We open our eyes every morning with a finite amount of attention to give. And almost immediately many things demand our attention, from basic bodily functions to the notifications on our phones. Our days often disappear as we flit from one activity to the next, toggle from one screen to the other, spending our finite amount of attention in tiny measures in exchange for small hits of dopamine. Rarely do we give patient, sustained, undivided attention to anything. The kind of attention that gives a long, slow, wondering gaze to one thing. Instead, in our modern age, our attention is fragmented.
Yet, we not only fragment our attention but give it to frivolous things. We suffer from short attention spans, and we often attend to shallow things. The twin challenges of shallow attention and shallow content mean that spiritual formation must increasingly begin with cultivating and stewarding one’s attention. In an age of anxious distraction, one of our goals at Bethlehem College & Seminary is to cultivate in our students the capacity to attend to things with that long, slow, wondering gaze and then guide them in stewarding that deepened capacity for attention toward worthy objects.
First, we must cultivate our attention; otherwise, it will never grow. Cultivation is an earthy word. You cultivate the ground to receive seeds and nurture their growth so that, eventually, after labor and patience, those seeds produce fruit. To cultivate one’s attention is similar. It takes labor and patience. And the fruit of cultivating one’s attention is the capacity to really see things for what they are. Greater capacity for attention means greater capacity to know something or someone deeply. From the beginning, God created Adam and Eve to attend to his world (Gen 2:15) and to his words (Gen 2:16–17). Therefore, the greater our capacity to attend to a word or a sentence or a paragraph or a leaf or a tree or a forest, the greater our capacity to come to know and love our God who reveals himself to us through words and leaves, sentences and trees, paragraphs and forests.
We want students, therefore, to grow in their capacity to see things for what they really are because we want students to grow in their capacity to see God for who He truly is. Ultimately, we aim for students to deepen their capacity for attention so they can deepen their capacity for love. Yet, a greater capacity to love does not mean we will love the right things. That’s why stewarding our attention is also necessary.
Thus, second, we must steward our attention because what we behold shapes who we become. The greater attention we give someone or something, the greater power that person or thing has to shape our affections. If we give ourselves to trivial and shallow things, we will become trivial and shallow people. We were made for so much more. The gift of attention is ultimately given for our joy in God.
Paul connects beholding and becoming in this way: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18). Beholding God through his Word and his world transforms us into his image. Properly stewarded attention, then, will cultivate awe of God and affections for God. So when your eyes next open tomorrow morning, consider how to cultivate your attention—the long, slow, wondering gaze—and how to steward that attention of God’s Word and world ultimately toward God.
Zach Howard, M.Div.
Director of College Programs
- Pray that we each would cultivate our attention, and that it would result in greater affection for the Lord.
- Pray for our new students as they finish Welcome Week and prepare for classes to begin Monday.
- Pray for our returning students and faculty as they also prepare to return to classes and other obligations.
- Pray for those speaking at Godward Life as they prepare their messages and that the Lord would prepare the hearts of those attending.
- Pray for full support of the Alex Steddom International Student Fund.