Saturday, September 6, 2008

Attention, Uncluttered

A recent pair of moments led me to question seriously how my mind works.

The first moment came when my wife Kristi picked up one of her Brighton necklaces, commenting on how much she loves it, especially since it was a gift from me on the first Christmas of our marriage. I acknowledged her comment, agreeing on how special the necklace is, all the while realizing with some sense of doom that, had she not mentioned it, I would not likely have ever remembered the connection between that necklace and that Christmas. I'm not even sure I would have remembered the necklace came from me. (I know, I'm terrible...)

Once I concentrated and thought about it some more, I actually did remember getting that necklace for Kristi, at a store in the Mall of Abilene. I even remembered that the lady who rang up my purchase was also a member of our church. I even remembered later that I had also picked up a Brighton ink pen for Kristi at the same time, although the pen has disappeared somewhere over the last five years and two moves.

The memory was there, buried under five years of clutter. It just needed to be found, dug out, and brushed off.

But, any satisfaction I felt at my delayed recollection of a special gift given to my wife was short-lived. Not long after this conversation with Kristi, on a random day, at a random moment, for no reason I can fathom, something popped into my mind.

It was a television commercial from the mid-80s, a commercial for a life-like doll of Mr. T. Do you remember it?

The jingle went like this:

"Mis-tuh Tee! He's got legs that move! He's 12 inches hi-high!
Mis-tuh Tee! He's got a real cool haircut, and a mean, mean look in his eye-eye!
He's got arms that move, and fists full of rings!
You can pretend that Mis-tuh Tee is real tough and mean!
Mis-tuh Tee!"

I remembered it vividly, word for word, note for note. It was as if the jingle had been playing on the radio right then. And, I wasn't quite sure what to make of it.

A special gift given to my wife at a special time becomes a buried memory, unearthed only by her comment, but I can count on a useless TV jingle from a quarter century ago to snap to my memory at a moment's notice?

I began to see a disturbing scenario: Me, on my deathbed, looking up at my loving wife, who is wearing a necklace I don't remember giving her, and my mind enjoying one last chorus of "Mis-tuh Tee!" before heading off to eternity. How pathetic.

So, why would my mind work this way? Allowing something I'd rather not waste the "little grey cells" on to be burned forever into my mind, while also allowing something I really treasure to be as slippery as Jell-O to hang onto?

I'm no brain surgeon, but I did come up with a theory.

Obviously, the commercial for the Mr. T doll crossed my path when I was a young kid, with virtually no responsibilities and few cares in all the world. At the time, I was also a big fan of The A-Team, which featured Mr. T, so I thought the doll was pretty cool. There wasn't a whole lot else going on for me at that point, so the deck was pretty much clear for this jingle to carve itself right into the wood, so to speak.

Contrast that with where I was in life at Christmas 2002. I was a busy adult with a thousand concerns, a new marriage, a demanding job, and thoughts of moving to another city percolating in the back of my mind. It wasn't that I didn't care about Kristi's necklace, because I did. It wasn't that I didn't give it much thought or effort, because I did. I gave it the best I had at the time.

It was just that the thought and effort I gave it were similar to what you might give trying to complete a task while riding up and down in a crowded elevator. You still get it done, you still care, but there's a difference between doing that and really clearing the deck to concentrate on something and give it your whole attention.

I realized that I might be making the wrong comparison.

For instance, my memories of my first date with Kristi are vivid, and always have been. I remember getting my truck cleaner than it had ever been, in preparation for our date. I remember thinking to myself, "I'm glad I'm going this," just as I rang her doorbell to pick her up. I can tell you what we both were wearing, where we went, what we talked about. I remember trying to make sure she saw me leave a generous tip after dinner. I remember exactly how I worded my suggestion that we go to another place for dessert. I remember how perfect it all was, and how we both knew we wanted to spend more time together.

Really, the comparison should not be between Kristi's necklace and the Mr. T commercial. The comparison should be between Kristi's necklace and our first date. The difference is plain to see. The first date was a moment prepared for, a moment taken seriously enough to clear off everything else in advance. That moment is saved on the hard drive. The necklace, unfortunately, was crowded into a tight elevator with everything else I was trying to juggle at the time. It was still saved, but on a disk in a drawer, buried under clutter, not readily available, no longer a part of daily operations.

Relationships are easy to take for granted, especially the most intimate and important relationships we have. We are vulnerable to the temptation of thinking we can skate along, squeezing our most important relationships into an otherwise overcrowded mind. The divorce rate in our nation should tell us this idea is completely false. It takes time and attention, uncluttered attention, to keep important relationships strong and thriving.

What about our relationship with God?

Which of the moments above does this relationship more closely resemble? Is our relationship with God something to which we give our undivided attention? Do we deliberately clear away the clutter to engage with God on a personal level? Or, do we try to pack Him into a mind already filled with daily trivia? Is our time with God His alone? Or do we multi-task at the expense of our intimacy with God?

Jesus, in a brief passage so easy to overlook, provides the perfect example for us, for all time:

"Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed." -- Luke 5:16

How did Jesus manage this? He, of all people, would have been in demand for some need, somewhere, at virtually every minute of the day. His time could have been entirely at the mercy of the people around him, if he had allowed it to be. But instead, the Son of God made time for his relationship with the Father by clearing the deck on a regular basis, physically removing himself from distraction and giving full, uncluttered attention to the relationship that mattered most, but could most easily have been lost in the shuffle.

If the Son of God felt compelled to take such deliberate measures to ensure uncluttered time with God, how could we be any different? Why do we assume we can squeeze God in, when His Son made no such assumption, but instead demonstrated the total opposite?

Jesus' example of deliberate intimacy is the only way to establish God's place in our minds and hearts. Anything less will leave our relationship with God vulnerable to being drowned out by the jingles and crowded elevators of life.

May our moments with God, and the memories they create, be richer and more vivid than any earthly experience could ever be.

1 comment:

preacherman said...

Wonderful post and thoughts.
You do such a fantastic job with your blog.
I enjoy reading it regularly.
Keep up the wonderful work you do.
I know God has great things in store for you life.
Keep trusting Him!