May I Have Your Attention? Please?

May I Have Your Attention?  Please?

“She looks well to the ways of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.

Prov. 31:27

I’ve never been a huge Sci-Fi fan, but few would be unfamiliar with the phrase, “Beam me up, Scotty” from the TV show, Star Trek.  Though our generation can’t teleport our bodies, we’ve created hand-held mind portals that instantaneously beam our minds to endless realms.  And though we haven’t been brought under the oppression of alien Klingons, we have voluntarily succumbed to a state I like to call Technarchy –  where our thoughts, priorities, and relationships are governed by the influence and characterized by the constant presence of technology.  And though we won’t be obliterated by phasers, the fate most perilous to our role is Distraction.

Oh, it’s not that other generations haven’t been guilty of distraction.  They’ve had their magazines, soaps and party lines.  But the immediate and endless possibilities for escape and entertainment in this age, are placing many of us at risk of being absentee wives & mothers.  Present in body perhaps.  But notably absent in mind.  So much so, we don’t even realize it’s happening.

 

“She looks well to the ways of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.

 

A distinguishing quality of the biblical Super Woman is that of Attentiveness.  And increasingly distinguishing, I might add.  When I was younger, I never-ever-ever thought of this as a distinctive characteristic of a noble women.  Yet it is now a most rare and elusive quality.

Our verse tells us that this woman, like the city watchmen of old, keeps a keen and careful eye on the habits, attitudes, emotions, and well-being of her precious ones, and is not lazy or sluggish in the task.  This term “household” can encompass the physical domain of the home as well as the people within in it, so I almost lumped it in with our study of the super woman’s diligence, benevolence, and preparedness.    Though it would have been appropriate to do that, I wanted to treat the people aspect of this verse separately because the absence of attentiveness has reached epidemic proportions in our culture.

There are many sources of distraction.  Personally, I can be task-oriented and caught up in my thoughts.  One day, after repeated failed attempts to get my attention in the car, Scarlett shouted in exasperation, “Mom, you’re thinking again!”  So this call to attentiveness should resonate with every one of us.  But because the personal mind portal has undoubtedly established itself as the greatest culprit, I wanted to point out some particular dangers of this device in hopes that you can see the hazards that lie veiled beneath its allure.

When living in a state of technarchy

We treat priority interactions like pesky interruptions.  At the end of our lives, we will answer to God for how we have stewarded the people God has given directly to us.  The more often we submerge our minds in something else when we are on the job as wife and mom (a screen, a show, a book, a playlist), the more often the acid of irritation creeps into our words, eyes and gestures when we have to pull our mind away from its current location.

Regular responsibilities of my role morph into inconveniences.  Small annoyances escalate to grand irritations.  And in those moments, the people who should be objects of my affection and recipients of my care, I view as obstacles in the way of what I desire.

At the end of my life, I don’t want the bulk of my interactions with my dear ones to be flavoured with annoyance so I should not so constantly engage my mind elsewhere that each inquiry is an interruption by default.  It’s not that we never engage in those activities, but perhaps they should be strategically scheduled and not a constant activity thread throughout our day.

We communicate diminished value.  When we are with people but give our attention to someone or something on the other end of our personal portal, we communicate nonverbally that those we are with are insufficient to interest us, not worthy of our concentrated focus, and are of less value than what’s out there.  It’s like being alone, but lonelier.  As Christians called to love others as the second most important mandate of our lives (Matthew 22:39), and as a people instructed to treat others the way we want to be treated, (Matthew 7:12) we should care how distracted living causes others around us to feel.

We live life in the shallows.  Depth of conversation, excellence in relationships and distinction in skill comes from prolonged focus.  When we live distracted, we are constantly hopping in and out of these relational and mental waters.  Each time wasting valuable minutes on re-entry and mental acclimatization.  “Where was I?”  “Sorry, what was that you were saying?”  And the time that could have been spent to go deeper, we have lost in a myriad of mental transitions.  Our culture’s conversations, relationships and skills suffer an alarming superficiality from this dynamic.

We speed time.  Even though it was before the era of limitless, handheld distraction, there were seasons of my younger life that I remember little because I was busy and distracted.  When we live that way, our minds can’t seem to linger long enough to savour a God-given moment, invest something meaningful or imprint a lasting memory.  As I face the reality that the season of my life with my daughters under my roof is likely half gone, that thought sobers me.  It makes me feel ill to think that I could trade moments of sweet conversation, lingering gazes, and priceless touches for pictures of an acquaintance’s vacation or one more video clip.

Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with the things that distract us.  The rub comes when we engage in those activities when we should be interacting with the people in our presence.  Multi-tasking is fine for tasks, but terrible for people.

I am thankful for an image Ann Voskamp provided that helped shape my thinking on this:  “Time is a relentless river.  It rages on, a respecter of no one.  And this, this is the only way to slow time: When I fully enter time’s swift current, enter into the current moment with the weight of all my attention, I slow the torrent with the weight of me all here.  I can slow the torrent by being all here.”  So this biblical virtue of attentiveness has become my anchor in time’s torrent.  When I need some extra moments with that self-parenting child of mine, I tell her we need some “anchor” time and we lie close in her bed, lock eyes and stare for a few sweet moments.  Dragging that anchor with all we’ve got, to drink in the God-given sweetness of this brief life.

But distraction, oh friend!  Distraction is a super-powered motor that we strap to our life’s boat.  With deafening noise, it hurtles us into our futures where we’ll arrive at our destination with no recollection of the journey.  With no memory of the beauty along the way.  And with countless missed opportunities to watch and protect.

 

Distractions, especially the breed produced by our hand-held devices, rob us of the attentiveness we need to “look well to the ways of our households”. The welfare of our cherished dominions is at risk. The threats to our domains are serious.  So quick glances won’t do.

Do we let menacing forces breach our walls because we sit idly by?  Lord willing, not on my watch.

How about you?

6 Comments

  1. Rebekah

    Great reminder for me this morning. I can resonate with the part you wrote about ‘annoyances’ – this is so true, and yet, I hate to think that I am showing irritation to the children who I love so much, yet that is just what I am doing. Thank you for the reminder to be fully present.

    Reply
  2. Glen

    Big topic! I know you had a hard time trying to cram in a ton of information into a relatively short blog, but don’t worry, you’ll have more space to write when you put all of these proverbs blogs into a big people’s book for women.

    Reply
  3. Amy

    Wow! thanks so much for that reminder! I’m afraid I live distracted way too often… I need to print this out and read often!

    Reply
  4. Cindy Reid

    Thanks Janet. I’ve noticed this trend to be absent while present. It is at the root of most problems at school too!!

    Reply
  5. Heather Bock

    This is very true–especially about how everyday life becomes an annoyance. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Janet

      Even though I don’t love technology for many reasons, one of the benefits of my eldest getting into it to a degree is that I’ve been able to see some of those tendencies in her…. and then be more aware to recognize them in me! Something we all have to keep an eye on!

      Reply

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