Finding Focus

This afternoon, I’m at Panera with my son Adam. Our Sunday afternoon “Panera dates” have become a tradition this year as we work through Adam’s college application process. Despite my fear of sounding like a commercial for Panera, I must say that the combination of plentiful electrical outlets, free caffeine refills, wifi and an out of the way “nook” of booths has combined to make our local bakery the perfect place for both of us to get stuff done.

And there’s a lot of stuff to get done these days.

For Adam, he’s at the crossroads of his future. My job as his mom is to help him to explore his options for education, to act as a consultant towards making a major decision, and to keep him focused on the tasks at hand.

When I was a senior in college, I filled out exactly two applications: one for my dream school, the University of Notre Dame, and one for my “safety school” (which shall — as a courtesy — remain nameless). College apps involved filling out a form that was about four pages long and busting out the IBM Selectric to churn out my two required essays.

I wish I still had those essays — I’d love to know what my 17 year old self thought was significant enough to philosophize about back in those days. Reading Adam’s answers to his essay prompts gives me an interesting peek into his mind and his world view. In “proofreading”, I have to avoid a mother’s temptation to have him tell things “my way” and stick to ensuring no prepositions are dangled. (And that’s a job better left to the capable eyes of my editor, Eileen!) On more than one occasion, I’ve bitten my tongue and said, “That’s great honey,” when my gut instinct was to encourage my son to see the world from my perspective. There is grace in this process for both of us.

While Adam does his utmost to put his best foot forward, his mom has the benefit of this period of time to see him as he sees himself. And perhaps this is part of the letting go process that I’m finding to be such a challenge. After eighteen years of being “Adam’s mom”, it’s time to see myself in new and evolving ways just as Adam’s doing in his own life. In the end, his decisions may or may not line up perfectly with the script I’d write for his life. I think my parents would like have said the same about me when I was his age.

This moment in time is about helping him to find his focus, to optimize his potential for his dreams, and to leave a great deal of the detail in God’s capable hands. And trusting that — the thing I say so often to others in my writing and speaking — is a stretch for me.

Perhaps you’re tempted, as I am, to engineer every aspect of everything. We may give lip service to “relying on God’s mercy and judgement”, yet all too often we want to give God our marching orders. And yet doesn’t John exhort us in the first verse of his fourteenth chapter, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me”?

So the Panera dates will continue, the tiny details of apps and letters of recommendation and test scores will continue, and the work of discernment will continue as well. And that work of “finding focus” and trusting… that will continue too!

A question for you to ponder: What helps you find focus in your life? Are you trusting of God’s plan for your life and your future? 

About Lisa M. Hendey

Lisa Hendey is the founder and webmaster of and the author of The Grace of YesA Book of Saints for Catholic Moms and The Handbook for Catholic Moms. Lisa writes for several online and print publications, enjoys speaking around the country and is a frequent television and radio guest and host. Visit her at and connect with her at Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram.

  • Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

    I love Panera, too, especially the smoothies :) God keeps laughing at my plans for my life, so I really kind of have to trust in his because I have nothing else to hold onto. I have to trust that HE knows what he is doing, even on the days when it is really, really hard.

  • Sarah Reinhard

    This is an important consideration. Focus is an important need for me, especially as I find myself at a truly busier-than-ever time in my life, young kids underfoot and seemingly 1000 other things going on.

    It helps me to wake early and have silent time. Many times, I fold laundry and make lunches as I pray the rosary (after a long struggle of a conversation interiorly in which I try to make excuses for why I don’t have to, shouldn’t, etc etc).

    And then–and I say this after a week of breaking this rule in the most abusive way–I try to make sure I get enough sleep. As I get older, especially, I notice this is getting truer and truer.

    So that’s what I do. I wish there was a Panera closer to me. But living in the sticks has the benefit of great horizons for sky moments (especially sunrises and sunsets).

  • Leslie Lenko

    It is a time of great “focus” that I can also fully relate to as my teenager is also going through the process of college apps, essays, etc. It seems just like yesterday when it was the start of high school. It seems like the time as flown and now my child is a full adult with graduation in a few months. So many memories and now a new future and college will be in the grand picture. We need to keep each other in prayer during this process. Enjoy your special days at Panera!

    • lisahendey

      Leslie, let’s definitely be prayer buddies through this! and I agree. The time has really flown by…

  • John

    Funny, I’m doing the app-coach thing with my son, but mostly at home. Indeed, the temptation to write his script is there – I would say we’re “co-authors” at this point. With some heady “dream schools,” I think he’ll need lots of “co-authors” before he’s done with his apps. Being from California, his safety schools are any of the UCs (San Diego, Davis, etc.), so we’re very proud of his academic achievements to-date, no matter where he ends up.

    • lisahendey

      John, let’s pray for one another’s sons! I like the “co-author” title!

  • Lisa Schmidt

    Thank you for this post and jogging a sweet memory.

    Joel and I went to Panera the same morning I went into labor with our first. I knew I was going to deliver our baby that day – contractions indicated labor was imminent just not immediate. So what does a rational person do in that moment … why yes, go to Panera! ;)

    So there we sat in Panera. Enjoying one last meal as a family of two. It was thrilling, really. Now every time I step inside that Panera, I remember that day 4+ years ago and how our marriage and family has been changed for so much good through our children.

    I will look forward to the day when I, too, might be able to take our daughter to Panera, fill out college applications, and tell her about the morning some 17-18 years ago when her father and I sat in the corner, drank coffee, and enjoyed one last meal together before welcoming her into the world.

    And now I’m crying tears of joys. Thank you!

    • lisahendey

      And now I’m crying too… LOVE! Thanks for sharing. We have a tradition in our family of retelling, “on the day you were born…” stories on birthdays. Love this one!

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