Attention is the starting point of devotion.
In Upstream, Poet Mary Oliver said, “Attention is the starting point of devotion.” How can you love and adore that which you do not even notice? The point is you can’t.
Attention is the starting point of devotionMary Oliver, Upstream
I’m reading John Mark Comer’s The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. (It’s a fabulous book for the times in which we live, and I highly recommend it for anyone who is worn out, burned out, or stressed out, which is pretty much everyone these days.) In it, he says that distraction is the biggest threat to our spiritual lives. I totally agree.
Distraction in Marriage
As is so often the case, there is a clear marriage corollary to Comer’s observation about our spiritual life:
Think about it. Consider the common issues that arise in marriage: lack of communication, lack of sexual intimacy, feeling neglected or misunderstood, infidelity, financial issues. They all have their root in distraction or lack of attentiveness.
Distraction is a huge problem! Fundamentally, distraction leads to disconnection. And disconnection is a death spiral for your marriage.
I probably don’t need to list all the things that lead us to distracted living. I’m sure you and I can quickly point to all the things in our lives that occupy the bulk of our time, energy, and mental capacity. But for the sake of completeness let me list a few:
- Chores and home projects
Which of these would you list as more important than your marriage? Hopefully none. Yet we give the majority of our attention to these and many other lesser things. Why?
Less is More
The biggest reason for many of the more mindless distractions is that we use them to numb our weary souls and as a respite for our over-taxed minds. Comer’s solution is to live a less hurried life. Richard Swenson, in his great book, Margin, tells us to find a way to create space between our load and our capacity, what he calls living your life with margin.
Creating space in our over-crammed lives for the most important things, like time with God and with our spouse, isn’t easy. I’m struggling to figure out how myself, but I’m determined to make it happen. I don’t want to live distracted anymore.
Overcoming Distraction in Your Marriage
Rather than list all the ways in which distraction hurts your marriage, I decided instead to list ways to insert more attention and attentiveness into your life.
Be thankful for all your spouse does for you or your family
- Working a tough job (or any job)
- Doing the dishes, cutting the grass, cooking a meal, or shopping for groceries
- Caring for the children or parents
- Small acts of kindness or caring
Watch for bids for connection and attention
- Have a genuine conversation in response to a sigh or expression of concern
- Spend an extra 30 seconds on a hug or a kiss
- Remember when your spouse asks to talk later – be the first to bring it up
- Respond positively to bids for sexual connection
Celebrate small wins together
- Receiving a bonus or raise
- Accolades from a boss or coworker
- Helping or encouraging a friend (or a stranger)
- Progress toward a goal or a tough task accomplished
- A meaningful spiritual encounter
Enjoying simple pleasures together
- A tasty meal
- A beautiful sunrise or sunset
- A glass of wine, a good cup of tea or coffee
- Quiet moments just “being” in the same space
- A walk in nature
Watch for opportunities for physical connection
- Make a welcome home kiss a meaningful expression of coming together again
- Adore your spouse’s naked body as he or she steps from the shower
- Put aside your phone when you crawl into bed and snuggle together
- Allow yourself the mental space for your sexual being to come alive
You probably won’t be able to just add these things to a hurried and margin-less lifestyle. Remember, increasing the attention you give to your spouse and marriage will necessarily require some lifestyle adjustments – giving less of your time and attention to other things.
Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you in your journey toward being more attentive. He is eager to assist you in making your marriage all it can be.