Turn your ear and hear the words of the wise;
focus your mind on my knowledge. Proverbs 22:17 (CEB)
Whack! I winced as the screen door slammed shut for the 500th time. Gleeful shouts erupted from the upper deck. Chants of “Na-na finals! Na-na! finals! Na-na finals!” came screeching into the living
room followed by another spectacular Whack! of the screen door.
My boys were designing parachutes out of plastic bags for their stuffed animals and launching them from the upper deck of our house. Apparently, the “Na-na Finals” referred to the championship drop.
Once my boys were back inside, we had the usual chaos of chasing the dogs, making “roo-ing” noises (We have a Bassett hound who says “rooo” a lot) and an extra loud competition to see who could say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious the most times in a row.
Once in the van and headed to school, the stereo blared to life.
“Is this Adele?” my youngest bellowed from the backseat?
“Yes!” I yelled back.
After drop off, alone with my thoughts and Adele, I started to feel overwhelmed. While the primary physical sources of noise and chaos in our home were no longer present, my thoughts continued to scream in a tumultuous whirlwind of mental noise that drove out everything else around me. As my thoughts flew and pinged from one to another, I felt the familiar dread of anxiety forming in my gut.
If you’ve never experienced anxiety, let me give you a crash course. Anxiety (in my experience) starts in the pit of my stomach. It gnaws at you, like a dog chewing a rawhide bone. But unlike the rawhide bone, anxiety is fluid. It moves upward, causing your heart to beat faster. It wraps itself around your lungs, crushing the air inside your chest and making your breath become shallower. Finally, it spreads through your limbs–tingling like an electric current until you just can’t remain still any longer. You have to move–frantically walking, pacing, cleaning, etc…
On this particular morning, I was feeling the gnawing. As it started to move upward, I muted Adele and took a calming breath. Focus, I thought.
Inhaling again, I turned my breath inward–a cooling stream of air targeted at my core blowing the anxiety away.
I focused on the word focus until it was the only “sound” I heard.
Many of us spend our days living unfocused lives. The plethora of media literally at our fingertips pulls our focus in hundreds of different directions. In ten minutes I can read fifty Facebook posts, the headlines of at least twelve major news articles, as well as scan two or three emails.
The problem is, I am not a natural-born multi-tasker. Doing several things at once makes me feel anxious. In order to function at my best, my mind needs to be focused.
There is a difference between focus and stillness. Stillness is about quiet. Stillness is tuning everything out so that you can recharge, reconnect and revive. Focus, on the other hand, is about clarity. Focus is about centering your entire being on one thing so that you can fully understand and complete the task at hand.
For me, focus leads to productivity, engagement and peace.
Over the years, I have found several strategies that help me to focus. Obviously, breathing and meditating is one. Hacking out hymns on the piano is another. I’m not very good, but I can eek out a chord with enough focus, which is why playing the piano is a great focusing activity for me.
Writing also provides me with the ability to focus. When my thoughts seem to be spinning out of control, I pick up a journal or start pecking away at the keyboard.
God has given me these tools to lead me back when the chaos of life and my thoughts seek to pull me under. And all of the tools that I use center around him. When I meditate, it is on God’s presence. When I play the piano, it is to draw closer to God’s spirit. When I write, it is to engage in conversation with God.
When life spins around us, God says, Focus on me.
When thoughts are racing through our minds, God says, Focus on me.
When our to-do lists become unmanageable, God says, Focus on me.
When anxiety starts to rear its ugly head, God says, Focus on me.
My challenge to you today is to focus on being focused. Take an assessment of where you are right now.
Are you centered, or are you spinning like a top in multiple directions?
What would it take to come back to center?
What tools has God given you that will help you regain your focus?
By centering ourselves on God, we can better see the work he has laid out before us this day.
Blessings and Peace,