Everybody wants somebody else’s attention because everybody wants somebody to love. If that isn’t more than apparent— thanks to the wonders of social media— then it’s time for a wake-up call.
We seek attention day in and day out. Pay attention to my blog, to my podcast, watch my video, read my post—status update, story, tweet; pay attention to my clothes, to my hair—fresh extensions, new wig; look at me put my makeup on, look at me lift these weights, squat this set, run this mile. Watch me while I eat this food, sit by this pool, watch the rain.
We want to be seen and heard. We want attention. So, to start, let’s stop acting like trying to get attention is some awful thing we do. We seek attention because we desire connection—we are wired for it. We want it, you got it to give, and I want you to give it to me. Otherwise, why would I write these words?
Some of us say that the things we do are for God to see. So, we put ourselves out there to show God how great we are—that we are doing good. Why do we think that God needs others to see us doing things for God to see it as good? Have you ever thought about it that way?
It’s something I wrestle with. The tension that strains my thoughts hangs between knowing that God sees me as I am and approves, accepts, and loves all that I do, and believing that I must share what I know of God with others. And I justify all of this on account of all that I know and understand from the Bible. The Bible tells me that I am called, not just to be good, but to be great. Perhaps I am not the only one that interprets it that way.
The wrestling of this knowledge requires a high strength to balance this weight. So, we teeter-totter between seeking out the attention of God or Other.
The thing of it is, whether we are seeking that attention from God or Other, it’s all the same. God is Other—God is the ultimate Other. Given that we are all made in the image of God, I would submit that seeking the attention of any audience is really the same as seeking the attention of God.
The apparent reason for this is because it’s just no fun existing in life without someone else in it. Sure, we all want a little isolation from time to time, and we need it, undoubtedly. We are energized more by communion—connection—rather than solitude. Solitude is where we find rest, and communion is where we find exhilaration. We can be battery chargers for one another.
Unfortunately, the way we give and receive attention becomes problematic. Instead of being a power source to charge one another, our attention becomes an energy drain, robbing people of power and diminishing their spark. We don’t give one another proper mutual recognition. We don’t love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We love them as much as we can stand them. Yet, we want their undivided attention and expect them to tolerate us, accept us, and listen to us. I think this shows that humans are better at receiving than giving, which is funny when you think about it because Christianity esteems this idea of cheerfully giving without reciprocity. Another tension to wrestle with at another time.
Nonetheless, we all want attention because it means something to us. We seek it out, primarily, because attention tells us that we are loved. Attention is the answer to the greater question of life: “Does anybody love me?” It is by way of giving and receiving the attention that we qualify our being-ness with love, to be is to be loved—beloved. Foolishly, however, we expend attention in ways that are anything but demonstrations of love.
So, how could we remedy this erroneous way of giving and requesting attention?
Perhaps we should start with fully recognizing and receiving the God-given, undivided attention that we do have. But how? We answer the question that we ask of the void: “Does anybody love me?”. Unapologetically, unconditionally, eternally—yes! You are loved. You are God’s beloved. You are, and you are, and they are, and she is, and he is, and ze is.
Know that. Hold that. Believe that.
From there, we can come to terms with a more concrete understanding of true attention—as opposed to the underdeveloped ways in which we give it and receive it now. True attention sees all things the way God sees all things, as good. True attention overrides the ego—there is no selfish gain when we give true attention. It’s distinctly other-oriented.
True attention is a limitless space of safety and acceptance in which the energy of another penetrates the depths of our soul. It’s not something we practice in every moment. It requires intention, patience, and open-mindedness.
Third, we acknowledge that the attention that we seek as well as the attention we receive, is that of God’s. And the reason we all seek attention is the very same reason God sought attention: attention is connection and connection is love. God desired Other to love, and so here we are. And we return that love to God by returning to Other, by giving attention to the Other, we give our attention to God.
When we give true attention to another, we develop a more delicate way to not only ask for God’s attention, but we can graciously receive God’s attention. For me, the practice began with teaching myself how to be more willing to accept my children’s incessant demands for all the attention all the time. I began to ask myself “why does God need my attention so damn much?”. Do I need to look at every scribble they draw? Do I need to see every handstand, backflip, and new video-game advancement?
From there, I learned how to appreciate the interruptions with grace—even if I was 5,500 words into my manuscript and ready for 3,000 more to come pouring out. God wanted my attention, and so I give it. Practice the pause.
I believe that if I am willing to open myself up to the attention demands of social media, then I must be ready to give and receive attention, in the same way, that I would give and receive it of God, or my children. Is that why it is written that we are to be like children? Maybe we need to speak to adults like they are children? Maybe we need to bring ourselves to a place of responding to others, in the same manner, we would to an inquisitive little child who has no concept of the world that we do?
For me, when I am using my opposable thumbs for apparently, what was intended of me—scrolling my social media; I must remember that every post, every tweet, every @mention is another way that humanity is seeking the attention of God. When I choose to give another attention, I must ask myself who I am giving that attention to, this stranger behind a screen or God? And if it’s always God, then how would I give attention to God? Would I tell God that nobody cares what you ate at Popeye’s today? Would I ask God to put some clothes on because don’t nobody want to see your rolls hanging out? What would I say to God if I had God’s attention?