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How Do You Focus on What Matters Most?

Dec 9, 2014

It was nearly noon on a warm June day. My dad was in the driver’s seat as our family traveled from our home in Las Vegas, Nevada to visit my grandparents in Roswell, New Mexico. As we passed through a one gas-station town in Northern Arizona along Interstate 40, my mom asked, “Honey, do you need any coffee?” “Nope,” my dad replied, “I’m good.” Just a few minutes later, as the tape we were listening to ended and the car got quiet, my dad nodded off to sleep.

Our car hit the wake-up bumps and my dad over-corrected, taking our car towards the underbelly of a passing 18-wheeler. Amazingly, he corrected again, sending us careening off the road at 70 miles an hour. We went down an embankment, hitting a highway sign. Our brown Ford Taurus went flyng in the air, flipping twice. We came crashing down on the drivers side, skidding to a halt.

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By a miracle of God’s grace, we were all still in our seats. We were able to undo our seatbelts and climb out the back window which had been broken out upon impact. As we assessed each other on the side of the road, we could only find bumps, bruises and some small cuts. Later, we heard that a highway patrol officer had pulled up to the scene and asked where the dead bodies were, expecting to find corpses. Upon someone pointing to the four of us, he said, “Wow, that’s a miracle.”

A generous stranger gave us a ride into Flagstaff, the closest city of any size. After getting a rental car, we went to the emergency room, so we could check everyone out. It was in that ER that I discovered I had myopia (near-sightedness). A cut over my eye led the doctor to do a quick vision test to make sure no damage had been done. My vision was so bad that if the doctor held four fingers under the chart, I would have told him he was holding up two.

My mom was shocked and asked me, “Scott, have you had a problem seeing the board at school?” I am told that I replied, “Yeah, but I just sit in the front row or go up and take a closer look after the teacher is done writing.” A few weeks later, I got my first pair of glasses and it was amazing what I could now see.

Another miracle came my way when a friend who happens to be a superb eye surgeon encouraged me to consider corrective surgery. In the spring of 2011, I had a procedure done that is known as Verisyse. Similar to a lens replacement with a cataract replacement, Dr. McCulloch placed a new lens over my myopic lens, in each of my eyes. My corrected vision today is a combined 20/15.

Today, I wake up every morning without the need for glasses. The gift of sight is an amazing blessing and I regularly wake up thanking God for a car accident that helped me see better and a friend whose expertise freed me from glasses and contacts.

After all that gratitude, can I make a confession to you?

I still struggle with my ability to focus, especially on the things that matter most. In many areas of my life, I am still like my 9 year old self, battling foggy vision, unable to see in class and assuming that it is just normal.

I struggle keeping my focus where it needs to be when…

-A snarky and mean-spirited email distracts me from the success I could be celebrating.
-A small group of naysayers speak in a “loud voice”, leading me to believe that EVERYONE is against the new thing.
-I read fearful and critical posts on my Facebook feed, convincing me that everything is NOT awesome and I should be afraid.
-The voice in my head says, “No one wants to read what you have to write or listen to what you have to say. What makes you think you have something to offer?”
-I compare where I am to someone else far ahead of me and think, “Man, I am never going to get good at this.”

Do you ever struggle with those kinds of distractions? Do you ever battle voices in your life (or in your own head) that take your focus off where it should be and sidetrack you in a different direction?

This year, I pursued focus – with a mixture of failure and success. Along the way, I have learned a lot – more from failure than success. When I find myself in a great season of focus, it is these same few things I credit.

-Settle on what matters most to you.
It is difficult to focus when we haven’t established what is worthy of our focus. When we do not know what matters most, we say yes and no to the wrong things. I have learned that every time I say yes I’m also saying no to something else. Every time I say no, I’m repeating my yes. It is easier to know what not to focus on when you know where you want your focus to be. Until we establish what matters most, it is hard to know what matters least.

-Meditate on the right things.
I love how Eugene Peterson renders the Apostle Paul’s words from Philippians 4:8 in his work, The Message.

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.

We get to choose what we fill our minds with and many of us choose poorly. While we cannot ignore the worst, the ugly or things to curse, we must fill our minds with and meditate on the right things, which lead us to be sources of light and not darkness.

-Turn off negative inputs.
During my greatest battle with focus, I realized that I had been accepting a lot of negative inputs. I became overwhelmed by “the worst…the ugly…things to curse” during a season where I sought out negative and critical voices. I had to stop reading certain authors for a long season. If you find yourself in this spot, you may need to delete emails from certain people upon their arrival. You might need to block certain friends in your social media feeds.

By disempowering these distractions, you stop the flow of negative and distracting things, enabling your focus to face less opposition.

-Look back to see how far you’ve come.
Perspective is difficult. Most of us are so caught up in where we are and where we want to go, we rarely look back and see how far we’ve come. Recently, I was feeling disappointed by my inability to achieve certain goals within the timeline I had originally laid out. I began feeling a sense of defeat that this year had been one where I had not accomplished enough. I lost focus on what I was working on as this depressing and defeating train of thought diverted me.

Luckily, I had an idea. I opened up a document on my computer and made a list of all that you accomplished this year. Eighteen items later, I changed my mind and gave thanks for all I had been able to do by God’s grace. I returned to the project at hand with a new sense of empowerment.

-Empower someone who is healthy to speak truth into your life.
We are not always in a healthy place to see clearly. Whether it is fatigue or depression or stress or grief or physical pain or bitterness, our view gets cloudy. We all need someone who feels 100% empowered to speak truth in our lives. It helps if this person is healthy themselves.

Think about it. Who has permission and responsibility for telling you the truth? Do they know that? In writing this section, I realized that I think those people know they are empowered but I am going to ask them this week to make sure they feel 100% empowered.

Thinking back to my experience in that flipping Ford Taurus, the ability to focus is a gift – a miracle even. Having not been able to focus (both with my eyes and with my life), I greatly appreciate focus when I discover it. We have each been created with a purpose, to live a certain life. Having walked away from an accident where someone asked where the dead bodies were, I know that my life has meaning and purpose. If you don’t, I hope it doesn’t take a near-death experience to convince you. Do what it takes to eliminate the voices and distractions that would sidetrack you from the life you were created to live.

Focus on what matters most.

Do you struggle to focus on what matters most? Did one of these steps resonate with you? Share a comment below about how you will eliminate distractions in your life.

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