Many years ago, when the summer winds blew through our willow tree, my daughter would sit outside with a piece of paper and paintbrushes and begin her work.
Reds, blues, and yellows swirled together on the blank sheet in front of her, soaking into the paper, dripping off the sides onto the grass.
Her artwork was her masterpiece.
With stained hands she worked to create something. Absorbed in her project, she focused until she was done, until the sheet was covered in color, bright jewel tones of wet lines and shapes. Her focus was singular: on painting and nothing else, not the weather, or the day or even me.
Like a child waking up from a dream, she glanced away from her masterpiece with eyes seeing the world around her for the first time since she started painting. It had been there the whole time, but she was fully absorbed, focused only on her work.
It was a lesson on focus for my own distracted life. My attention is split into a dozen different directions: a list of things scribbled onto a piece paper, dishes piled up in sinks, the towels that need washing, the paperwork left unfinished. Even my thoughts are scattered. I print out organizational charts and read articles on decluttering.
Perhaps my problem isn’t decluttering my house, but myself, I think. Maybe the real issue is being torn in too many directions to focus on one thing.
The focused mind is the uncluttered mind, untethered from distractions, free to experience His gifts even in the midst of our work. Suddenly there is an awareness of the day’s goodness, a focus on gratitude, the blessings emerging like soft light in the morning.
This is the gift of having a single focus.
Yet how can a person, whether mother, wife, husband, father, businessman, teacher, or anyone else focus on just a single thing? Isn’t the whole idea of simplicity an old-fashioned concept—something that’s become so out-of-date because our lives are jam packed? How is there any way to focus on one thing without having your whole life fall down?
Yet life was not any less fractured one hundred years ago. Some of my kin were farmers. They got up early and fed the animals and worked the land and did dishes by hand and cleaned clothes the hard way. Was their list of demands any less than mine?
Yet the Christian life calls us to focus, to make one thing our life’s work: Christ alone.
Christ alone—instead of a thousand daily distractions.
Christ alone—instead of carrying all these burdens myself.
There is still work to be done, but the focus changes our perspective.
Focusing on one thing means saying no to other things, to stuff that fills your time but leaves the soul empty. It means giving up control, trusting that if you focus on the One thing, everything else will work itself out.
It’s remembering that in the end all that will matter is Christ alone.
So what if I opened my hands to let go of everything but the one thing? Instead of just reading Jesus’ words, what if I embraced them?
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
This weekend in a church with stain glass windows and soaring rafters, a group of people read this:
Father we confess to you that we operate so much of the time with hard hearts and cluttered minds.
Those words stuck hard in my mouth. My own cluttered mind had become an accepted part of my life; I didn’t even recognize how comfortable I had become with it.
That’s when I felt the nudge of guilt—aware that a cluttered mind feels like a constant state, like an extra ten or twenty pounds I’m carrying around. Is this how all the bad stuff of life feels, how worry, fear, and guilt bear down on us like a weight we can’t throw off?
I don’t want to get to the end of this life and realize I spent a lifetime lugging around this bag of bricks instead of focusing on what really matters.
Yet, this baggage is comfortable. It’s what I do.
How do I give up the old habits to take on the new?
A change of attitude must be a daily process of letting go, of choosing rest and light burdens rather than the pressures of each day.
It means choosing simplicity over a fragmented, distracted life.
It means opening up my closed fists.
It means stopping to say thank you for these gifts that are only found in the beauty of small moments, missed by the anxious mind.
Even now when my daughter paints, she is still intently focused, her small hands creating beauty while the minutes pass unnoticed. There are no distractions. No regrets. Only this.