Call it lack of discipline, call it over-stimulation; whatever it may be, I have a hard time focusing. Like a really hard time. I’m not sure which comes first —maybe my lack of focus is an offshoot of anxiety, or maybe my inattention brings about anxious, racing thoughts — but I know that my brain chatters in incessant streams that flow in a thousand different directions.
Recently, I stumbled across the word merimna, a Greek noun that translates to “anxiety.” Merimna means to be in pieces — to have a mind that is divided, distracted, and distressed. When I heard this word my heart screamed, “YES, this is how I feel.”
I jumped at the word because I used to live in merimna. It was a disorganized mess, overrun with hoarded piles of fears and regrets and I constantly felt overwhelmed by the clutter.
I became familiar with its dirty windows and cracked walls, accustomed with its creaks and crevices; so much so, that when I encountered Jesus, his love didn’t just give me a warm, fuzzy feeling — it pierced me to the core. It wasn’t a love of this world. I knew it was His hand on my shoulder, breaking down my walls, overturning the tables of His temple I had tainted. His hand was inviting me into a new home of his Holy Spirit where the only thing I wanted to do was sit at His feet.
I recognized His presence because His stillness is one that contrasts my heart so starkly. I am weak but He is steadfast. My affections are fickle but His love endures. I am full of sin but He is full of grace. The natural state of my heart is so inconsistent, so unreliable, but I have a God who is unshakable. I’m compelled to fix my eyes on Him; and when I do so, He pours and pours buckets of joy into my heart. He surrounds me with his peace and stills my soul. The atmosphere changes and everything that once seemed important and urgent begins to fade and fade and fade, until all I see and know and love is Him.
But sometimes I lose sight of Him. I flit from one glimmer of cheap hope to the next and the gospel fades into the background. Rather than fixate on His face, I give it a sudden glance.
I don’t think the enemy’s objective is to steal our salvation — it’s to distract us, to occupy our minds, to keep our eyes darting to and fro from one object to the next. He aims to steal our focus so it’s diverted from the gospel and dispersed into 300 other flashing things.
When Jesus visited the house of Mary and Martha, Martha was so fretful about the preparations that she missed the one thing she really needed: “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42)
Like Martha, I’m prone to take my eyes off the One who I really, truly, desperately to behold. My gaze is averted and then I forget.
I forget that I’ve been set free.
The boundless joy that can only point to Him is obscured by trivial frustrations. It’s pushed to the background. Our eyes lose sight of the gospel and we stop spreading the good news that this weary world needs to hear. We stop ministering to those broken hearts that desperately need to encounter Jesus.
By my own willpower, I’m unable to wipe out all the distractions that keep me in bondage — I’m in constant need of His grace to pour out over me and redirect my focus back to Him. I don’t trust in my wayward heart but I trust in His goodness and I want to gaze upon that glory forever.
What I can do is sit at His feet every day. I can ask the Father to help me focus my eyes and fix them on His word; I can read it, study it, and meditate on His truth. I can call upon the Lord in thanksgiving and prayer, and I can humbly approach His throne as a child in desperate need of His grace. Rather than focusing on my own sin, I can gaze at His face and be fully satisfied in Him.
I’m forever undone by a God that looks at my heart, full of hate, bent on destruction, and says “child, give it to me.”
I’m in awe of a God who sees my coveting eyes, so full of jealousy, and says “dearly beloved, look at me.”
With nudges of grace, the God of mercy beckons me, over and over, to center my heart on Him. He continues to strip away the dead parts of me that aren’t for Him, everything that separates me from Him. He continues to call my fragmented merimna heart into the fullness of his presence. And when I catch even a glimpse of his goodness, I’m hard-pressed to find something so striking, so captivating, so beautiful.
He calls me, again and again, singing “child, you are looking for the answers when I am the answer.”
The refrain of the old hymn “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” has become my anthem in this season. I’m praying for a focused heart that listens to His voice and seeks His face in the midst of chaos and confusion. I want to exchange everything for a few moments at the feet of the Messiah, enraptured by his glory, captivated by His words. I want a heart so smitten with Jesus that I can’t take my eyes off of Him.
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus / look full in his wonderful face / and the things of the earth will grow strangely dim / in the light of his glory and grace”