Posted by: karanoel | September 16, 2022

A shift in focus

When talking with a friend at the dog park last month, we briefly touched on the topic of our school age kids not being super goal-oriented. I joked about how Chase clearly inherited from me his focus on “enjoying the ride” rather than getting anywhere in particular, and then we moved on and talked about other things. But after Sunny had exhausted her energy and I hopped in the car to head home, I found a little ember from the conversation smoldering in my mind. “Are there any goals you’d like to set this year?,” I asked Chase later that evening. “Yeah,” he responded, “I could think of a few.” “So could I,” I said.

Chase quickly made a list of goals which mostly had to do with things he’d like to achieve in Minecraft, as well as a few real-life ones related to swimming and a language arts software he uses for school. I tried to keep my list fairly simple and focused on the things that are in my heart to do, but often get neglected as time gets away from me. Write one blog post a week. That’s doable, right? Write one rough draft chapter of a memoir each month. Still daunting to someone such as myself who’s never written a book, but not impossible. Make time to have meaningful connections with the people in my life. Yep, that’s gotta matter. I also added some projects I’ve wanted to complete and gave myself a generous deadline for each one.

This might not surprise anyone who has not just rolled along like myself, but wow, it feels like my whole life has been reoriented. I mean, it mostly looks the same from the outside. I still take morning walks, care for my household, meet up with friends, try to get some writing done. But each day now bears a focus and purpose that is serving to crowd out some other activities that weren’t bad, but maybe weren’t the best use of time. A case in point…

A favorite indulgence of mine is a leisurely wander around one of my favorite stores, usually followed by a purchase of a few (very reasonably priced) items that catch my eye. But then I usually need to return at least one of these items, which leads me to back to the store for another wander, at which time I buy a few more things and the cycle continues. Well, one day last week, I had returns to make at Marshall’s and T.J. Maxx, both favorites that can swallow me whole. Chase was at school. I had no firm commitments that day and had the time to mosey around these stores and see if there was anything else I “needed.” Oh happy day! 

“Except,” I told myself, “if you do that, you won’t get the rest of your errands done before picking Chase up. Which will delay the writing you planned to do tomorrow and the project you were going to finish the following day.” In no time at all, the weightier matter won out and get this… I arrived at my favorite stores, got in line, returned the items and left. I mean what??!! I didn’t know this was even an option!

The interesting thing is that I’d been hoping for a while to be spending less money on things that don’t really matter, as well as to be spending less time on mindless distractions, but wasn’t really gaining any traction (unless you count my irritating, fruitless statements about wanting to change my habits). But as my focus shifted toward the things I actually want to accomplish, along with an honest assessment of the time I have to do them, the lesser things started getting squeezed out without much fanfare or effort. 

Let me clarify, though: This post is not about goal-setting. It’s not about striving. It’s not about feeling bad for having distractions or about filling every hour of your day with something meaningful. I am still spending time on my phone and watching TV and will certainly allow myself some delicious wanders through Marshall’s. This post is about focus. When we focus on what matters, rather than on what we want to change, a shift happens and transformation is the natural byproduct. 

If you’ll follow me just a little further. I have some far more significant struggles than wasting time. Sometimes I feel stuck in a cycle of behaviors that don’t line up with my beliefs. The more I try to do better, the more stuck I seem to get. But so many times, when my focus has gotten shifted onto who the Lord is in all of His wholeness (instead of on me and my brokenness), the suction of sin just seems to break and it loses its hold on me for the moment. I mean, I’ll be listening to my audio Bible while I’m doing housework or gardening – not even really paying attention – when I’ll find that the pressing need to self-medicate decreases or evaporates. Or, I’ll listen to a grace-filled sermon on a walk or read a truth-filled book before bed and find a calm over my previously agitated mind. When these moments are strung together and my focus really gets captured, the whole atmosphere of my life is transformed into one that feels propelled forward by hope… pretty much effortlessly.

This doesn’t happen because I’m being “good” or doing spiritual things. God isn’t granting me some kind of special favor as He sees me crack the Bible or listen to worship. That will never, ever be the case. But there’s no escaping the fact that when we turn our focus toward Him, our hearts are captured for the things that really matter; the things that will bless our lives and those around us. And when that happens, the lesser things naturally get minimized in their significance and their pull. And as it continues to happen we find ourselves moving forward, without stress or strain, in freedom and purpose. I’m guessing this is why Paul says in Philipians, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Does this make any sense? I’m hoping so. Anyways, there you have it. With my weekly blog post done, I should probably move onto the next very important task at hand: Lunch!


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