I am now three weeks into teaching my second born to drive. Much to my relief, and similar to his older brother, Seth (so far) has been easy to instruct. I am not sure if it’s his laid back personality or if it is the second child thing, but I feel much more at ease than I did with Luke. However. I do find myself commanding Seth to “Pay Attention!” almost by the minute. It’s not so much that he’s not paying attention, mind you. It’s that I am eager for him to notice everything. A stale green light. Brake lights a hundred yards in front of us. Who arrived first at a four-way stop. How much asphalt he has on the right hand side of a narrow two-laner before the car dispatches into a canyon of rocks. Who has the right of way in a roundabout. How much of a gap should there before he pulls out in front of oncoming traffic. Children playing in yards that could chase a ball into the street. Stray cats that he should try to hit (just kidding. . . sort of). How to guide a vehicle into a parking spot without bumping into surrounding parked cars. How much gas is left in the tank. On and on and on. Perhaps I gave the command to Luke just as often. I don’t recall. But every time Seth gets behind the wheel with me in the passenger seat, I am constantly calling him to pay careful attention to all the elements in and around the four-wheeled machine.
In a recent drive, at around my thirty-third plea for Seth to pay attention, I felt a prod. Not physically. Spiritually. You know, one of those that the Spirit does from time to time to get your attention? I felt what seemed to be the Spirit of God telling me to practice what I preach. I was prompted (I assume it was the Lord) to constantly pay attention. To notice everything around me. To take in the elements. To be present, in other words.
The Spirit knows what I also know to be true: Matt Pearson is bad at paying attention to what is right in front of him. I have difficulty being present. I struggle often at receiving and welcoming the sacred in the “right now” of life. It’s not so much that I am consumed with social media (though I could always back away from it more than I do). It’s not even that I watch too much television (though this too could be monitored more efficiently). For me, it’s that I am always thinking about the next thing to do. The next item on my list. I try to project what the person in front of me is thinking or going to say next. I wonder how God is going to do something later or tomorrow or Sunday morning or in a month. I rarely allow myself to pause and consider that God is here, now, present, active, loving, near.
In The Jesus Way, Eugene Peterson writes, “We embrace what is given to us – people, spouse, children, forests, weather, city – just as they are given to us and sit and stare, look and listen until we begin to see and hear the God-dimensions in each gift, and engage with what God has given, with what He is doing.” I am not good at sitting and staring. I don’t look and listen unless it is toward something in the future. I need to practice what I preach. I wonder how often I miss God because I am always thinking about what He is going to do? What if He is, in fact, doing right in front of me? Similarly, in his book The Power of Place, Daniel Grothe says, ” ‘Hallowed be thy name. . . in earth as it is in heaven.’ Stitch these sentences together and what you get is prayer that aches for the beauty of God’s name to get worked out in the very real conditions of our lives. The holiness of God invading the unholy streets.” Yes.
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that God didn’t appear to Elijah in an earthquake, a hurricane, or fire. He came to Elijah in a still, small voice. Can He and does He appear in “big-time” ways? Of course. But what if the usual for God is in us, around us – all the time? What if He’s there, in the conversation with your spouse? What if He’s there, in the meeting? What if He’s there, working, over lunch with a friend? What if His name is never mentioned, but you simply know He is there? Are you paying attention?
I am busy telling my youngest son to pay attention when he is behind the wheel. Meanwhile, the Spirit is telling me to pay attention to my life. Actually, to pay attention to God in my life. It’s definitely the Lord prompting me in this. I mean, how many times throughout His book did He tell people to “Look!”? Or “Behold!”? Yeah. A lot. So maybe I’m not the only one. Pay attention today, dear reader. Make sure you have plenty of room on the right hand side of the road. Be nice to cats (though you may not want to). And be present enough to notice the burning bush that contains God Himself – at work – right in your own back yard.