I was in a restaurant recently when I glanced over and noticed a family of four at another table, each person's head bowed. I thought, "Oh, they're praying together before their meal." But when I happened to look back later, they were still looking down. Suddenly I realized: They weren't praying. They were all typing into their phones! They were oblivious to one another, each person connecting with people who weren't even there. Maybe you've seen the same thing, perhaps even in your own family.
With always-on access to global news, information and even to other people, it's normal (even easy) for us to lose focus on the world right in front of us. When we're constantly flipping channels, we start treating our attention like currency, careful not to spend it all in one place. Just as a look in your checkbook can reveal what you truly value, honestly assessing your daily activities and interactions can show you which things (and people) you really care about.
My wife Amy helped me see this in my own life. For years it was normal for me to only half-listen at home. Occasionally she would ask, "Are you listening to me?" I'd respond with a relationship survival skill I had adapted: I'd repeat back to her the last several words she had just said. But we both knew I wasn't giving my undivided attention.
Then one day she asked me a very different question. She calmly explained, "You have a lot going on with the church. I'll always support you. But when you're with our family, can you be all here?" Her request was perfectly fair and reasonable.
Wherever you are, be all there.
That one tiny idea radically transformed the way I now conduct my everyday life. It immediately strengthened my relationships and, over time, even improved my capacity to make tough decisions. In the cloud of endless to-dos where most of us live, our minds are so cluttered that we overlook the joy just in being alive today. Be honest: Even as you're reading this article, do your thoughts keep trying to wander to everything else happening in your life?
In our culture, that's normal. Normal people are distracted, rarely fully present. We all have to fight getting pulled into the orbit of that constant gravity of busyness. Urgent tasks and priorities desperately cry out for our attention. Maybe it's a chicken-or-egg situation, but I believe all that noise harms our well-being more than the legitimate stress of all the things we actually "have to do." If you want to be different, you have to live differently. Weird people learn to silence distractions and remain fully in the moment.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, "Be very careful, then, how you live -- not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity" (Ephesians 5:15-16). To leverage that advice when we make decisions, we need to answer: What is the wise thing to do in this situation? And what would it mean to "make the most" of this particular opportunity?
Christ had to make difficult decisions about how he would spend his limited time on earth. His example has a lot to teach us. But we have to take the time to discover what things are important to God by reading the words he gave us. We must also invest time meditating on what those things mean in our everyday lives. Then, the next time the chaos of urgency tries to dictate your next action, you can press pause. Having already thought about which things are most important, you'll be able to make intentional decisions. (Urgent does not necessarily equal important.) Even if a decision carries you another step forward, it's not progress if it leads you away from where you actually want to go.
In another letter from Paul, in Colossians 3:17, he suggested, "whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus." When I focus on the things I believe are important to God, I live differently. I don't make decisions based on my feelings, insecurities or selfish ambitions. Instead, I tend to favor others who have greater need. The conversations I have lend themselves to deeper, intimate connections -- not simple, superficial information exchanges. "Did you go by the cleaners?" gives way to genuine care: "So, how was your day?"
Just as important as your to-do list -- and perhaps more important -- what's on your to-don't list? When you focus on the purposes you believe God created you for, you'll have the stability to say no to some good things. And that will give you the space to be able say yes to the best things when they present themselves. Rather than just reacting to the waves of things that come, you can ride them with deliberate intention.
James 4:14 reminds us, "What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." We can't have more time, but we can live with a greater awareness of the limited time we do have. Every opportunity that arrives on your doorstep will require some decision. If you've already decided what you value, you can fully enjoy each moment, secure that you're living the life you want. God gives us an amazing present every day. Normal people leave this gift unwrapped, unrealized, unappreciated, and it's gone before they know it. Weird people know there's no time like the present.