The Power of Attention
Attention is one of the most powerful forces in the world. Along with food and water, a baby needs the attentive gaze of a human face. A baby lies in the crib and smiles, the face smiles back, and the baby realizes that someone is watching, is responding, that what the baby does counts. The baby’s joy or anger or sorrow is reflected in the face of another. Psychologists speak of this as attunement. The baby realizes it is possible to be somehow connected to—in tune with—another human being. This face becomes the mirror through which the child learns whether it is a source of delight or disappointment. A child simply cannot survive without the face. The face is what tells the baby that it matters.
One of the great miracles of life is that God pays attention to us. This is partly why the writers of Scripture speak so often of God’s face. This is the hope of the great priestly blessing that God himself taught the people of Israel:
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26, NIV)
To turn your face toward someone is to give that person your whole-hearted, undivided attention. It is not the casual listening of a preoccupied mind. It is a statement: “I have nothing else to do, nowhere I’d rather be. I’m fully devoted to being with you.” This is the kind of attention God lavishes on us. It gets better. This blessing says God will not only turn his face toward us, he will make it “shine” on us. The shining face is an image of delight. It is the face of a proud parent beaming while a child plays in her first piano recital. It is the radiant face of a bride as she walks the aisle to her groom. We can turn our face toward (pay attention to) anyone, with a little effort. But our faces shine and beam and grow radiant only in the presence of those we love most deeply. And this, says the prayer, is how God loves us. God pays attention to us.
The God of the Bible is the God who notices. “O LORD, you have searched me and known me,” the psalmist says. There is not the smallest detail of your life that is not of immense interest to God. Jesus was convinced of this. This is why he said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31, NIV) By the way, if you miss Jesus’ wonderful playfulness in his last phrase, you miss the whole point. Jesus noticed how anxiety robs us of life: Does anyone notice? we wonder. Does anyone care? So he points out the Father’s ceaseless attentiveness to sparrows—about the least expensive creature people might buy in his day. So don’t worry, he gently teases. You are worth quite a few sparrows.
How many sparrows would it take to equal the value of your life in God’s eyes? Put every sparrow that has ever flown on one side of the scales, you on the other, and God will take you every time. If God attends to every mishap in any moment of every sparrow’s life, try to imagine how closely he attends to you.