Cutting Room Floor: Time & Attention
Good Work: Claiming Time
If we are going to be faithful people one of the things that we must do is claim our time.
Does that communicate? We must claim our time, say that this time is for this, this time is for that. This time is for me, this time is for you, this time is for us. This time is for work, this for rest, this for play. If we don’t claim our time, something else will. Time that is unclaimed by us will be claimed by something.
Here’s what I know: Exhaustion claims my time more than anything else. And I don’t mean that I’m exhausted. I mean this scenario: It’s been a long day. There are a bunch of things that need done–work, or paying bills, or cleaning the house, or spending time in prayer, reading Scripture, making sure Sunday morning will be easier for the family–but instead of doing these things, you take a little break, and 3 hours later roll off the couch or look up from the computer and go to bed, groggy and guilty and anxious. Rather than, say, setting a time limit, or putting “watch TV out of exhaustion” on our to-do list, or simply pushing through the tiredness, getting a few things done, and going to sleep early–rather than doing any of these, each of which would be a way to claim our time, we instead let our exhaustion have it.
And when our time is claimed by something else, we
almost always feel out of control. And when we feel out of control, we almost always act out in some way: over-drink, under-communicate, go shopping or lash out or try to pin down whatever we can control, as quickly as possible. We act dysfunctional.
And I just don’t think I’m projecting here.
Take a moment and consider when you last felt in control of your time? And take a moment and consider how dysfunctional, or we can go further, how sinful, unkind, or faithless, you’ve been. There is almost always a relationship between a period in which we have no claim over our time and in which we leave behind Jesus’ way of living.
We have to be people who claim the time we have, who don’t wonder at the end of every single day where the day went, because we know.
Now: We are obligated people, with many relationships and responsibilities. If we don’t care for our children, our friends, our parents, our neighbors, perhaps no one else will. We are people given to others, no matter how much we’d like to pretend we’ve been given only to ourselves or the people we like. But in some basic way, we have to be able to let our “yes be yes” and our “no be no” and we can’t do that, we can’t offer ourselves to those we are obligated to, if we can’t even get a handle on where our time is going.
We end up saying no to everything and everyone out of a reactionary panic, or we say yes because we’ve totally lost all sense of self-ownership. Either way, this isn’t like Christ, who “did only what he saw the Father doing.”
What is claiming your time? What should be? What should be claiming our time, but what really is?
These two questions, if we could answer them, would reveal to us what we should say yes and no to. That may take work, but it’s good work; it leaves us in control of our days, rather than out of control of, you know, everything.
And in case we’re distracted right now, realizing just how out of control our claim on our own time has been, let me ask us again: What is claiming our time and what should be? But if we’re distracted, that’s no surprise.
Good Work: Paying Attention
We don’t pay attention very well. To live the Christian life well in the places we do our living demands that we pay attention. It is hard to pay attention; even the phrase reveals that attention costs us something else. It takes energy to pay attention. It takes effort, and work. Distraction doesn’t take much effort; all we have to do is be around, you know? Live.
There’s a reason Jesus was able to just walk around all over the place, travel back and forth across Judea, and somehow find, in the few dozen stories we have of him, enough to fill our entire lives with stuff to reflect on, talk about, learn from, read. Jesus paid attention. He noticed the way people we feeling, he was mindful of the noise going on around him, he paid attention to the contexts he found himself in. He was aware of what was going on in his own heart, and able to give voice to it. Jesus paid attention to the world he lived in.
Absentmindedness isn’t a sin; if anything, it’s over- attention to our interior world. And not noticing things isn’t wrong. Both these things disable our ability to connect our lives with God’s work, but they aren’t failures. We, though, generally aren’t absentminded or oblivious. We’re distracted. And we’re distracted because we love to be distracted. Our identities are, literally, built on and reinforced by interruptions to our focus.
When you no longer feel right, no longer feel like yourself, unless your phone regularly buzzes, unless you’ve had time to lose yourself in a book or a game, unless the TV is on in the background or you have emails to respond to, or you’ve checked your Facebook or blog or stats at least once recently, then something about our identity has become entangled with a habit of disengaging from our present moment and looking someplace else.
This is subtle, but it’s important; let me say it another way. If the only way we feel like ourselves is if we are consistently dislocated from our present moment and situation by something else–whether that’s a phone call, buzz, or chirp, whether that’s making sure, as soon as we get rolling on something, that we check in with Facebook or the news, whether that’s having to have the TV or News on in the background, or being in some codependent relationship with a person who never leaves you alone, it doesn’t matter. If we need to be stimulated away from the present in order to be ourselves, our identity is built on distraction.
Gossip, which the Bible lays out as a sin, as not Christian, does the exactly same thing as checking our phone all the time. It dislocates us from the present, and moves us mentally and emotionally somewhere other than where we physically are. And for those of us who are outliers here, who are great at burrowing down and focusing deeply, then be thankful, not prideful, and remember only our father in heaven is perfect.
Being attentive is a skill; to not be able to focus our attention is a disability, and it’s one that, somehow, many of us who could focus our attention have embraced. Are there those of us who have a deficit of attention; yes, and this is more work for us than others, but that does not excuse us from the task.
A person can talk about paying attention, because it’s work, but you can also talk about giving attention to something, and that points out how great a gift attention is. And yet, some of us have so deeply over- leveraged our lives by inviting distractions and distracting things into them that we no longer have the gift of attention to give.
Can distraction from ourselves be good? Sure, now and then. In great emotion. Can an interruption be exactly what we need now and then? Sure, particularly in very stressful, difficult, inflexible circumstances. But that’s not the way most of us live. Most of us, though– not you all, other less put-together people, like me– most of us live reactionary, inattentive lives. We don’t claim our time, and we don’t practice an attentive life.
We long ago gave up the Christian responsibility of being attentive for the stimulating pleasure of something other than what we’re doing.
So what can we do? Because when a person’s in a pickle, they outta make relish!