Paying Attention

Paying Attention

by Esther Vandiver

“Let’s pay attention!”
“Could you give that your personal attention?”
“…be attentive, that you may gain insight…” Proverbs 4:1b (ESV)

Paying attention is an indispensable habit and life skill—and it is practiced or abandoned in every class, job, interaction, or thought. It is a necessary ingredient in loving God, in prayer, in meditation, in obedience to Christ, and in loving our fellowman as Christ loved us. It is the principal tool in creativity, the primary attribute of intellect, the chief agent in flourishing relationships. The habit of patient attentiveness is so important that to learn it is of more value than the mere facts of any subject—as worthy as they may be. A genuine effort of attention to a worthy and appropriate focal point is never wasted: “The solution of a geometry problem does not in itself constitute a precious gift, but…it is the image of something precious. Being a little fragment of particular truth, it is a pure image of the unique, eternal, and living Truth, the very Truth that once in a human voice declared: ‘I am the Truth.’”1 True attention promotes a spiritual, as well as an intellectual, growth. No matter how quickly we are able to access in-formation in this age of instant availability, understanding and wisdom are not gained by the push of a button, nor are they responsive to the beck and call of any of our high-speed efforts. The habit of attention is grown in the garden of life by purposely planting it, weeding it, and patiently waiting for God to miraculously bring the increase.

The first duty, then, of a teacher (who is also a student) and a student is to learn that giving attention in order to discover truth is both beautiful and good. Attention (which may look individually different) is not a matter of looking studious, of appearing interested, or working harder, or of merely exercising will power.2 It has nothing to do with accepting the bribery of honor, good grades, money, material things, or pride. It has everything to do with the joy of holy awareness of truth, goodness, and beauty and is brought about by periods of absorbing facts and living ideas interspersed with periods of relaxation, during which insights may come. This rhythm is as important to learning as inhaling and exhaling is to living. This joy in actual learning is “as indispensable in study as breathing is in running. Where it is lacking there are no real students, but only poor caricatures of apprentices who at the end of their apprenticeship, will not even have a trade.”3 Where it is present, the student will be fully engaged with the present while simultaneously learning from the past and looking for-ward to future discoveries. Any student, young or old, who develops this power of attention has gained an invaluable treasure, and, for a lover of God, it be-comes a link between himself and God.

Prayer is the ultimate giving of one’s attention to God; meditation is the ultimate giving of one’s attention to the Sword of the Spirit; obedience is the ultimate giving of one’s attention to Christ; loving others is the ultimate giving of one’s attention to our fellowman. And it is precisely in these most crucial applications that all substitutes for true attention are most clearly seen for what they are: deceptive imposters. Jesus calls to us, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”4 In Mark 4:24, Jesus adds to this command a promise: “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you.”

1 Simone Wiel. Waiting for God, 61.
2 Will power (self in control) is not the same as Biblical self-control which is having one’s self controlled by God, without which we are “like a city broken into and left without walls.” Proverbs 25:28
3 Simone Wiel. Waiting for God, 62.