Don’t let your troubles steal attention away from the family, as hard and chaotic as things can be.
My wife and I have a common response when one asks what the other is thinking: “Thought stew.” This phrase recognizes that our minds contain a mix of topics, but it’s not a finely-grained blend. Instead, our thinking tends to be chunky: some time on this, some time on that.
Like stew, our thoughts also need time to cook before sharing.
Some disturbing ingredients have been added recently. Several family and friends have been diagnosed with cancers of one type or another. A young relative, a boy the same age as my own son, died in a freak accident. Unexpected drama has been created by people who are burning bridges after years of friendship, or who are trying to reappear in our lives after years of silence. We have new issues at each of our jobs, and old issues that remain unresolved; academic struggles with our school district; expensive home repairs; health issues; insomnia. And that doesn’t include the storms that brew beyond my little life, such as the American political scene or global issues of poverty and violence.
The sum is overwhelming.
Surely, some of my worries are from imagination running too far; as Thomas Jefferson asked, “How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened?” But many are simply fragments of life arriving all at once rather than at a pace I would prefer. As a result, I am regularly lost in thought. My mental stew, as it were, boils over and demands my attention.
This morning, my daughter was talking to me about something of great importance to her, and although my eyes were looking in her direction, my heart and mind were not. I had no idea what she was saying. I was distracted by my own thoughts. I also realized, with uncomfortable clarity, that this has become a problem in my conversations with my wife and son.
I am with them in body but not in spirit.
I am letting my troubles steal my attention from my family.
It is often said that love only matters when put into action. The Bible says, “Do not love with words or speech, but in action and truth” (1 John 3:18). Giving attention is one key action of love. But, my natural attention for my family is under increasing pressure to step aside. With my current state of mind, if I do not intentionally and willfully and regularly exercise my attention in the right direction, it may eventually be lost forever.
“Wherever you are, be all there,” advised Jim Elliot, and I constantly need that frame of mind. More importantly, my family needs me to have that frame of mind. If I don’t push back hard on the force of distracting worries, I am choosing them over my family.
Even though my focus requires more strength than before, don’t I love my family enough to make the effort?
This essay originally appeared on And I’m the Dad.
Photo: Claudia Heidelberger/Flickr