Tag Archives: paying attention

The Bigness of Accepting the Smaller

“Bar the lowly, and no one worthwhile will enter.”
Bonnie Friedman

I’m trying to find only the best and brightest thoughts. The big ones that can help make my dreams come true, or lead me to success, or whatever I’m selfishly idolizing at the moment, these are the thoughts I want, and only these.

Even lust for God, as the drive to be in control of our pain, our ignorance, our lives, this is selfish. We can’t help it and he knows this, of course. He made us. He knows we’re weak. There’s nothing for selfishness but the only cure: love. So until you’ve found it, there’s no point trying to curb your need for it. Religion is the same as any other fool’s errand. We’re trying to solve a problem that can only be removed by love.

Love is no respecter of size or class or form. It’s for all and it transcends any division or distinction between things. It gets small so the specific can be appreciated and absorbed into the large. It becomes less so the individual can be joined to the greatest and have that greatness itself. Unity is its purpose, not self, not in-divide-uation.

And this is a big thought that began small. It proves its own point.

Yet some say Jesus was for division and he came “to bring a sword.” They try to claim he went around dividing people up into his and the world’s, that he was always about individuation and breaking up families and stuff. He cared for the particular and specific over the general and communal. He went after the one and left the 99. So obviously, see, love does care about individuals.

Truth is never contained in one iteration. We know this in our hearts as truth, just as he said. The truth is buried in our hearts and we know it’s bigger than our approximations, bigger than any word we could give it. Truth is The Word. Endless and endlessly incarnating in form after form. Jesus, the Word, is its ultimate form, somehow the God-human is Truth’s completion.

And Truth is concerned for individuals, but this concern leads to unity for all. It is love that makes us willing to separate to reclaim an individual to bring it into unity. Division is not the goal. Division is the current reality.

If we could see into everything, every word, every person, every event that forms our experience and understanding, we would know as God knows. And in some way this is both the purpose of all we’re living for, and our greatest and most debilitating downfall. Wanting this deeper knowledge was the birthplace of all evil in God’s created reality, and it is the way to appreciating all his grace has wrought in our lives. We can’t stop striving for it, even as we gain an ever healthier respect (hopefully) for its danger. Solomon’s wisdom failed him. Knowing the Truth is a terrible, and terrifying gift.

But inasmuch as you can choose the higher purpose of seeking full Truth, and allow it into your life, that’s worth inviting in (rather than trying to make it, or force it to happen, or possess it just so you can share it and become loved and adored, or whatever form your selfish, sinful shadow-mission might take. That one’s mine).

Don’t disparage the diminutive. Don’t disregard the daily. It might look ordinary, but look beyond that. It might seem unworthy of interest, but God is hiding just beyond this form you can see with your eyes.

“Senses are impaired if they don’t sense the Spirit….”
Ann Voskamp

For the higher purpose,

Higher Purpose Writers’ Keys to Success: Recover, Reinvest and Protect Your Time and Attention

“What a man thinks of himself determines, or rather indicates, his fate.” – Henry David Thoreau

As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” – Proverbs 23:7


Our early founders like John Locke and William Blackstone, regarded private property rights as foundational to our personal liberty.

This is still true. But our bigger fight today is internal.

img_7487We fight against the deplorable disrespect for our time and attention everywhere we look. Advertising is nearly a $100-billion-a-year industry. And the Internet has destroyed the boundaries and distinctions between information, entertainment, and advertising.

How are we as writers to know how to protect and defend our most fundamental liberty of intellectual freedom in this modern world?

We know our work is protected under intellectual copyright law. Yet proving our work is our own is also important, so records with dates notarized or officially recorded is key. Creative work is protected by rights and understanding their proper management is how professional writers thrive.

And all beginning writers must realize that setting words on a page to be sold means entering a business arrangement. They, the small business owner, are selling rights to their property to a publisher. Their interests are protected under “property rights” law. A clear understanding of this ownership and trade bargaining ensures the proper managing and selling of their rights to that work. And this knowledge and wisdom is critically important to success.

Yet every day, you are giving away your most valuable asset.

Just like civilization depends upon property rights (can someone find the actual quote for me? I think it was Locke), a writer’s career does as well. Our legal rights are important to understand and respect. Yet do you realize your attention and your time are your most important property? If you did, would you spend them like you’re doing? If you truly respected these gifts, would you reevaluate how you’re investing them, and seek a better path in several areas?

img_7454I know I would. I wonder if the real question is, Do you respect yourself?

Because here’s the hard truth: you’ve been given dominion over your life, and yet like everyone else–and especially your fellow sensitive writers–you daily give it away for free instead of investing it in what you really want. Your talent and your future is being mortgaged because you allow your attention and time to be stolen from you by those who don’t respect your property or your rights at all.

It’s time to recover and reinvest your time and attention into what you really want.

In the Christian classic Boundaries, Doctors Henry Cloud and John Townsend point out, “In the physical world, boundaries are easy to see. Fences, signs, walls, moats with alligators, manicured lawns, or hedges are all physical boundaries. In their differing appearances, they give the same message: THIS IS WHERE MY PROPERTY BEGINS. The owner of the property is legally responsible for what happens on his or her property. Nonowners are not.”

You are legally responsible for what time and attention you invest–in everything. This is your responsibility as a living, breathing, thinking, creating human being.

The churched kids here are thinking about a famous biblical parable right now, which is a good one. But the point is, our boundaries will define us. They say what is mine and what is not mine. And if you’re like me, from a very young age you’ve been stolen from because you allowed it. Maybe you also started resenting people stealing your attention and time. Most people at least sense the injustice and intuit that it’s a personal problem.

But most people either don’t consciously realize it, or don’t assert their rights to do anything about it.

Myself, I’ve taken the protection of my right to my time and attention to unhealthy extremes. Demanding, determined and serious, I made sure from an early age people around me knew they couldn’t take anything from me. I resisted doing or even feeling things I didn’t want to, even concealing that I was affected in any way by something if I didn’t want to give others permission to influence me. It was a child’s rationale, but I did it through willpower and resistance of my powerful mother, who had the strange idea I might embarrass her one day by acting up. My reaction to her animated my childhood and much of my early adulthood.

fullsizerender-4But thanks to books like Boundaries, we now understand more, and over time I’ve learned to relax and express my preferences and expect a reasonable level of consideration. And while this set me up well with the detachment required for supporting my editing clients’ visions, it also left me with a bad understanding of boundaries. I’d lost the ability to receive anything from others.

Through love I’ve learned and continue to learn. Through my amazingly patient wife who sees me as my best self, she helps me grow to see how God sees and cares for me. My daughters do it naturally so well too. I’m blessed with parents who believe in me and support me–and they’ve modeled change to me.

But learning to balance appropriate spending of our time and attention is our primary job, all of the time.

And I believe what this requires is a certain mental and emotional fortitude that every writer needs. To accept this responsibility, our most precious resource we own–our time and attention–we must first determine to prioritize the hard things. And then, we must determine what those harder things are. And this is individual, but there are universal principles.

  • Don’t fall for the common struggle of blaming others for your problems or blame shifting.
  • Don’t think you’re entitled to be heard (or even respected) much of the time unless your words and opinions are considered and measured.
  • Don’t get tripped up by dwelling on perceived injustices.
  • Pursue instead the healthy self-awareness to allow yourself legitimate resistance to unjust demands on your time and attention.
  • And make yourself heard in the fight against louder, dominant demands you face.

We all know the old adage, the things you own end up owning you. Where you spend your time and attention will define you. You know this already. But if you know it, do the hard work and think about how your books, your career, your business and livelihood depend upon your sober consideration of where your time and attention are going.

Of all these essential lessons God’s revealing for me to ponder, I’m convinced this one is most vital for my work and life going forward….

Because He has compelled me to do it all for the higher purpose, for the glory.


Attention Is a Limited Resource

I rarely remember it, but I’d be a better writer if I did:

What we think about matters. Because attention is a limited resource.

Sometimes I remember to be reserved about what I pay attention to and I discover more time to write. But I hardly ever remember to consider what I pay attention for.

Or put another way, Why I’m paying attention to what I’ve chosen.


I met my youngest brother for lunch this past week because it’d been a while and my mom pushed so we went for sushi. He just turned 33 which means I’m now 41. He said it was his treat. It was a little hole in the wall near his office. We talked about relationships and theology as we always do.

On the way back we discussed the effort required to do things we find difficult amidst life’s busyness and demands. He has two kids under 2 so I knew he was serious in that way only the sleep-deprived can know, and maybe that’s why inspiration struck just then as I pulled away from the corner.

With singular clarity, I could see how motivation is truly all that matters. We agreed that doing things just because we should leads to apathy and failure, and hard things like reading the Bible, working out or writing a book just to do it become a chore. But if you knew you’d be going out to use it for others, you’d be motivated. You’d read to share, work out to help others, write to inspire. And that would change everything. The simple idea of doing it for others could create powerful motivation.


The difference could be simply a matter of doing something not for yourself but to share it.

We talked more and I said how taking consistent baby steps has been the only way I improve, but that it’s difficult once passion wears off. My question was how to stay motivated through the day in, day out.

Knowing you need to share it with others is good, but I already sensed it wasn’t enough. There had to be something more.

I came home and asked Ellie what motivates her to draw.

“Seeing it done, and getting the ideas out,” she said.

“Do you also think about sharing it, having others enjoy it?”

She said yes, and when I asked why she likes drawing so much, she said it’s because it’s fun and expressive and challenging.

“And you like the challenge?” I asked.

“Yeah. Because it makes me get better.”

Improving, getting better is definitely an important motivator. But what if we get discouraged and don’t see progress? The common lie may creep in–that we don’t have the time to push to produce at the next level.

Sure, it’s painfully true that everyone makes time for what they decide to, and choosing more than the default Internet-trolling-forever is a simple matter. Knowing that once your attention is paid out, it’s gone is a good truth to remember in our new world of noisy feeds and information whiplash.


But even if you don’t feel affected by it or you have a high capacity for maintaining focus, everyone has a limited bandwidth of attention. And as a culture we’re quickly approaching critical overload. Try to think of a number for how many songs, movies, shows, articles, news items, websites, blog posts, books, video games, interviews, radio broadcasts, podcasts, youtube videos, seminars, studies, journals, conferences, festivals, conventions, retreats, parties announcements, and gatherings you’ve engaged with in the last week.

Add the overwhelming dose of random friend and family information and ubiquitous advertising, and how much attention do you think you have left for what’s supposedly important to you?

Feeling guilty yet?

Of course, what we think about matters. We can get distracted and end up paying our attention out to all the wrong things. Pretty soon we’re caught by our fears and limits, our old self. And no matter how we manage all of this, there’s only so much free attention to spend. How do we learn to preserve our attention for what matters?

The question matters, and you aren’t alone. Every week I work to help writers simply write. And what do you think they all say they need most?

Luckily, there’s something we can do about it. And all it takes is a decision. You are the only one who can give yourself this gift. And no one can take this away from you: you get to make this choice. So just decide:

“Today, I’m preserving my attention for who I really want to have it.”


Imagine if that simple change in your daily routine increased your happiness, motivation and productivity and one day you could trace the changes in your life back to this decision.

Imagine if the difference was just deciding to preserve your attention for what truly matters.

Here’s the real point: self-improvement is ultimately worthless. Even doing things to help others can lead to burn-out. So what is worth paying your attention for?

Results? The process?

Who should you do what you do for?

Now all the good Sunday school kids raise your hands because you know the right answer.

Every believer knows the goal is not producing results at any cost, but moving when he moves and staying beneath his cross.

As we sang in church, “Content to let the world go by, to know no gain or loss. My sinful self my only shame, my glory all the cross.”


It wasn’t just the right answer in Sunday school, was it? We get too moved by all sorts of things. What if we waited and decide not to move in our sinful selves? In our shame and self? What if we chose a deeper motivation–a higher purpose–to pay our attention for and give all our desire to him?

What you pay attention to is what will define you. But who you pay your attention for determines who you will become.

This is the moment (I speak to myself here): you can choose. To look at your work through his eyes. To do it for him and see the world as he did.

Isn’t this how we shift the paradigm? Shift the focus?

Isn’t this how we’re enabled to see his love for us and others?

Choose in faith and there’s your motivation: to see how he gave what was reserved especially for you despite what you deserved. To simply allow you to do what he asked and remember him?

“As often as you do this.”

Choose to respond. Who do you say he is? Choose to love him back through your commitment to this work. Do you not yet fully believe? Is that what’s still in the way? You know he’s asked us to serve him to others,  and all we need is the desire, the want to. That’s enough. But you don’t know how to want to if you don’t?

Choose anyway. You don’t have to force it, just know the only alternative means you’ll have to carry all things alone—as if anyone ever could. We can only love him with the love he gives us. All we need to do is receive it.

If you knew this was the only way to inexhaustible motivation, wouldn’t you choose it?

What will you decide? What will you become?

Who will you pay your attention for?