There is a quote I heard on a podcast a few weeks back that has been following me like a shadow since I heard it: “Attention is the beginning of devotion.” (Mary Oliver) The quote was used in a discussion about worship. The point was made that attention given to something or someone can become a form of worship. It’s got me thinking about where I’m putting my attention, whether there is somewhere I should stop giving attention or maybe start giving attention? Where is all my attention going? Everywhere.

I can’t seem to give my attention to one thing, it always seems to be split ten ways. I’m doing three things and thinking about five other things. I’m managing four ongoing conversations with my kids. The Mom Engine never powers down so whatever else I’m trying to do gets sucked up into the Engine and caught up into everything else. My attention is all over the place, no one thing or one person ever seems to get all of my attention.

I can’t decide whether that is a good thing or not. Probably not. Aren’t we so conditioned to have split attention? Several windows open on the computer screen, several tabs on the web browser, the TV on, the radio playing, the phone with its endless notifications and ringtones grabbing and keeping attention for embarrassing amounts of time. In college I couldn’t research or write a paper in silence, something else had to be on in the background. Now it’s the age of the earbud, something is always on in the background.

My theory is this: we don’t like to give our full attention to anything because it is uncomfortable, vulnerable even, to do so. If attention is the beginning of devotion, then withholding full attention keeps me from devotion and the risk of heartbreak. Full attention is all the senses, all awareness, your whole being. Just like its risky to put all your monetary assets in one place, it seems risky to put all your mental and emotional assets in one place. We’re taught to diversify, and boy do we do it well.

The problem is, people are not money. We were not meant to be split up like commodities and split up for safety. We were meant to be one person interacting with one God and other people who were themselves one person. I talked about this in a past blog Integrity, so I don’t want to rehash the whole thing. I’m just saying even if we’re living a life of integrity, there is a loophole – attention. Actions, words, lifestyle can all be going in one direction; but attention can be all over the place all along the way. Devotion weakened and limping all along the way too.

Meanwhile God is asking for our attention. “Hear O Israel; the LORD our God the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” (Deut. 6:4-5 NKJV) The LORD is one, and we too should be one before Him. Our whole heart, soul and strength should be pointing towards Him. Our senses, awareness, our whole being should be present in His presence. Our full attention on Him.

It may take practice to recondition ourselves out of split attention. It could even turn into a journey of revelation and renewal taken with God to unlearn and relearn how to give Him full attention that takes longer than a few tries. I am nowhere near giving God all of my attention, but I’m working on it. It’s uncomfortable, but I’m learning to live in discomfort in order to break through to something better.

God is good, all the time, and at the other side of the discomfort of change is the LORD, waiting with more of Himself to give. When my attention is united as one before Him I will have more of myself to give Him in return. I just have to turn off the TV and the radio and put down my phone and my books. I have to stop singing long enough to hear His song calling my heart to His.

-Etta Woods


The podcast referenced: This Cultural Moment: This Cultural Moment live at Wildfires in the UK

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