Up Front and Personal

Attention in an Age of Distraction

By Laura Kelly Fanucci

“Behold” is my favorite word in Scripture. Every time it shows up, we’re summoned to snap to attention and take notice. God is about to do something new.

Let’s not miss it.

But how can we behold what God is doing when we’re caught in a culture of constant distraction at our fingertips?

I could cite statistics for you; we’ve all read them. If you’re like me, your stomach sinks whenever you hear how much time we now spend on screens.

I could draw from neuroscience or psychology, the latest findings on how our closest relationships and basic interactions are being reshaped by our technology habits.

But instead I will tell you a story.

While I was trying to finish this column on a steamy summer afternoon with a house full of children, I was interrupted every three to five minutes to witness their latest elaborate domino race.

“You have to see this!” a messenger would insist at my office door. “It’s so much better than the last one.”

So I’d smile, leave my work, follow them and witness what they wanted me to see.

The first few rounds were delightful. But after an hour of interruption after interruption, I started to get annoyed. Agitation crept into my voice: “Guys, I have to finish this. Can I work for 10 minutes and then take a break to see what you’ve made?”

Blank stares, as if I were speaking a foreign language.

All they wanted was my attention in the present moment. If I couldn’t give it then, did it matter?

So I sighed and left my computer to watch the same line of dominos knock down neatly one by one as kids cheered. Right then it clicked in my mind, too: Why not ask the ones who wanted my attention what it meant to them?

“Use an example from a baseball game,” suggested my oldest son. “You have to pay attention or you might get hit in the face by a foul ball.” Fair enough.

But then his younger brother knocked it out of the park: “You just have to look at someone and stay focused on them.”

Beholding is holy looking, the spiritual practice of paying attention. Trying to glimpse with God’s eyes. Seeking the goodness in each other and the sacredness of the present moment.

You can start small. Simply stop once a day and notice those around you as they are. Not as you hope they will be in the future or as you wish they were in the past. But beholding them fully in the present and noticing God alive in them today.


Fanucci is a mother, writer and the director of a project on vocation at the Collegeville Institute in Collegeville, Minn. She is a guest columnist for Catholic News Service.

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