Have you ever noticed the way you can be so focused on one thing that it causes you to completely miss something else? I’m a visual learner and struggle to follow things orally, meaning I frequently find myself asking people to repeat themselves. If my eyes wander off your face while you are talking to me, I will almost definitely lose track of what you are saying; my brain instead will be processing whatever it is that my eyes are looking at—makes phone calls a nightmare.
I’m not the only one whose brain can’t take in too many things at once: maybe you saw the ‘invisible gorilla’ test that was publicised a few years ago. Volunteers were asked to watch a video of a group of people playing catch and count how many throws and catches were made. During the video a man wearing a gorilla costume walks in and stands in the middle of the group. Amazingly, only half of the observers noticed this, the others being thoroughly preoccupied with focusing on the ball. Clearly the human brain has a limit to the amount it can fixate upon at one time, and as a result we miss an awful lot. With this limited processing ability, the content of what we are focusing on develops new significance.
Think about all the things we ‘watch’ as humans: television, time, our weight…If we can only fix our minds properly on one of these at a time, how much of our lives are we missing out on other things?
This is particularly worrying if our time is heavily consumed with such preoccupations. The more we focus on them, the more they inevitably begin to shape our worldview—they distort how we see the world. Obsessive consumption of news and social media makes regular life begin to appear mundane. Our constant weight-watching and calorie counting infuses body comparison and judgement into every social interaction. We miss milestones in our children’s lives because work is first and foremost in our minds.
How are we to prioritise the things we focus on? Is there anything we could put first in our focus that would positively impact on the other areas of our life, enhancing them rather than distracting us and detracting from their value?
I’ve found realigning my focus to be very liberating. In the past I was completely obsessed with the way I looked and how thin I was. That worldview distorted the way I saw everything. I was completely consumed with food, what I was eating, what others were eating, how much I was exercising and how fat my clothes made me look. As a result, I became short-tempered and inward looking, isolating myself from family and friends who I only saw as people to compare myself against.
But then my focus shifted when I read in the Bible that God formed me and designed me before I was born, that he called me loved and precious. With this perspective I stopped seeing myself through the lens of my appearance and instead as a human being who has worth no matter what I look like.
In focusing on a God who loves all people perfectly and unconditionally, I find within myself a greater ability to love others and to make decisions in my life that have positive implications and are not just self-centred. Nothing else has ever enabled me to live this way. If I focus on work, I will end up pushing myself to achieve more and to be more. If I focus on positive thinking, I’m still ultimately reliant on the power of my mind. If I focus on sport, my energy is going into the power of my body. These preoccupations are unhelpful because it’s still all about me and I’m far too flawed for that—I need something, someone bigger and better to take my eyes off myself.
This is what makes a focus on God more than just a nice worldview: it outweighs all innate desire of selfishness. Somehow paying attention to the God of the universe makes me notice so much more of what’s going on around me; it’s not just focusing on how my actions in this world will affect my fate, but how I can be a part of God’s plan for the earth, an inclusive plan for all people. I have a greater desire to look after the planet, to make lasting friendships and invest in people, to work hard at my job and studies. I see a clearer order and purpose for life, one that a focus on my weight or work or relationships could never achieve. If I can only focus on one thing, it needs to be him.