There is an old saying, “Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson). Emerson was an American thinker and philosopher of the 19th century. He lived in a time still more in tune with natural rhythms and reflection. In our current internet and social media environment I think we need to add a precursor to ‘sow a thought.’ We could say, ‘respond to a stimulus/impulse.’ If we think back to Pavlov and his experiments, we recognize that most of us are conditioned by our environment, more influenced than influence. We can reverse that.
Prior to exploring this further I want to look at what another ancient philosopher and thinker had to say.
7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. 9 And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Galatians 6:7–9 (NKJV)
Like Emerson, Paul also addressed the importance of sowing but his focus here was more on behaviour. In his letter to the Philippians (4:8-9) Paul presented the connection to right thoughts producing right behaviour.
Putting together the ideas of thought and action, we need to be intentional about how we live in our current era of culture wars and hyperstimulation. A couple of decades ago I used to say that if you gave your average ‘busy’ person 5 minutes alone in a room with no stimulation it would drive them crazy. I think the issue has simply been exacerbated in the intervening years. We know how to be ‘busy’ but I don’t know that we know how to prioritize our time and how to filter out the unimportant and filter in that which is truly of value.
Here is my attempt at some of the how. Start by setting aside time and minimizing distractions. Turn off and tune out the unnecessary and unhelpful. We can train ourselves to focus our hearts on Him. Read and reflect on varying opinions. The social media algorithms send us down the same path and simply reinforce what we already think. Great if we are on the right path, not so much if we are on the wrong one.
Lastly, my title. Paying attention carries with it the idea of cost and exchange. We are giving something (our attention) as a payment in exchange for something else. The question is really whether we are doing that by design or default. For any of you that follow my Facebook posts you know how much I enjoy and appreciate the outdoors, particularly being in the mountains. To truly appreciate those environments, I need to give them my attention – an exchange. When I was a child and we went on family vacation my parents would get frustrated with myself and my siblings when we wanted to read comics in the car rather than look out the window at the view. At that stage comics had my attention, now the mountains and other aspects of nature do. The latter is of greater value for how it imparts to me the grandeur of creation and turns my thoughts to Him. Let’s find ways to ‘pay attention’ to the things that truly matter. If we embrace Paul’s injunction that I referenced earlier we will do just that, he tells us how to pay attention.
8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things. 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8–9 (NKJV)