The Importance of Being Attentive

We long to see our students have hearts that are tuned to, and turned toward, God. In our world of loud, conflicting, insistent, constantly streaming voices it takes purposeful intent and a good measure of self-discipline, on a personal level, to attend to what is needful and that which results in a flourishing life that bears good fruits. Author David Dark suggests to believers: “We might say all are called, in some way, to keep the faith by way of intense attentiveness.” If we desire that our students flourish, how might we understand the importance of attentiveness through the lenses of desiring harmony with nature, God, neighbor, and self?

Nature: In his wonderful book Sacred Sense, William P. Brown mentions this example of seeking harmony with nature: “The great Methodist preacher Fred Craddock tells of a practice in which his ancestors would go out walking on Sunday afternoons, sometimes in groups, sometimes alone. They called it “going marveling.” On these walks they would admire nature and collect unusual things — from rocks to wild flowers — to bring back home and share to the amazement of others. It was a weekly ritual.” Attentiveness to nature means opening ourselves up to awe and inquiry in the natural world around us. This attentiveness reorients us to the beauty, complexity, and interdependence of the created order. It causes us to confront and contemplate the temporal aspects of our existence and the majesty of the Creator, to fall to our knees in worship and in the process reprioritizing our desire to be the masters of our universe.

God: Attentiveness to nature helps us understand the nature of God as revealed first through his created order and secondly through the revelation of Scripture. If we are attentive to Jesus’ ministry and example of reaching out to the poor, the sick, and those who needed healing, we understand how we are to see and respond to others. In a world of hurt, if we seek the Spirit’s leading, we are guided into knowing what to attend to: when to speak, when to remain silent, the words to speak, who to reach out to, and the steps of faith to take next on our journey.

Neighbor: Attentiveness is an act of love when given to other people and a critical first step in the process of demonstrating empathy. I must first be calm enough myself and be attentive in order to notice something may not be right in another – a slight tearing of the eye, a soft sigh, or body language that doesn’t match a person’s words. Attentiveness to the pain of the world around us is needed if we are to love our neighbor well. Jesus asks us to be faithful in small things – to be attentive – before we can handle larger responsibilities.

Self: We may wonder if we need to talk about attentiveness to self because we might think children have that in spades already! However, in this context I mean children understanding how God has made them – what their strengths and talents are, how they might utilize them, what limits them in growth toward flourishing, how to understand and accept themselves as image-bearers, and how to gain a sense of where they fit in God’s plan for their lives.

Perhaps teaching students to be attentive – to pay attention in the ways I suggest above would help them significantly on the road to belief and discipleship. Attentiveness is recognizable early in children and incidentally, beyond the spiritual value I am mentioning here, has positive academic outcomes according to a recent research study.

The idea of teaching attentiveness may be seen as a worthy countercultural impulse in today’s world of speed, efficiency and success. Kent Annan suggests in his book, Slow Kingdom Coming, that attention (along with confession, respect, partnering, and trothing) is one of the five ways we participate in the coming of Christ’s kingdom. He states: “The problem is that when we start paying attention, we may start to hear voices we hadn’t previously heard. We realize how deep and wide the problems are. Then we realize that we must focus.” Isn’t this what we want for our students – to hear the voices Christ attended to?

Perhaps in our roles as Christian school educators we might consider these questions around attentiveness:

  1. What are we guiding students to be attentive to?
  2. Are we intentionally immersing students in habits and practices that encourage attentiveness? Are we encouraging attentiveness to spiritual imagination and thoughtful reflection while countering cultural stories/heroes that are deformative?
  3. In our teaching and learning are we identifying key concepts that merit attention, concepts that allow discussion and application of spiritual truths – the “lifetime take-aways” that will matter to students in future years?
  4. Are we modeling Christ’s attentive love for difficult people and in difficult situations? Are students seeing what breaks our heart in the world? Are we helping them to hear and attend to voices they may not have previously heard?

Works cited:

Annan, Kent. Slow kingdom coming: practices for doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly in the world. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016.

Brown, William P. Sacred sense: discovering the wonder of God’s word and world. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015.

Dark, David. Life’s too short to pretend you’re not religious. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, InterVarsity Press, 2016.

Rasicot, Julie. “Ability to Pay Attention May Predict College Success, Study Says.” Education Week – Early Years. August 07, 2012. Accessed March 25, 2017.

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