I got my first pair of glasses when I was in grade school. I hadn’t realized that I had been seeing everything as a blur, but I still remember the feeling of walking outside for the first time after I put them on. It was overwhelming. The trees had separate, individual leaves, and I could see each one! I wanted to stare at the trees and count every single leaf, just because I could! And the dirt! Who knew that it was made up of individual pieces? I remember picking some dirt up in my hand and looking intently at all the little grains and different shades of brown and black. And that was just in the first few minutes! I remember the eye doctor warning me that it might take a few days to get used to this new way of seeing. Indeed! How do you choose what to stare at when there is so much to see? Everything seemed so much more alive.
But of course that novelty eventually wore off. The colors and shapes and individual leaves soon became common. I didn’t give any of it another thought until a few years ago. As an adult, I have access to perfect vision, yet my life seemed to be going by in a blur. It looked like those pictures you see of car lights on a dark highway. There were streaks of color, but I never focused on anything long enough to make out any detail on what was going on around me.
How did this happen? How did I lose my ability to see clearly? The same way it happens for most people, I bet. We get so caught up in the daily grind, the rat race, our to-do lists, that we don’t even notice what is happening around us. There are so many distractions coming at us from every direction that it feels impossible to focus on what is right in front of us.
One afternoon, my son pointed out that I had said “sure” 3 times in a row during our conversation, but he hadn’t asked me a question. I couldn’t remember something that my husband had told me just the day before. There were times when I really struggled to know what day it was. Something was definitely wrong.
A quick inventory of my life would lead anyone to believe that everything was fine.
Happily married? Check.
2 adorable kids? Check, check.
Successful career? Check.
Nice house? Check.
2 cars? Check, check.
Friends? Activities? Church? Pets? Check. Check. Check. Check.
So why didn’t I feel fine? Why did it seem like I was watching my life instead of living it? Watching it through a blurry glass, unable to focus on any one thing and appreciate it for how amazing it really was.
Because I was just going through the motions.
Have you ever gone through a stoplight and moments later panicked a little bit because you couldn’t remember if you actually looked at the light before driving through the intersection? Sometimes we know our route so well, and we’re so used to seeing everything around us, we don’t even notice. We’ve been on this path for so long and so many times that we say things like “I could do this in my sleep.”
That was the point I had reached in my life. I looked up and couldn’t remember how I had gotten there. Or why I chose that direction. I was numb. I was going through life asleep. It was time to wake up.
So how exactly do you wake up?
Well, if any of this is feeling familiar to you, you’ve probably already accomplished the first step – realizing and accepting that you have been going through the motions. Just being aware of it started bringing things into focus for me.
Next, you have to pay attention. To everything. I spent an entire day, and then an entire week, just noticing what I was doing. I asked myself why I was doing it. I asked if I had to do it. Then I asked what would happen if I didn’t do it. The results of this little test were fascinating to me. More than half of what I was doing had no good explanation for why I was doing it! And no dire consequence if I stopped doing it!
The next step is taking action. This meant two things for me.
- Eliminate the things that don’t matter. Do this first. It frees up valuable time that is needed for step 2. The joy that results from the freedom of this step will also fuel the fire for step 2. One example from my life is that I deleted the games from my phone. Result? I read or I talk to the people around me. I actually hear my son’s stories and can repeat them. I get things done. I play real-life games with my kids. Life-altering changes in one little press of the delete button.
- Actively participate in the things that do matter, even if they seem insignificant. Trust me; it’s too much to try to change everything about your life all at once. Pick one activity that you have deemed necessary, put real effort into it, and notice the magic that starts happening.
Let’s look at one example from my life: going to the grocery store. It has to be done whether I like it or not.
The unintentional way of doing this task involved me racing to the store in between other activities. I would speed through the aisles, getting annoyed at every person in my way (do they have to block the entire aisle with their cart while they stand at the other end?!) and buying random stuff without thinking. I often couldn’t remember if we had enough of certain items at home, so I would buy more, just in case. I didn’t care what I was buying, so a total sucker for all marketing ploys, I usually ended up with the most expensive brand that was right in front of my face and had the latest Disney character on it. (Don’t I need a giant tub of cheese balls with a picture of Olaf on it?!?) Then there was the checkout line. I would spit nails at the people in front of me who were splitting their payment into cash, a gift card, and a credit card after haggling over coupons for 5 minutes. And if my kids were with me it just brought all of this to a whole new level that I choose to block from my memory.
But then I decided to actively participate in this process of gathering food and necessities for my family. To be intentional about it required several steps.
- Clean expired items out the pantry and refrigerator. THAT was eye-opening. (Go ahead and try to beat my record for an item that had been in my pantry 12 YEARS and survived two house moves. Yikes.)
- Make a meal plan. This meant sitting down with my husband and discussing what we wanted meals to be like for our family, who was going to cook, as well as what our schedule would be for the next week. It also meant talking to the kids about any upcoming school events that required bringing baked goods, or whether they wanted to take their lunch or eat lunch at school.
- Make a list of only the items we needed to accomplish our meal plan and meet our other basic needs.
- Schedule a time specifically for grocery shopping, and plan on it taking longer than it should.
- While at the store, STICK TO THE LIST. Compare sizes, prices, and ingredients. Smile at the person blocking the aisle and help them reach the item on the top shelf (or if you’re vertically challenged like me, flag down a tall store employee for them!). Notice the person running the check-out line and engage in small talk. Tell the stressed out mom behind you in line how cute her kids are — even if they are screaming.
This may sound like it took a ridiculous amount of time and effort. And the first time, it did. But I got so much more out of it than just buying groceries. It meant my husband and I started making health and budget goals for our family and working as a team. It meant planning out our week and spreading the work between us so we weren’t as frustrated with each other. It meant I knew ahead of time when I was expected to bring goodies to school and what my children liked (and didn’t like) about school lunches. It meant that I didn’t feel rushed and stressed because I had planned to be at the store for 2 hours. When I got done faster than that, it was an added bonus of free time! It meant hundreds of dollars saved each month and less food wasted. It meant meeting new people and experiencing the joy of their smiles and the feel-good high of helping others. And all of this happened because I decided to be intentional about the chore of going to the grocery store. So what would happen if I started applying this to all the important activities in my life, like church and family gatherings? What if I applied it to the things that could really make an impact on the world, like volunteering?
When I started being intentional, living my life on purpose, and actively participating, that’s when I started feeling like I was putting my glasses on for the first time again. I could see! In full color. In spectacular detail. Every leaf. Every rain drop. Every person.
Does it take more time? Yes and no. What happened for me was that the absence of the unimportant things freed up more time for the important things. I quickly discovered what was worth spending extra time on and what wasn’t. My priorities became clearer. So yes, I spend more time on certain things, but I also feel that I have so much more time than ever before. And my life feels so much richer.
This was all really great, but the most amazing thing that has happened has been applying this intentional effort to my Christian life. If I thought putting in the effort at the grocery store was huge, WOW. When I took those same steps and focused them on my relationship with Jesus, sparks started flying. There are many aspects of Christianity, and my purpose with this blog is to dive deeper into all of them eventually.
But let’s just start with prayer as an example.
- Realize and accept – do I feel fuzzy about prayer, like I’m asleep and just going through the motions? Yes.
- Pay attention – what am I praying about? When am I praying? Do I have to pray? What happens when I don’t pray? How should I pray? This required a bit of research, reading my Bible, and talking to mentors.
- Take action – eliminate the things I don’t need to do (the hurried, forced prayer), and actively participate in my prayer life by setting up a consistent time, writing out a prayer list, and finding a quiet spot where I won’t be interrupted.
Praying on purpose has led to amazing results. And that is true of applying these steps to every aspect of my Christian life. Being intentional on my walk with Jesus has resulted in falling in love with Him all over again. Full color and spectacular detail is just the beginning. It’s even better than the most intense rainbow, the warmest sunshine, and the most beautiful flowers. Colors aren’t just bright, they are vibrant. The stars aren’t just shining, they are sparkling. There are really no appropriate words; you just have to experience it! I think it’s truly what Jesus meant in John, chapter 3, when he was explaining that you have to be born again to see the Kingdom of God. You have to wake up and actively participate with Him. And once you see it, you really can’t un-see it. Nor will you want to. (For more on the story in John and what it’s like to re-invent your life, listen to Rob Bell’s podcast Increments and Explosions.)
Is it easy? No.
Is it worth it? Absolutely.
If I haven’t convinced you, maybe my favorite Matthew West song will. The Motions
I overheard a commercial while I was writing this. It was an ad for a prescription sleep medication, and there was a warning not to operate machinery until fully awake. So true.
Stop operating the machinery of your life while you’re sleeping! Stop going through the motions. Stop being numb. Stop missing the best parts of living.
Just okay is not enough. Don’t spend your whole life asking, “What I had given everything?”
Be intentional. Live your life on purpose.
Choose to put on your glasses and experience the amazing beauty of your life, in full color and spectacular detail!