A Note from Jessie – Covenant Newsletter, July 2021

“Pay attention to the things that bring a tear to your eye or a lump in your throat because they are signs that the holy is drawing near.” – Frederick Buechner

Well, this is it: my final blog post.

Perched here on the brink between past and future, I am feeling particularly introspective. In the midst of a transition, there is not always time to pause and reflect, but as I sit down to write this last entry, it certainly feels like this may be my opportunity to do just that. So brimming with gratitude, I am holding this experience up to the light, examining how my position at FPC has enriched my life, and expounding upon three of the lessons that I hope to carry forth from this beloved place as gleaned treasures to keep.

There is no denying that this stretch of time has stretched me as an individual. Plainly, it has made me a better person. Spending time surrounded by the most encouraging, faithful, and intentional host of people — people who have devoted their entire lives to honoring the Lord by attending to His flock — has been a gift through and through. I have learned too much from them to catalogue or honor fully here, but I have landed on one unexpected effect our pastors and my colleagues have had on me: they have altered my perception of what it means to “attend” to something. Every moment of every day, the amazing staff members at FPC are attending to people, to missions, to programming, to planning, to grounds-keeping — all for the love of God. To say the least, it has been awe-inspiring to witness.

And it strikes me now as profound to realize that one of the most valuable, malleable, mystifying, and limited assets we each have to give is, indeed, our attention. Where, on whom, and toward what we stretch our attention truly matters, and it begs further investigation. Bear with me. It’s a biggie. But it is, after all, the culminating study of a life-changing experience. Try as I might to edit it down to something more bite-sized and palatable, this reflection has taken on a life of its own. So without further ado, here we go…

I. Attentionem (Latin): “to stretch toward”

Pause and consider these questions if you will:

  • Where does your attention repeatedly return? Why?
  • What are you quickest to notice and then circle back to in your daily life? What emotion, hope, and/or fear may underlie these fixations?

Now consider the differing results based upon what (or whom) you are attending:

  • What claims your attention like a vortex but leaves you feeling depleted and insecure?
  • And what beckons your attention like an invitation and leaves you feeling humbly grateful and more fully alive?

Pondering these questions help elucidate the guiding gravitational pull on our eyes, minds, and therefore our hearts. Whether your answers include daily to-do lists or daily survival, worries over the future or concerns about the well-being of your family, the need for achievement or the fear of failure, people-pleasing or people-comparing, numbing pain or avoiding reality… we all know what it feels like to obsess over something by overspending our limited attention. And regardless of what grabs ahold of our minds with a strong, invisible grip, I have found the following directive to be both deeply edifying and personally convicting as the first of three lessons I have received about attention:

1. By paying attention to what we are paying attention to, we move closer to uncovering the true idols of our hearts.

There is fertile soil to explore just beneath the surface of each focal point in our lives, of course, because there is a rooted reason why we repeatedly stretch our focus toward particular topics. By digging down to that root, we begin to discover why we expend our attentive energies in certain areas of life; thus, we are better able to assess whether it is healthy for our development to exert so much of our brain power on such matters or not. For just as weeds can easily take over a patch of garden and hinder the tender shoots’ growth, selfish or material concerns can easily crowd and interfere with our faith by hampering its deepening progress. This sends us right back to Jesus’ parable of the Sower and the Seed from Matthew 13 and beckons us to ask ourselves, is our continual train of thought faithful? Is it fruitful? And is there room for growth?

II. Attention versus Neglect 

I have gratefully acknowledged from the start that one of the most transformative gifts that this Young Adult Families position at FPC has given me is an invitation to be attentive to what matters most — my faith, my family, my community, my church, even my writing. The mere practice of increasing my attentiveness to these fortifying pillars has helped to crystallize another edifying notion, bringing it into my center focus from out of the blurry periphery:

2. Attending to something promotes growth and fruit; neglecting something results in diminishment and a withering away.

It all sounds exceedingly straight forward. Cue the “Captain Obvious” commercial, I know. But why then have I overlooked this twin truth so often that merely stating it now feels revelatory? It beckons further investigation, as well.

  • What do you want to grow, deepen, and thrive in your life?
  • And are you attending to it? Or neglecting it?

I only have to glance up from my computer to see the gaping chasm that exists between attention and neglect…

Sitting mere inches to my right is a relatively new potted plant– a small fiddle leaf fig tree. It makes me happy each time I rest my gaze on it and notice its growth. The florist earnestly warned me how finicky a fiddle leaf can be and how precisely I should care for it with regular water — not too much! — while ensuring that it receives a moderate amount of sunlight. The plant’s large, glossy leaves are presently a deep emerald, and I am already spotting new leaves that are about to unfurl.

In stark juxtaposition is the scene just beyond the window to my left. Serving as a foreboding backdrop that slowly waves to me in the warm morning breeze are the thin limbs of several hanging ferns. Once they too were a vibrant and promising green, but the leaves have now dried into a translucent light brown. Did I know that the ferns needed water, too, in order to thrive and survive in the hot summer sun? Yes, I did. But did I make plans for them to receive this vital water while I was out of town last month? No, I did not. There is now regret, of course; but how could there be any surprise? The same concept may be applied in myriad ways. If I want to grow in my faith… or if I want for the close relationships I cherish with the people I love to thrive… or if I desire to be healthy and strong… do I really have any questions about how to spend my time and attention? Flatly, no, I do not.

III. Intention for Attention

I must admit, however, that far too often I neglect what is most important and most life-giving throughout the busyness of my day. Far too often I squander my time and attention on things that do not promote healthy growth. Why? Perhaps it is selfishness, sin, or even the path of least resistance. When life gets busy, it is all too easy for us to ride the current of our days, putting out the figurative fires that pop up in mundane ways instead of stoking the embers of our faith. This brings me to the final lesson about attention that I have learned:

3. The way we attend to what matters most requires intention.

Pastor Ryan often refers to our precious church as a fueling station — a place to receive, revive, and reorient our focus on what is sustaining. But first we must show up. We must carve out space. We must set our intentions and follow through. Adopting this view, I realize that attending worship, for example, is not simply one of the many items jumbled together on a checklist that I can cross off on a whim or ignore at leisure. Instead I must accept that being active in my faith community is as vital to me as water is to a plant, thus readjusting my priorities and setting my intentions accordingly.

So many mercies are packaged as life lessons, and for all of them, I am forever grateful. I could not have learned these lessons on my own. And so I say thank you again to all of the pastors, the staff, and the congregation at First Pres for bestowing upon me their wisdom about the illuminating power of our attention, for showing me how much growth occurs when we attend to our spiritual lives, and for demonstrating how important it is to claim intentions over where we pour our attentive resources. I may be transitioning into a new professional chapter, but I am stating my intentions here to keep my devoted attention on the Lord and His calling in my life.

Dear Heavenly Father, as I close this sweet chapter of serving the amazing congregation of First Presbyterian Church of Nashville, please help me keep my eyes on You. Guide my attention to what is meaningful and sustaining. Help me attend to the growth I desire and not to neglect the vital, life-giving nourishment You offer. And please embolden me to be intentional with the way I spend my attention and time, knowing that these are two commodities that can either be wasted carelessly or used purposefully for Your glorification and for my immeasurable benefit. Thank you for surrounding me with Your faithful servants who have inspired me and who have pushed me to attend to Your word, growing my roots deeper in Your fertile soil all the while. Amen

Comments

  1. yourself. Kaufman says

    Thanks for blessing us with your written wors and yourslef.

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