“Tyler… Tyler… TYLER.”
No, that line you just read wasn’t me practicing the spelling of my name. That was a direct quote from my wife as she tried to get my attention recently as I was looking down at my phone. I’m not sure if it was email, social media, or a text message from a friend — it doesn’t really matter — it’s just one example of many where I’ve attempted to multi-task with my attention.
Regrettably, that instance I just told you about isn’t isolated. I’ve accidentally ignored people because of my phone more times than I would like to admit. To be fair, I think it’s safe to say it’s a struggle we all deal with at some level.
Our phones have hijacked our attention spans. As a culture, we’ve bought into the lie that says that someone on an electronic device is more important and deserves greater urgency than the person standing in front of you. We’re constantly sharing our attention with a digital world.
I’m not planning to deactivate my iPhone anytime soon. The internet and social media are incredible tools and can be used for incredibly good purposes. (The key word in that sentence being “tools”)
Technology isn’t the problem, it’s our misuse of it. We’re plugging in from the moment our eyes open and only unplugging for as long as it takes to charge our phones and get a night’s sleep. We were created to live with margin and space — and it’s this margin and space I’m realizing I’m so often living without.
As I’ve become more and more aware of the unhealthy amount of attention I give to my phone, I’ve discovered that Jesus teaches more about this than you might would think.
Obviously, there weren’t iPhones and high-speed internet to contend with during His ministry on earth, but everywhere He went and everyone He met He gave a perfect example of how to serve others with full attention.
Young or old, rich or poor, believing or unbelieving — Jesus spent His entire ministry welcoming all ends of the spectrum. It didn’t matter if you were a dirty scam artist perched in a tree or a sick hurting woman crawling through a crowd — when you reached out to Jesus you were the full recipient of His focus.
Giving someone your full attention might seem like an unusual, yet simple, way to serve someone — but the art of paying attention is no doubt becoming increasingly rare. All these are easier said than done — I’m convicted to even be writing them — but here are a few practical ways to get started.
1. Put Your Phone Down
This might seem like a no-brainer, but if you will commit to being more conscious about it, I’m certain you will surprise yourself with how often you catch yourself staring at your phone while someone is talking. If your phone is in your hand during a conversation, it will be nearly impossible to not look at a notification that comes through. So, the safest thing to do is to just put it down until your conversation is over. Put in your pocket, put it on a table, or put it out of sight — but do whatever it takes to keep it from stealing your attention.
2. Listen With Your Eyes
Having you ever been talking to someone and it seemed like their attention was on everything but you? I can almost guarantee you they weren’t providing you with eye contact. Even if they weren’t looking at their phone a lack of eye contact often comes across as a lack of attention or care. When someone is talking, remember to always listen with your eyes. Of course, your eyes really can’t listen but hopefully that will help you to remember this all-important principle of making eye contact when hearing someone out.
3. Ask Questions
Asking a relevant, engaging question is the ultimate form of serving someone with your attention. It does more than show that you’re listening; it shows that you care. Taking the time to process what someone is saying and asking a thoughtful question proves to them that you’re invested in who they are and what they care about.
Timothy Keller, speaking on this subject has said, “The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.”
Serving with your attention may not seem as exciting or extravagant as serving with your hands, but I would have to argue that it can be just as holy and often times just as helpful.