She Taught Me How to Focus

The day is wide open but I can’t seem to settle — too many distractions. No sooner have I tackled one project than another calls my name and I’m off…

What are your greatest distractions?

For me, sometimes it’s in the juggling of too many things at one time – which has a 21st century term now.

According to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, “continuous partial attention” means that while you are answering your email and talking to your kid, your cell phone rings and you have a conversation. You are now involved in a continual flow of interactions in which you can only partially concentrate on each.

Do you also find it hard to focus in a world full of distraction?

Personally, I hate to be talking to someone when their eyes are constantly darting around the room in search of a more interesting diversion. Their actions cause me to feel unimportant and even unnecessary.

Are you “continually partially attentive” to a lot without being fully focused on anything?

The word ‘distraction’ comes from the Latin distractus which literally means “to draw or pull apart.”

Being distracted is not new to our day and age. My friend, Miriam Huffman Rockness, in her wonderful biography Passion for the Impossible, described Lilias Trotter who lived a life of art, privilege and leisure in London more than a hundred years ago. Even art critic John Ruskin enthusiastically proclaimed her as one of the best artists of the 19th century. But Lilias’ devotion to Christ compelled her to abandon that world for an entirely different life in Algeria, North Africa. There her love of literature and art became dynamic tools for evangelism and her compassionate lifestyle of love and encouragement captured the hearts of the Muslim people for 40 years.

Trotter’s struggle (and eventual victory) in the whole area of finding focus inspired these words by hymnist Helen Lemmel in 1922: Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace”.

Maybe it’s time for the things of the earth to grow strangely dim in my own life…

“Where do our thoughts settle when consciousness comes back in the morning? Where do they swing back when the pressure is off during the day? Does this test not give the clue? Then dare to have it out with God. Dare to lay bare your whole life and being before Him, and ask Him to show you whether or not all is focused on Christ and His glory. Dare to face the fact that unfocused, good and useful as it may seem, it will prove to have failed of its purpose.”

Lilias Trotter

Since I’m basically a practical person, I therefore need practical ways to combat the whole sense of too-much-to-do-and-not-enough-of-me. Years ago I developed a system to help me in this struggle; I call it “selective neglect.” Knowing that I can’t do everything in front of me, even everything good, I decide to selectively neglect something so that I can deliberately focus on the more important task or situation or person at hand.

For instance, any given day I might have a list of ten very good and worthy things to do, plus unforeseen interruptions which can also be of God. So, as part of my morning prayers I offer up my agenda to God and ask that He guide me in the essentials, leaving the rest for another day or another one of His servants to cover.

Our friend, Lilias Trotter, illustrated this principle many years ago, “What does this focusing mean? Study the matter and you will see that it means two things–gathering in all that can be gathered, and letting the rest drop. You have to choose which you will fix your gaze upon and let the other go.”

I’m praying for you and me to find clarity by fixing my eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of my faith.” Hebrews 12.2.

         May the grace of Christ, the love of God, and the friendship of the Holy Spirit  bring you comfort and strength, Lucinda

“Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity and Strength”

©2022 Lucinda Secrest McDowell      www.LucindaSecrestMcDowell.com

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Lucinda Secrest McDowell is a storyteller and seasoned mentor who engages both heart and mind while “Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity & Strength.” She has authored 15 books including “Soul Strong – 7 Keys to a Vibrant Life” and “Life-Giving Choices – 60 Days to What Matters Most.” She writes from “Sunnyside” cottage in New England and shares encouraging words at LucindaSecrestMcDowell.com

10 Comments

  1. Sue Evans on March 23, 2022 at 12:53 pm

    Dare to face, Dare to…This is pretty heavy stuff. What a message from a gifted storyteller whose lived a Big Life. Gotta Focus on what counts.

  2. Crickett Keeth on March 23, 2022 at 1:05 pm

    So, so good! Thank you, Lucinda, for this. I look forward to your words of wisdom every week.

  3. Kirsten Panachyda on March 23, 2022 at 1:28 pm

    Oh I needed this today! Pulled apart by distraction is a perfect way to describe how I’m feeling. Thank you for the good words and the challenge they offer. This exercise brings not only focus and productivity, but peace.

  4. Cindy Bolshaw on March 23, 2022 at 1:58 pm

    Thank you so much. 💓

  5. Cathy Gohlke on March 23, 2022 at 2:00 pm

    I SO needed this this morning. Thank you!!!

  6. Jeanne Zornes on March 23, 2022 at 2:05 pm

    Cindy, you always challenge and inspire me. I, too, am drawn to the classic hymns. The “rest of the story” of Helen Lemmel is that she gradually became blind, going from a star-studded singing career to living with minimal means in a Christian retirement home in Seattle. Lemmel’s hymn lyrics that Trotter’s art and biography inspired–“Turn your eyes upon Jesus”–thus have double meaning for a woman who lost her fame and physical sight but grew old with spiritual insight.

  7. Marilyn Nutter on March 24, 2022 at 11:11 am

    My word for the year is Focus. Thank you for this post.

  8. Maggie Rowe on March 24, 2022 at 11:46 am

    Excellent post as always, Cindy. Even here in Europe where I thought we’d be less busy, I can’t keep up as we are juggling meetings online at home in different time zones as well as hosting multiple events in our apartment here each week. And the ever present email! My inbox never empties. I struggle constantly with CPA- continual partial attention. The only sure thing for me is not practicing selective neglect when it comes to people. I have to remind myself the projects can wait. Wonderful quotes from Lilias.

  9. Maggie Rowe on March 24, 2022 at 11:47 am

    Jeanne, thanks for sharing that biographical update about Helen Lemmel!

  10. Peggy McCleskey on March 26, 2022 at 2:56 pm

    Thank you for this timely reminder.

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