Thursday, March 10, 2016

What Happens When We Notice

I was recently sharing with a former student that when I was in graduate school, the Lord showed me how important it was for me to put people first.

As a type-A individual and a highly focused and motivated student, I could spend hours immersed in homework and readings for my graduate courses. When a friend would ask me to go to coffee or lunch, I would cringe inside a little. A social encounter—a few hours of ‘fun’—was often not a part of my ‘to do’ list that day.

I was halfway through my master’s program when the Lord showed me His heart for people. I began to see in Scripture how much Jesus took the time to notice. He might be in a crowd, people pressing in all around Him, but He felt a tug at his garment. He might be tired and thirsty, but He saw the woman at the well—He looked deep into her soul.

He was never too busy to stop and delay His plans for the purpose of an immediate need: the person in front of Him right now.

So “people first” became my mantra in graduate school, but as I was talking to this former student about those early lessons of balancing graduate work with relationships, I realized that maybe I needed to reintroduce that mantra for my life today, in this season.

Although I do try to place people first—people I know—I don’t take the time to notice strangers. And usually not noticing has more to do with the distractions at my fingertips.

And by distractions, I mean my cell phone.

And by that, I mean Facebook. Or Twitter. Or what I can scroll through while I wait in line for these five minutes.

Last week my colleague and I took a group of students to a conference in Minneapolis, and on our first night, we heard Charles Baxter give a lecture as a prelude to talking about his book The Soul Thief.

He mentioned that the beautiful thing about being a writer is that we notice people—we pay attention to conversations. We notice behaviors and reactions. We listen to strangers and consider how they would appear as characters in our novel.

I always love to hear creative writers talk about their writing process because it reminds me that there are others like me—the people who hear dialogue and imagine characters and think of how every mundane encounter could be captured in a story.

But when I’m scrolling through Facebook, I’m not noticing.

Technology becomes not only distracting, but a barrier to the creative process.

When I’m too busy to notice, I’m not only self-focused and limiting my ability to minister to others, I’m also missing out and limiting my ability as a writer to capture the world with my imagination when I later put pen to paper (err, fingers to keyboard).

Jesus was never too busy. He was also flexible, willing to change His plans for the sake of people—for the sake of one person’s need.

I want to see people—strangers, too—as He does.

And as a writer, I want to capture people through His eyes for them.

But first, I’ve got to notice.

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