I often wake up between 3 and 4 AM. By then, the clutter from the previous day has worked its way out of my thought processes, and my mind has stilled. I attend to what comes to mind in these early morning hours because it is often the nourishment my soul thirsts for as well as the guidance I am seeking after. I am grateful for these quiet moments with God in the still of the night because the days on either side are filled to overflowing by other streams of communication.
While communication technology makes sharing information quick and easy, it also creates a tension within. I can efficiently share with and receive information from hundreds each day, yet it can swallow me up. My mind can become tangled with a growing pile of loose ends – those needed responses and matters to take care of that come at me quickly and furiously. Like a sweater, if the ends don’t get tied up, I begin to unravel because I am a “get it done” personality especially when it involves people. As I unravel, so does my ability to focus however.
Tech savvy adults today, which include most parents of young children, have significantly more distractions to contend with as they raise their families. Armed at all times with their smart phones or iphones, they juggle disruptions continually, mixing together work, home and entertainment. More often than not, they split their focus and concentration in numerous ways simultaneously. Their children watch and begin to practice a “split- focus” style of life as well. Yet habitually splitting our focus – or multitasking – not only diminishes the quality of our relationships and the quality of our work, but it prevents necessary habits of the mind from developing.
Recent brain research clearly demonstrates that the ability to pay attention comes by way of brain networks, formed over time by effort and concentration. In other words, attention is shaped and grown by practice. “Every expansion of heart or brain or spirit must be paid for in added concentration,” wrote Oswald Chambers over one hundred years ago. Attention is needed to learn to read, to comprehend difficult texts and to finish a project. Attention is necessary for prayer and meditation. Attention is vital in forming close relationships and really getting to know our kids. The phrase “attention span” literally means to stretch toward, to reach across like a bridge, implying effort.
Our spiritual journey likewise will grow shallow unless we shut out earthly distractions and cultivate our intimacy with Christ. Sadly it is easier to fret and fume with others, to turn on the TV or put on the headset, to surf the net or busy ourselves with details, than to concentrate on God. A spiritual concentration is needed today, as never before, if we are to cultivate within ourselves and within our families what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely and commendable. (Philippians 4:8)
What is the measure of your days? Is your time spent in a flurry of split-focused activities? Time flies by even quicker in such a whirlwind state. Practice listening – really listening – to your children and to your spouse. Cultivate your prayer life by seeking God over grabbing your cell phone. Learn to appreciate silence by turning off unnecessary noise.
The direction of your life and that of your children moves one day at a time. The “measure of your days”, or how you respond to daily life and its challenges, is the most effective teacher your children have.
In many ways, your children will become who you are!
Psalm 39:4: O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!