing, recalling information I hadn’t written down, and memorizing as much information as I could. I read the books, took notes, filled up my brain with as much knowledge as I could, because I enjoyed not only the learning but the method of learning itself. I loved the process of focusing on an assignment for a long period of time. Marathon study sessions were my love language.
Then I bought my first smartphone.
I believe without hesitation that a large source of the anxiety in my life stems from my futile attempts to multi-task.
Yes, I know. People have been saying all of this for years. There are entire blogs dedicated to living hands free and with intention. I know. I have read them. And I have nodded in agreement, shared posts, and felt convicted, and still I have continued to live in a mind filled with frenetic clutter. I’ve heard the cutting remarks from family and friends, from pastors and media personalities, from a thousand different sources, and I’ve doggedly continued to multi-task, to divide my mind between several different tasks simultaneously, because it works. I get a lot done.
My husband has patiently endured all of this multi-tasking. It’s not just with the phone either. Often, I am grading assignments in the car while he drives, because it’s one of the only places where the kids are strapped down and incapable of undoing all that I’ve done, so I grade there instead of looking out the window at that intoxicating Texas sky I used to watch. Or I read the next few pages in the book I’m prepping to teach, or I’m reading a blog post or catching up on Facebook, or whatever.
I find myself thinking about Kadesh. About Addie. About how she would sit on the porch and shuck corn. Just shuck corn. Or just snap peas. Or just beat the rug. She didn’t have the radio playing or a TV on or a dozen apps dinging at her. She just did her work. Yes, of course she thought while she worked, but mostly she thought about her work. She paid attention to the corn silks. She noticed how they laced through the fat, plump kernels and how they can be awfully bothersome to remove. Kind of like sinful habits.
I’m tired of not being where I am.
My granddaddy has said that all my life, only a bit more poetically: Be where thou art.
Looking back over the last few years and all that Abba has been speaking to me about anxiety, exercise, stress, anger, breathing, introversion, slowing down, rest…He’s been teaching me the same truth from a dozen different directions:
Wisdom is the focus of the perceptive,
but a fool’s eyes roam to the ends of the earth.
-Proverbs 17:24, hcsb
At my school, the deans ask us at the beginning of each school year what our core values are as teachers. They provide us with a list for us to pray over and choose from, and my answer is always, always the same: my core value is wisdom. If you have wisdom, then you can have everything else.
But the thing is, wisdom isn’t a core value, and that’s the point He’s been making all this time.
Wisdom is a Person. A Person who keeps telling me
Don’t be hasty.
One foot in front of the other.
You can’t do it all, so leave the excess to Me.
All is grace.
Today is a good day to die.
Today is an even better day to live.
You are one radically loved by Me.
I make you brave.
Fight for joy.
I’m not going to go on some radical media fast. Radical inevitably fails. No one can sustain radical for any length of time. Besides, He isn’t whispering radical in my ear. He wants me to go back, to reclaim the territory I lost to the frenetic, harried, futile crazy of fractured living. He wants me to remember what it’s like to be 5 years old and watching Moses confront Pharaoh for the thirty-fifth time in one summer, what it’s like to study uninterrupted, what it’s like to read for an hour without thinking about the real world. That great attention span – that precious, God-given gift of focus that I have poorly stewarded over the last several years – that’s what we’re taking back.
He has something in store for me. I haven’t the faintest notion what it is, but it’s out there, and He keeps hinting at whatever it is. I’m not ready for it just yet. I’ve lost too much ground, and I have to cooperate with Him to recapture what He gave me that I squandered.
“He did each single thing, as if he did nothing else –
a pretty certain indication in a man of that range of ability and purpose,
that he is doing something which sharpens and keeps alive his keenest powers.”
-Charles Dickens, Dombey and Son