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Paying Attention

How are you doing on your New Year’s resolutions, if you made some?

Our children bring us their observations and astonishment and frequently want to tell us what they’re seeing, thinking, or wondering. Do we have time for their questions and insights?

Here one month of the new year is gone already, but it is always helpful to take a long, hard look at how your life is going, see if it is everything you want it to be, and, if not, take the necessary steps for changing course. Or at least tweaking your outlook on life.

One of the best sermons I heard recently can be summarized in three lines. The preacher, filling in it at our church, used the following piece of poetry from Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver to get our brains going:

Instruction for Living a Life

Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

Bill then gave the great example of walking his dog, an older rescue animal he and his spouse have enjoyed adding to their lives just this past year. Bill said we would do well to follow the example of this dog—and most dogs—who totally live in the moment and are fascinated and totally distracted even by just an autumn leaf skittering across the path.

Bill added that a squirrel darting ahead of them, even though it happens nearly every day, is the occasion for oh-my-goodness-this-is-the-best-thing-ever-to-happen-to-me excitement, and the dog makes a short chase—for as long as his leash lets him.

Most dogs will quickly also tell you about whatever they noticed, even though Bill’s dog, fortunately, is not inclined to bark. (Sounds like a keeper to me.)

This poem certainly came alive as we watched our grandbabies-becoming-toddlers over the recent holidays. They are beginning to have personalities and attitudes and opinions of their own. Of course they can’t talk yet (a lot of babbling), so the “tell about it” comes mostly in the form of grunts, “mahs,” wails, whines, and heartwarming or winsome/mischievous smiles.

But it is fascinating what captures and keeps their attention. Grandma making sounds like a barking dog or rooster or hog while reading a book stops them, makes them smile. Grandma’s oven, dishwasher, and kitchen cupboards are all wonderful things they wish to explore. As they get a bit older I expect lots of slow walks admiring insects, birds, flowers, and snowflakes—everything that comes along.

Our children bring us their observations and astonishment and frequently want to tell us what they’re seeing, thinking, or wondering. Do we have time for their questions and insights?

Toddlers aren’t the only ones who need to pay attention. Allow yourself to soak in the beautiful star-filled night sky, a field covered entirely with snow, a splendid sunrise or sunset. I’m frequently astonished, for instance, that today we see many of the same stars as the persons who lived in Bible times. What a connecting point with people who have gone before us!

So what is the take away? One of my third cousins wrote recently on Facebook that she was resolving to slow down (she has three young children): “As I get older I realize in a blink how fast this earthly life keeps going and slows down for no one. In 2015 I am doing everything I can to slow down our lives, let our kids be kids, with God the center of everything, and our days and nights filled with family, friends, and fun! We are going to loosen up, have more fun, make some memories, and bring our life back to basics.” I thought that sounded like a wonderful way to focus the many pulls and demands of life with young children. And, Kacey was following the third line of Oliver’s poem, “Tell about it.”

Prayer can make us more mindful of God’s blessings and gifts to us—and remind us to slow down every day. That’s another way to live life more fully.


For a free booklet, “Squeezing Prayer into a Busy Life,” write to Another Way, 1251 Virginia Ave., Harrisonburg, VA 22802 or

Posted 1/29/2015 7:00:00 AM

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