August 2, 2011

Focus


I'm a half-full.  Well, most of the time.  At least, I like to think so.

At those moments when I'm most honest with myself, though, I'd have to consider myself a realist, one who hangs out at the mid-point.  I want to be optimistic about situations, especially difficult ones, but that practical gene kicks in and I see the possibilities, both good and bad, in the harsh light of reality. Unfortunately, it may leave me appearing rather skeptical and even downright cynical more often than I'd like to admit.

I have a good, very good, friend who I have dubbed my 'most optimistic' friend. She always hopes for the best and embraces the good outcome no matter what the circumstance.  I need her in my life, that's for sure! She is always fighting the good fight, walking the narrow path and just figures everyone else is doing the same.  Now, that's not to say that I don't scoff at her shining optimism on a regular basis...I most certainly do.  There are also times, on occasion, when I have lovingly caught hold of her string and coaxed her back down to reality with the rest of us earth-dwellers.  She's OK with it...for the most part.

I have another friend, my dear, sweet Padawan, who is self-admittedly half-empty.  It's not a bad thing, it's just a thing.  Somehow, she always gets a rock...at least, that what we laugh about frequently.  Me, the realist, has to reach down and grab her pessimistic hand and pull her back up onto solid ground.  And she's not the only half-empty I have close to me.  It's not something to view as a fault; sometimes, our life experiences teach us to expect the worst, to wait for the other shoe to drop and brace ourselves for the inevitable blow because that is what has always come to pass.  Understandable, to be sure.

I wonder if the Apostle Paul was a half-empty.  He certainly had the experiences to lead him to think that things were certainly not going to go his way.  But perhaps he was a half-full, pushing on with high hopes despite his circumstances.  I could easily see that, as well.

But, I'd like to think of him as a realist, looking at the facts and keeping his feet on solid ground regardless of what is happening around him - which would have been no easy feat, I'm sure.  I have to speculate that his own words were a type of therapy for him, bolstering his resolve, keeping his perspective where it should have been.  Listen to his words recorded in his letter to the Philippians (ch. 4):
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me--practice these things, and the G-d of peace will be with you."

In good Hebrew fashion, we get a list of things to be sought after.  Always, these types of lists make me want to unpack those heavy concepts, to get the full flavor of what the author is asking of us.

Whatever is true.  Truth.  Whatever lines up with Scripture, because that is the straight measure of truth.  The truth that the LORD is our protector, our provider and our deliverer, that He has our best interests at heart.  The truth that all things have been ordered and ordained by the One who created us and gave us breath.  The truth that we can do nothing, no thing, without His power.

Whatever is honorable.  Whenever I hear the word honor, I immediately jump to Exodus and the fifth commandment of  honoring your parents.  Honor means to hold in high regard or esteem highly; whatever is honorable, focus on those things.  And, as we have all heard; what you honor increases, what you dishonor diminishes.  Focus on those around you that are walking in an honorable way, worthy of respect and esteem.  Whatever is true, and right and good...honorable.

Whatever is just.  Justice.  So many times in our lives things are not fair or right in anyway.  People let us down, don't do what they should, or could, or circumstances flip in unbelievable and heart-breaking ways.  Justice is thwarted due to pride, hard-heartedness or fear.  Paul doesn't want us to focus on those things, but exhorts us to set our sights on that which is just and right.  Think on these things, he says; so, what does justice look like?  Is it heavy-handed, legalistic, even cruel?  Or is it objective, gentle, merciful and kind?  OK, so that was a rhetorical question, but I want to believe that we all rejoice when justice is served and those who are at fault have come to repentance and restoration.

Whatever is pure.  Purity in thought and purity in motive.  Honest love, gentle kindness for the sake of loving each other is pure.  Sharing life together and bearing one another's burden is pure.  Banishing selfishness and giving to others is pure and right.  It is oftentimes difficult for us to find purity in this fallen world, but according to Paul, it is worthy of the search and focus.

Whatever is lovely.  Ah, yes.  Let's focus on whatever is lovely, shall we?  The warming sunrise and the glorious sunset.  The ocean's crashing waves and beautiful leafy trees swaying in a lovely summer breeze.  A baby's coo and the sigh of togetherness when friends hug in greeting.  The smile in the eyes of an man that has seen life, and laughter...sweet, lovely, healing laughter. Revelation from the Ruach when studying together is lovely, is it not?  And the shared look between close souls is most certainly lovely beyond measure. Further, the natural outcome of focusing on loveliness is gratitude.  It is right to give lavish gratitude to the One who gives us all good things and Who is more than worthy of our praise and humble thanksgiving.

Whatever is commendable.  Commendable is defined as deserving praise. We are to focus on those things and people that deserve praise.  Would that be like giving verbal appreciation to others?  I would like to think so. Focus on building up instead of tearing down.  Looking to affirm rather than watching to judge, criticize or condemn.  I suppose you could meditate on what is praiseworthy around you without expressing it, and we all do that at times, I'm sure.  But how much more edifying is it to those around us if we look for those things that are commendable and share our view?

If there is any excellence...  Exceedingly good and right.  Excellence in word and action.  Excellence in productivity, in striving to do good deeds, in relationships.  Focus on the best, work for the best, appreciate the best.  I like that he states it differently from the other components of the list, stating "if" there is any excellence.  This makes me think that finding excellence takes some effort, as if it's rather rare.  For me, that makes it even more imperative to strive for excellence in all that I do and say.  Excellence in how I serve.  Excellence in how I love those put beside me.

If there is anything worthy of praise...  The words 'worthy of praise' takes me right to the Master Himself.  He is the One who is worthy of all praise, honor and exaltation.  His working in the lives of others is worthy of my praise. His attendance to the hurting, comforting the lost, healing the broken-hearted is definitely worthy of my praise. Here we have the 'if' given again, alerting me to the fact that I need to be actively seeking to find things worthy of praise, worthy of appreciation, worthy of gratitude.

"Practice these things, and the G-d of peace will be with you."

Practice; the process of doing something repeatedly until it becomes second-nature.  So familiar that it is a natural response. Putting our sights on the pure things, the good things, the things worthy of our praise, honor and commendation puts us in good stead for continually praising the One who has our lives in His ever-capable hands (which is exactly what our friend Paul had in mind, I'm sure). And knowing that He has our lives in His hands gives a peace that goes beyond human understanding.  The peace that our LORD gives is not a lack of turmoil or trouble, but that soul-deep knowing that He is our salvation. Thankfully, He knows the ending of it all, as He is the beginning and the end.

And that is the reality of it, from the realist who stands with her beloved half-full and half-empty friends with pleasure and humble honor.  We need each other, and we all can exhort each other to think on these things.  Happily so.

4 comments:

Barb said...

I appreciate your words. They inspire me to live a life worthy of our calling. I like that we are not only to THINK about these things, but PRACTICE these things. Thank you for spurring me on...

Ari C'rona said...

Hey, my dear friend, you grabbed my pessimistic hand just now and pulled me back to the reality of where my focus needs to be. Thanks!

I love you!

Mama Cache said...

I'm smiling, my friend. You know I want to practice these things with you.

Baqash said...

I have a photo of my late sidekick Pepper. She is digging a hole as fast as she can and has her head about buried in it. Later, when I saw it on the big screen of the computer, I could see many yards behind her the goal of her digging. Some sort of gopher was standing fully erect watching her. Until I changed my focus I didn't see the gopher. Pepper was so intent on what she thought was the right trail, she was unaware of what was right behind her.

Focus.