Tag Archives: attention

The A is for Available in F-A-T

A couple of my friends talk about their “bandwidth” whenever the screen of our relationship tells me it is “loading” rather than playing. That means I thought we were going to connect, but my friend was not available.

I haven’t really explored this, but I think people with a “bandwidth” metaphor might think they work like a TV: the stream coming in is only so much and the draws on the stream are many. So they run out; they dry up. There is a reason to pay attention to that reality, of course — we could thoughtlessly “burn out!” On the other hand Jesus followers know that the strength to love is pretty much unlimited; it is not really time or media-player bound. So we should not monitor or excuse our choices as a matter of limited natural resources.

That’s not to say that anyone who wants to love big better consider what’s coming in and what’s going out. God may not have limitations, but we humans do. We need to know what we are given to give, not just imagine fulfilling every need we hear about. I actually have to tell people: “No one told you you needed to come to every meeting!”

I think, over time with Jesus, our spiritual, intellectual and emotional “bandwidth” actually increases, so the amount of faithfulness, attention and teaching that can flow through us in a given amount of time increases too. It is like plumbing, the greater the diameter of the intake pipe to your house, the more water pressure can get to the shower, washing machine and lawn sprinkler, all running at the same time.

We use the old idea that leaders, especially, need to be FAT: faithful, available and teachable. One of the big problems these days is finding someone to lead who is “available.” That is, they have, or will free up, enough “bandwidth” to be available. The problem with being available has two main parts I want to point out: one part is feeling busy, the other part is being inattentive.

Feeling busy

The Economist  notes that busyness is less about how much time one has than how you perceive the time you have. Ever since a clock was first used to synchronize labor in the 1700s, time has been understood in relation to money. Once hours were financially quantified, people worried more about wasting time, saving time or using “their” time profitably.

Individualistic societies, which emphasize achievement over affiliation (like the U.S.), help cultivate this time-is-money mindset. We constantly hear an urgent demand to make every moment count. When people see their time in terms of money (counting or getting), they often grow stingy with time to maximize profit. Workers who are paid by the hour volunteer less of their time and tend to feel more antsy when they are not working. When people are paid more to work, they tend to work longer hours, because working becomes a more profitable use of time.

The rising value of work time puts pressure on all time. Leisure time starts to seem more stressful, as people feel compelled to use it wisely or not at all. Big increases in productivity on the job compel people to maximize the utility of their leisure time. The most direct way to do this is to consume more goods within a given unit of time. The explosion of available goods has only made time feel more crunched, as the struggle to choose what to buy or watch or eat or do raises the “opportunity cost” of leisure (i.e., choosing one thing comes at the expense of choosing another) and contributes to feeling stressed or “burned out.”

The endless opportunities made possible by a simple internet connection boggle the mind. When there are so many ways to fill one’s time, it is only natural to crave more of it. Since the pleasures are all delivered to us in restricted measures, we need to come back for more.  The ability to satisfy desires instantly but fleetingly breeds impatience, fueled by a nagging sense that one could be doing so much more. For instance, people visit websites less often if they are more than 250 milliseconds slower than a close competitor, according to research from Google.

Being inattentive

Mentioning Google brings me to the second problem with being available. People are unavailable because they are inattentive. In The Guardian, last month, an article noted that ” technology is contributing toward so-called ‘continuous partial attention,’ severely limiting people’s ability to focus, and possibly lowering IQ. One recent study showed that the mere presence of smartphones damages cognitive capacity – even when the device is turned off.  ‘Everyone is distracted,’ Rosenstein (inventor of the “like” button) says. ‘All of the time.'”

It is revealing that many younger technologists are weaning themselves off their own products, sending their children to elite Silicon Valley schools where iPhones, iPads and even laptops are banned. They appear to be abiding by a Biggie Smalls lyric from their own youth about the perils of dealing crack cocaine: “never get high on your own supply.” The technologies we use have turned into compulsions, if not full-fledged addictions. It’s the impulse to check a message notification. It’s the pull to visit YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter for just a few minutes, only to find yourself still tapping and scrolling an hour later. None of this is an accident. It is all just as their designers intended. We are not available because we are already occupied, the thing is vibrating in our pockets, calling us to attend to it, and we do.

So is anyone available?

People who lead the church, then, or who just want to follow Jesus, have a somewhat daunting assignment. The church seems to expect an inordinate amount of time and a lot of attention, and we don’t feel like we have a lot of either. We feel pressed when we “must attend meetings” since they cost time. Somehow we miss that we are meeting with people we love or who need to be loved. We can’t attend to God because we take our phones to the prayer room and they lead us astray. Our bandwidth for time and attention is sucked dry by the demands of the endless outlets that wring whatever profit they can derive from us along our brief journey through life.

Is there any hope? Of course there is. I am going to offer just one of many solutions for each of the problems that steal our availability to do something transformative with Jesus.

Decide for yourself what your time is for and how it will be used. Take all the waking hours you expect to have in a week and allot them for the vision you are given, the needs you have, and the goals you want to meet. This will probably take a chart (I recommend one on paper, not on a screen). Use the chart to pray, not just plot. Let God lead you through time. Ask, “Who am I in Jesus and how do I make my time available to be my true self?”

Put limits on the technology, like the techies are doing for their children. Start with tracking how much screen time (with screens of every size) you are spending in a day. Decide how much you should spend and limit the time to that. If your job is in front of a computer, get up every half hour and walk away (pray as you are walking). Don’t put your phone by your bed (even for an alarm) or read a screen in bed. Don’t delude yourself into thinking watching TV together is the best way to relate. Get your cell (group, not phone) to talk about these things.

If we don’t do things that hold back the flood of attention-grabbing by the technologies of late capitalism we will never be available to God, to one another or to the mission of Jesus. Jesus will actually end up vying for our attention!  The people we love will need  to wait until our screens load and are finished with us. The mission might become too costly because there is just not enough time. We will not be FAT enough to do it.

For myself, when I run up against a loved one or leader with little bandwidth, I get discouraged. It is tempting to give up and join the stampede toward our individual tents where we fruitlessly try to commune with the ever-available internet, pretend face-time is a face, “likes” are love, and addiction is not what is happening. I need to turn back to hope and meditate on the quality of aliveness, right under my nose. Jesus changes wrongs into rights.

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12 Things spiritually wise people do not do.

Our character is tested every day. We need wisdom to survive.

Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;
    love her, and she will watch over you. — Proverbs 4:6

Wisdom is hard to find. If you talk to social scientists they will tell you it is a combination of IQ, EQ and personality and toss in a description of brain research to verify what they say. That’s all fine, but while we are trying to apply their science, we are being tested. We are dealing with toxic relationships, maybe a dead-end job, or a struggling marriage or family issue. Whatever the challenge, Jesus calls us to see things through a new lens, take confident action and keep moving in the wisdom God provides.

It sounds easy, but it isn’t.

Spiritually wise people find a way to see and act that allows them to go a different way from the self-destructive crowd. Where others see impenetrable barriers, they tend to see opportunities for faith, hope and love or they see challenges to overcome trouble with the strength Jesus provides.

Too many people fall prey to the mistaken belief that inner strength comes from natural, unteachable traits that belong only to a lucky few. It’s a common misconception. In reality, faithful, available and teachable people can grow in spiritual wisdom and grow in effective application of it. Social scientists helpfully label various quadrants of our being and define common experiences and behaviors that we can watch to good effect, but spiritual wisdom goes deeper.

Wise people imitate.

Getting wisdom mystifies a few of us because it is somewhat intangible. But we can learn it from people we know who have it. Like Paul tells the Corinthian church:

“Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. “ — 1 Corinthians 11:1

If you’re up for it, start with these twelve things that spiritually wise people are careful to avoid.  Each of these categories started, for me, with a category an EQ salesman concocted. I quickly realized that his science had led him back to the Bible! So see what you think. Wisdom from social sciences agree with the Bible that we should consciously avoid these behaviors because they lead us to destruction.

  1. They don’t stay in their comfort zone.

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 2 Timothy 1:7

Let’s just say spiritually wise people no longer think their comfort zones define reality. They live with God in a comfort zone that does not depend on their circumstances working out according to plan. This makes them brave enough to look into eternity and to look into the depths of themselves – neither being immediately comfortable places. But one does not become wise unless they dare to look at someone and something outside themselves.

  1. They don’t give in to fear.

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. – Isaiah 41:30

They say that bravery is being scared to death to do something and doing it anyway. Many times, that’s true, even when it comes to one’s career, or marriage, or spiritual experience. The fear doesn’t have to come from facing something extreme like rushing into a burning building; it can be a fear of public speaking or going out on a limb to try for a promotion or expressing your needs and desires. Spiritually wise people are as afraid as anyone else, probably, they simply trust God, respect their gifts and fight on regardless of the fear.

  1. They don’t stop believing in their potential.

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. – Romans 5:3-5

Spiritually wise people persevere. They don’t give up in the face of failure, and they don’t give up because they are tired or uncomfortable. They are focused on their goals, not on momentary feelings, and that keeps them going even when things are hard. They don’t take failing to mean that they’re a failure. Likewise, they don’t let the opinions of others keep them from fulfilling their calling. When someone says, “You’ll never be able to do that,” they check that opinion out with God.

  1. They don’t beg for attention.

I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. – 1 Corinthians 4:3

People who are always begging for attention are soaking up energy they should be distributing. We are tempted to rely on the attention of others to form an identity – we are what others see in us, or say we are, or allow us to be. Spiritually wise people do not make relationships like that. They do what they want to do and what needs to be done, regardless of whether anyone is protecting their fragile self-image. They find their main source of attention by attending to God and finding God’s love and hope in those who follow Jesus.

5. They don’t act like jerks.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:32

Acting like a “jerk” is a relative term – being mean is in the eye of the beholder, so to speak. But you probably have an idea of what I mean, and may have some opinions about when you are acting like a jerk. People act like jerks when they act out of the things that make them unhappy and insecure. They act like jerks because they don’t have the strength to be nice when they don’t feel like it, to forgive as they have been forgiven. Spiritually wise people place high value on their relationships, which means they treat everyone with respect, regardless of the kind of mood they’re in. They love like Jesus.

Wise people don't hold grudges

  1. They don’t hold grudges.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. – Ephesians 4:31

Spiritually wise people know they are not just looking out for themselves when they overcome evil with good. But not doing self-destructive things, like holding a grudge, is actually good for them, too. The negative emotions that come with holding onto a grudge are actually a stress response. Holding onto that stress wreaks havoc on one’s body and can have negative health consequences over time. Researchers have shown that holding onto stress contributes to high blood pressure and heart disease. Grudges not only wreck the body politic and the body of Christ, they wreck our own bodies.

7. They don’t hang around negative people.

Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man,
or you will learn his ways and find a snare for yourself. – Proverbs 22:24-5

“Negative” is a judgment we need to apply judiciously. Because people act in ways we label “negative” because they can’t solve problems and can’t focus on mutual solutions. They often try to draw people into blaming others for their faults and failures so they can feel better about themselves. We often feel pressure to listen to negative people because we don’t want to be callous or rude, but there’s a fine line between lending a sympathetic ear to someone and getting sucked into their downward emotional spiral. Spiritually wise people avoid getting drawn in by setting limits and distancing themselves from negative people when necessary; it is possible to judge a situation without being judgmental.

  1. They don’t feel entitled.

For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? – 1 Corinthians 4:7

Spiritually wise people know that the world is a gift. They soberly assess what they have been given and freely exercise it without competition. They do not worry about their earning power and are not subject to the meritocracy. Yet they are also free to work hard and deserve what they earn.  They live in a world that has love behind it, so they can love it back, not fight over maintaining a locus of control within themselves or be solely responsible for their successes or failures.

  1. They don’t close their minds. 

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. – 1 Corinthians 2:14

When people close their minds to new information or opinions, it’s usually because they find them threatening. They think admitting someone else is right means they’re wrong, and that’s very uncomfortable for people lacking spiritual wisdom. Jesus followers are not threatened by new things; they are open to new information and new ideas, even if it means admitting that they were wrong. Their wisdom is based on following their Guide into what is next, eternally, fearlessly.

  1. They don’t let anyone limit their joy. 

Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. – 2 Corinthians 10:12

WWise people have their joy. Comparisons are odious.hen our sense of pleasure and satisfaction are derived from comparing ourselves with others, they have become our masters. When spiritually wise people feel good about who they are or what they have done, they don’t let another’s detraction or a comparison with another’s accomplishments steal their joy. Even when they need forgiveness or have failed, they still have a kernel of joy inside that comes from being the beloved of God. We are free to listen to others and learn from them, even when they hurt us or just barely know what they are talking about. But our main interest is how God thinks of us. The Lord’s view is incisively true but overwhelmingly kind.

11. They don’t get eaten up by jealousy and envy.

For you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? – 1 Corinthians 3:3

Spiritually wise people understand that the happiness and success of others doesn’t take away from their own, so jealousy and envy aren’t an issue for them. They see grace as being in unlimited supply, so they can celebrate the successes of others. They are not clawing their way to get a piece of a limited pie anymore, so they can share with others and rely on someone else to care for them, as well.

  1. They don’t live in the past.

For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord. – Jeremiah 29:11-14

Failure can erode our self-confidence and make it hard to believe we will have a better outcome in the future. Most of the time, failure results from taking risks and trying to achieve things that aren’t easy. Spiritually wise people know that success lies in their ability to “rise from the dead.” Jesus followers, of all people, know their past is forgiven and their future is bright. So they are free to take risks to be true selves and loving members of humanity because they know that their past failures as a human cannot stop them. When you live in the past, that is exactly what happens—your past becomes your present and prevents you from moving forward.

So what do you think of this recasting of thoughts from the EQ community? Maybe you would like to add further things to the list. What DON’T spiritually wise people do?

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Pay attention! It’s Lent.

Last week our pastors focused on the definitive story of Lent: Jesus in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. We are in the thick of our own wilderness right now. We are emulating the Lord’s forty days of development before he launched into redeveloping creation. Mark succinctly recounts what happened:

The Spirit sent him out into the wilderness,  and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

Has been in desert - Vasily Polenov
Vasily Polenov, 1909

The pastors are trying to get us to make the journey with Jesus. I am taking their lead.

Along the way, I have been struck, again, that Jesus deliberately attends to the process of his suffering and development in the wilderness and in the process he is attended to. A big theme is attention. The Spirit drives the Lord into the wilderness and he submits to the necessity. He turns his attention to that empty space. Sure enough, the devil presents the deepest temptations that might deter him. He learns to defeat them, is ministered to by angels and returns to claim his place in the world and participate in the miracle of redemption. We need to pay attention to the Lord paying attention. We need Lent every year so we can begin to scratch the surface of the deep movement he endures that is also moving in us — and attend to it.

One of the big temptations Lent presents is whether we are going to attend to it at all. It is better if we decide to move with the Spirit, if we give our attention and so learn to be generally attentive to God. But just being around Lent has a tendency to develop us anyway.

For instance, last week a friend called me with some significant feelings about what was going on in the church this season. I finally said, “You are experiencing Lent. The feelings and thoughts you have are exactly what people attending to Lent experience. Great!” He wasn’t too sure I should be celebrating his difficult feelings. But he eventually realized I had discerned the situation fairly well. He felt better.

Likewise, the other night I had a dream that woke me up as I screamed at some dark presence that frightened me. I realized that whether I attended to my inner life during the day or not, when I was less-defended in the night my dreams might try to wake me up to attend to the movement inside me. Whether I wanted to be aware or not, something was happening.

The biggest temptation of Lent might be to not pay attention to the temptation, or to avoid the circumstances in which we might have to deal with something — to pretend we are not moved by the Spirit, not looking toward a new expression of our gifts and mission, or not attended to by God, sought and loved.

The thought of deliberately turning our attention to something deep or hard just seems exhausting to many of us, and for good reason. We are naturally limited, and if we don’t rely on God and others to have a life, we will quickly be overwhelmed.

This reality surfaced again last week when I contacted the Leadership Team (30 great people, thank God!) to find out what communications they gave their attention. I sent a survey out after the iced-out Imaginarium and over half of them filled it out that night! That is some good attending! Others took a couple of days to get to the email and then the survey. But all in all I felt attended to and found them to be attentive.

I learned a lot from the process: risking a test to see who would respond, daring to find out things I might not want to know, imposing on people who have to make an effort to connect, etc. The process was unwittingly Lentish and good. A few things:

  1. We have a good, growing Leadership Team. Thank God! We need them to keep growing. They have a lot to which to attend and they need to be good at it.
  2. Attending is hard. If you write an email to your team member, you need them to answer it or there is no team. Some of the people I polled can’t read email at work. They might read it first on their phone and realize they’ll need to sit down at a computer later. But they come home to the needs of their house and maybe a baby or two. Plus they are tired. It is hard to keep up.
  3. If someone does not attend, the system brings up the rest of its inadequacies to make sure they are noticed. It is a bit like my dream. What is unattended is going to find a way to make itself known. You might think other people are making up for your lack of attention, and that might be true at times. But more likely, you are more important than you admit and your inattention is creating trouble. That trouble will make itself known.

You undoubtedly relate to all this. Attending to people we love is hard for all of us. That is astonishing, but it is true. We are so limited, we might feel put upon by the need to love God or the ones who love us! — much more those we don’t know yet, or our enemies! A simple email can make us feel like we are in the wilderness with wild beasts!

I am not sure Jesus was completely conscious of what he would face in the wilderness when the Spirit drove him into the first Lent. Like we need, he needed to have courage to attend to whatever was coming. His attention to his Father and his true self is a great example for us. Not attending like Him will deform us. Our avoidance won’t save us from having to face what we fear, as we hope it might; our fear will find a way to dominate it unless attending to Love casts it out.

One way or the other, we’ll meet up with our temptations. We’ll be inexplicably mad at those dearest to us. Or our dreams will be disturbed. Or we will be the problem in the functioning of our team. Or something. I think we would like to never be led into temptation, like the Lords’ prayer has us pray. But chances are we can’t avoid it and we will need to learn how to be delivered from evil, as in the very next breath of the same prayer. We are in the middle of being delivered right now. Lent is helping us to see what it is in us, as individuals and the church, that needs God’s help and teaching us how to participate in our deliverance – for some of us, whether we want to see or learn or not! Some of us are leaning into it with Jesus. Some of us are learning to sort out what we attend to like the demands are wild beasts meeting us in the desert! Either way, we are driven by the Spirit to get ready for what is next. I think giving what attention we can muster is our crucial part.