May I share with you my biggest pet peeve? I can’t think of anything that ruffles my feathers more than someone who isn’t paying attention while I’m talking to them, particularly if that person is paying attention to their phone instead. Oh, let me tell you, it’s enough to make this red hair stand on end! I was raised with this odd set of standards called manners—a foreign term in today’s society. Manners dictate that when someone is speaking, you look them in the eye and pay attention even if what they’re talking about is not your favorite topic. You don’t have to agree with them. You don’t need to have something witty to say. You just need to give that person your undivided attention.
Today, undivided attention is an oxymoron. With the rise of technology, we believe we can multi-task better than ever, but the truth is, we’re not multi-tasking. We’re just giving more tasks a portion of our effort and attention instead of focusing on one thing (or person) at a time. I’ve been in conversations with people who are scanning the room while I’m speaking. This gives me the impression they would rather talk with someone else, which makes me feel unwanted and unworthy. I’ve also been in conversations with those who pull out their phones and begin pushing buttons and flipping through apps while I’m speaking, making me feel less important than other things vying for their attention. Some, in trying to defend themselves, declare, “I was listening. I just needed to check this email.” But then, they ask me a question I had just answered, which confirmed what I already knew to be the case—they had turned me off the moment they turned the phone screen on.
I think the reason this tops my pet peeve list is that it does so much more than anger me. It hits me where I’m the most vulnerable by making me feel unloved, unwanted, and unimportant. Like what I have to say isn’t valuable. Like my feelings don’t matter. Like who I am is not interesting enough to not be one-upped by a piece of technology. And, friends, I hate that feeling. After all, don’t we all long to feel loved and appreciated?
I know God does. When I think about how much God has done for me, I realize there’s no way I could ever repay Him, and the good news is, I don’t have to. Never once has He asked for repayment or reimbursement. He does, however, ask for my attention. Such a small request, yet I often find myself guilty of my pet peeve, and I go to God with divided attention. Part of me is meditating on His Word while another part of me is scrolling down my to-do list. My prayers are interrupted by random thoughts and other pauses to take care of this or that so I don’t forget. And, yes, I’ve even opened my phone to check an incoming text message or answer a phone call when I’m supposed to be communing with my Lord. (Would you believe I just received a Facebook Messenger notification on my tablet? Spooky, huh? On the plus side, I didn’t stop to check it.)
Did you catch that? God wasn’t interested in sacrifices. He sought undivided attention. He desired praise and gratitude. Is that too much to ask? Is it that difficult to set aside some time to be alone with God? No phones. No television. No newspaper. Just me and God. Just you and God. No stray thoughts. No agendas. No to-do lists. Doesn’t He deserve at least that much?
I wonder, too, if we gave God our undivided attention if that habit would transfer over into our interactions with our fellow human beings. What would our world be like if we would put aside our technology and agenda for a few minutes (or hours) and truly listen to one another? How many misunderstandings could be avoided? How many burdens could be shared? How much love and kindness could be related through the simple gift of attention? I don’t know about you, but I’d love to find out.
Beginning today, I make it my goal to give God and others my undivided attention. I know it won’t be easy, and I’m sure I’ll mess up a few times (or more), but by God’s grace, I will learn to listen as He listens and to interact with Him and others with kindness and compassion. Who’s with me?