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Cultivating a Heart That Listens

6/23/2024

 

Hebrews 2:1

We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.

 

Mary is very attentive to her garden - the flowers, the vegetables. She is unwavering and consistent in her devotion. Every day, a couple of times a day, she checks for pests and sets bug traps when necessary. She adjusts sunlight with umbrellas and shades; covers them when the nights are too cold.  She nurtures the soil, watching for any signs of weakness or illness, and monitors the moisture.

 

In the same way, God desires our attentiveness as we grow in faith. Our lives are filled with distractions, noise, screens, and worries. Through gentle nudges and soul-felt whispers God attracts our attention to His Word, Presence, and guidance.

 

The virtue I want to discuss this week is that of attentiveness. It is a powerful virtue that bridges belief and action. Attentiveness is the intentional choice to focus on what matters most.  Attentiveness is the quality of listening or watching carefully and with interest. It involves being fully present, paying close consideration, and noticing details. Whether it’s actively listening to someone or being mindful of our surroundings, attentiveness helps us connect more deeply with others and the world around us.

 

Attentiveness means cultivating a heart that listens. When we turn on a radio, unless we tune in to a broadcasting station, we hear nothing, or worse, we hear static. God wants our hearts to tune into the Spirit channel, to God’s voice. Moses did this for forty days and forty nights without food or water on Mount Sainai, totally attentive to what God was telling him. He was immersed in what God was saying and wrote down the words of God’s covenant – the Ten Commandments.

 

Moses went alone to the top of the mountain, at God’s bidding. He created space to hear God’s voice.  We too, must make space to hear Spirit whisper to us. Regular prayer, Scripture reading, and silence create space for God. If a gardener neglects their garden for a few days, the plants begin to wither, the insects have a feast, the weeds thrive amidst the carelessness.

 

Similarly, inattentiveness leads to spiritual drift. In Matthew 6 Jesus teaches us what is most important. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?   33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

 

Where is our attention? Anxiety fades when we fix our gaze on God’s faithfulness. The truth is, wherever we place our attention, we place an inherent value on it, and we get more. Our attention signals what we value and teaches children what to value too. Do we focus on hurtful or helpful behavior? Do we emphasize problems or solutions? Do we tell children and others what not to do, or do we teach them by example what to do instead?  

 

When we focus on punishing hurtful behavior instead of teaching helpful behavior, we will see more hurtfulness. When we spend more time talking about problems than finding solutions, we will get more problems. With the power of attention, we consciously choose to focus on what we truly value. We will recognize the good in ourselves and others, be an example of what to do, and generate more of the behaviors and outcomes God desires.

 

We are aware of things in our life that need more attention. There are people in our lives who need more attention. There have been people in our lives who we wish had paid more attention. Our bodies need more attention. Our knowledge, emotional stability, compassion, joy and love capacities need more attention. Our spiritual nature needs more attention. Christ wants more attention. If we do not shine our light of awareness into our shadows, the shadows grow.  We can be still and pay attention.

 

Like all virtues, we can develop attentiveness. There is nothing new here, so let us start with listening intently. We notice when people are being attentive to us because they are looking at us, leaning in, trying to hear everything we are saying. That is the beginning of developing attentiveness – listening carefully, with our ears and hearts. Hearing, perceiving, absorbing.

 

To listen efficiently, we must eliminate distractions and create that sacred space for prayer and contemplation. In addition, we must practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present in the moment, paying attention to our thoughts, feelings, and sensations without judgment. It helps reduce stress, improve mental well-being, and enhance attention and self-awareness.

 

To expand our attentiveness, we must be aware of our thoughts. Research reveals that the average human being attention span is 8.5 seconds. If we are aware that our attention has drifted, we can easily bring it back. But if we are unaware of what our minds are doing, we can be adrift for hours. It helps to get out into Nature and be attentive to the sounds, sights, smells, and textures that surround us. Be conscious of our senses and feelings.

 

There are other benefits to developing attentiveness. Research suggests that wisdom is related to how individuals regulate long-term relationships. In intimate relationships, emphasizing mutual respect and conscious attention contributes to wisdom. Wisdom involves not only accepting truths but also acting upon them. Attentiveness plays a crucial role in maintaining healthy connections with others.

 

Moral attentiveness is associated with overall well-being. Our values and beliefs impact our sense of fulfillment and happiness. Being attentive to our ethical compass and social responsibility positively influences our well-being.

 

When we are attentive to our thoughts, it clarifies our beliefs and shapes how we perceive the world and engage with it. The more attention we pay to what we believe, the more those beliefs impact our lives and guide our decisions.

 

A well-tended garden yields beautiful blooms and healthy fruits. We must tend just as fiercely to our spiritual health. Proverbs 4:23-25 tells us, “Be careful what you think, because your thoughts run your life. Don’t use your mouth to tell lies; don’t ever say things that are not true. Keep your eyes focused on what is right, and look straight ahead to what is good.”

 

Proverbs 23:7 tells us that, “As he thinketh within himself, so is he.” Phillipians 4:8 teaches – “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

 

When we pay attention to what is important, as described in these verses, our spiritual life blossoms. As Galatians 5:22-23 tells us, attentiveness produces: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

 

When our grandson Arlo is listening to his favorite story, he is right there, leaning into each page. He doesn’t jump ahead and wants to hear every familiar word in the story. He even speaks along now and at times says the words himself. They have become a part of him.

 

So, it is with God. He wants us to lean in; He wants us to be eager to hear His Word. Christ wants us to hear his commandment to “Love each other” with an open mind and eager heart. Through our attention to their meaning, the words of Christ become a part of who we are, how we live, what we think, and what we believe.

 

Let us give our gift of attention back to God. We give our attention to Spirit not with the hopes of revealing some majestic mystery, but so that Spirit will reveal to us wise thoughts to pursue, helpful words to speak, productive actions to take.  

 

It is my prayer that we resolve to keep our attention upon what we desire to express. Though we may seem to be lacking in health, we stop giving our attention to weakness or illness and begin to think of the health-giving Spirit of God within us. As we keep our attention on ideas of health, strength, and life, these ideas grow in our consciousness and are brought forth in our lives.

 

If we seem to lack supply, we begin to think of God as the source of all supply. If we seem to lack self-confidence and courage, we give our attention to the idea that God is our ability to do and be all things. Whatever ideas, desires, and beliefs we long to express can be ours if we give them our loving attention.

 

I pray that we create the spiritual space with our attentiveness for God’s good to flow in and through us. Remember, God speaks to us in whispers, so we must be ready to experience God’s subtleties.  As Jesus taught us in Matthew 6:6 – “When you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in private.”

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