The Gift of Attention

Good morning, and welcome to A New Sunday.  I know how precious your time is and appreciate you spending it with us.  This week I wantd to share a brief personal story that reminded me what a gift, the attention of another human being truly is.

Now, I am not independently wealthy, so like most people, I go to work during the week.   As you can imagine, weekends are precious, and last Saturday was looking to be the best kind - there was nothing scheduled.  

No birthday parties to shuttle between, no soccer games to watch - the day was mine, and I was absolutely brimming with anticipation.  It sounds odd to say, but I was excited to simply do nothing.

I woke early that morning to the rich smell of coffee permeating through the house.  With my laptop in one hand and a freshly poured cup of Joe in the other, I headed off to the desk in the corner of the daughter's playroom.  

I sat there, bathed in a digital glow, lost in a meandering mix of web surfing and random music selections.  Now, unbeknownst to me, as I was engrossed in nothing in particular, my girls had set up shop in the same room - playing quietly.

In the background, Legos were spread out on the entire floor like an ocean of plastic. Valuable pieces were being traded back and forth, and soon an entire landscape arose from the carpet. Ideas transformed from head to hands, and soon, their creation yearned for admiration. 

The light tap on my shoulder, broke my concentration first. With more than a hint of frustration, I half-crooked my head in my daughter's general direction, but I was barely looking. I wasn't glad to be interrupted, but I also didn’t want to be rude or hurt her feelings.

Then a tiny whisper of a voice emerged, “Daddy, I want to show you what I made.” 

So I nodded and smiled, half-listening to her describe the thoughtful choices of brick size and color.  The considerate use of space, to accommodate the animals in what she told me was a pet hotel. 

Of course, I’m still not paying full attention to her. 

As her explanation deepens, I briefly glance back at my computer, wondering how long it will be until I can return to what I was doing? To my priorities.

Sensing my distraction, her enthusiasm evaporates like air leaving a balloon.  She cuts her explanation short, returns to her project, and then it’s just me and my computer. 

The little voice in my head that we all have nags at me and I realize I’ve missed an opportunity. I close my laptop, and turn towards my daughters.  Not turning just my head, but my whole body.  I turn and really look at the pet hotel that’s taken over our playroom and for the first time, I notice it’s amazing. 

Joining the sea of Legos, I lay belly-down on the carpet, and ask my daughters about their design choices. Where will the llamas and penguins stay, I wonder - and suddenly the enthusiasm is back and we’re all engaged in making this tiny creation even better. For my part, I add a few flowers to the front stoop.

Last Saturday reminded me that the greatest gift we can give another person is our full attention.  And the greatest gift others can give us is theirs. 

Our presence is the currency of our lives. Just showing up and being in the same room isn’t enough. Being fully present means really listening, seeing, asking genuine questions, and being curious together. Paying attention is the way we honor each moment of our lives. 

When we pay attention to others, we’re letting them know that they are important. That we value them. It is not by our words, but by our behavior that we demonstrate to our loved ones that they matter.

I'll leave you with the words of famous American author Annie Dillard who said, "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives."

Life is simply moments strung together. Don’t let them slip through your fingers. Deliberately choose what deserves the gift of your attention, but once you do, commit to being there to experience it, and suddenly everyone's life becomes richer.