Saturday, March 19, 2016

Focus: Choosing where to Gaze

I recently heard a Christian speaker and writer, Karen Ehman, say that you can choose where you glance and where you gaze.  This really resonated with me, this description of choosing your focus in life. So let me share a story.

I used to hike.  A lot.  My husband and I went on some grand and somewhat hard-core adventures a few years back.  We enjoyed many beautiful high-altitude day hikes/climbs together in Desolation Wilderness near Lake Tahoe and in Yosemite, eventually ascending the top of Half Dome.  Yep.  I did that.  Wasn’t my natural habitat, but it was glorious to be out in nature and doing something out of my comfort zone with my beloved. 

However, I as recently recalled, when I first started doing some of these more challenging hikes, my tendency was to keep my eyes glued to the trail.  The rocky, unpredictable, steeply ascending path was fraught with potential rolled ankles and falls (in my then-inexperienced hiker brain), so I would spend literally hours looking down.  Making sure I was stepping where I needed to, fueled by fear of a misstep or of hurting myself in some way or hurtling off a cliff. 

In all of these excursions I followed my more-experienced hiker/Eagle Scout husband and watched where he was stepping, doing my best to do what he was doing.  All the while asking myself why was this something people did with their time. 

On one of many quick breathers/water breaks on one particularly hot California-in-July afternoon, I took a moment to look up.  And I was amazed.  The scenery around me was truly breathtaking.  Soaring pine trees, sheer granite, brilliant sunshine in lacy patterns filtered through tree branches.  None of which I had seen while staring intently at dirt and rocks. 

All day I had I followed my guide, but didn’t see the beauty around me.  I labored along, without the joy of the journey.  I chose to gaze where I should have glanced. I don’t mean I should NEVER look at where I’m putting my feet, that would be dangerous and foolhardy, but neither should I do that exclusively and miss all the grandeur of my surroundings. 

Glance at the dirt, gaze at the majesty of God’s creation: the lesson allowed me to truly LOVE hiking. 

But isn’t it easy to do that in life?  We slog through our days, doing our best to follow Jesus, but our gaze is fixed on the ground, on the hard things in life, rather than the beautiful things with which God surrounds us.  But we have a choice.  We just have to choose to look up. And be amazed. 
Even on the rockiest path, there is beauty and blessing to be found.   Glance at the hard things,  as we have to keep moving on, and gaze at the splendor God is putting in your life. 

Sometimes, though, we don’t feel like we have a choice, that we are forced into our focus.  My sweet 87-year-old mom shared an experience with me recently.  She described a very elderly woman who came into a restaurant with a couple of her friends helping her.  She said this poor woman’s spine was so bent that her shoulders and head were practically a right angle from her torso, forcing her to look at the floor at all times.  The woman was not able to raise her head to look around her, and had to rely on her friends to get her to the table. 

Have you ever felt stuck in your focus, unable to see anything but the dirt, the hard things in life?  Let me tell you, I have felt EXACTLY that way.  The woman in the restaurant physically had no choice but to gaze at her feet, at the ground, but sometimes I can feel so trapped in the overwhelming nature of the tough things of life, of my disappointment, of my pain, of my sadness, that I feel unable to look up, without a choice of where to focus, as though I can’t even begin to glance and see the good. 

Psalm 121: 1-2 says “I lift up my eyes to the hills- where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” 

When you are oh-so-stuck, can’t seem to get your eyes off the dirt and rocks, don’t miss it.  Don’t miss the opportunity for the Maker of heaven and earth to show you more.  There is so much more that He has for you than the path, rocky as it is.  He is your help.  He surrounds us with beauty in the pain, we just have to look up.

Lift up your eyes; don’t give up.  Choose, as Karen Ehman writes, where to glance and where to gaze.  

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