Profound words and statements are often spoken in the ordinary day-to-day of life, unprepared and unrehearsed. They become little nuggets of wisdom we commit to memory and often find ourselves passing along to others.
As a fifteen-year-old just learning to drive, I never would have guessed or probably cared that a phrase spoken during a lesson would have such a deep and lasting impact on my life well into adulthood.
With the seat and mirrors adjusted, seatbelt fastened, and hands at ten and two, I was ready for my first driving lesson. Learning the give and take of releasing the clutch and applying the gas proved difficult. The car would jerk and stall, leaving both the new driver and passenger frustrated. Finally, perhaps by way of a small miracle, I was able to consistently, albeit neither gracefully nor smoothly, get the car moving in first gear.
Staying between the rows of clearly marked parking spaces seemed easy enough, but the narrow focus of my inexperience required me to constantly redirect the car as it drifted off course.
“Look up. Be aware of your surroundings,” Dad said during one of my many course corrections. He was watching my eyes and noticed their laser focus on the piece of road directly in front of the car’s hood.
Dad knew that the focus of my eyes would determine the trajectory of the car. I needed to be aware of everything that was happening around me in order to see the larger picture of what was not only ahead but what was happening in my periphery as well. He knew that in looking up I would broaden my perspective to identify potential hazards and be able to make appropriate adjustments with plenty of time to avoid dangers. He knew that my awareness while driving would have to reach well beyond the hood of my own car.
A shift in focus can change one’s perspective. Just as it is the focus and attention of our eyes that determines the direction of a car, it is the focus of our care and concern that determines the trajectory of our lives. And, just as in driving, our decisions and actions affect others for better or for worse.
Life is hard and messy, making it easy to focus our attention on our own safety and comfort, to mind our own business, to look out for number one. We can become so consumed and entangled in our own problems that we neglect, or simply feel too overwhelmed, to care for others.
Philippians 2:3-4 reminds us that our propensity to focus our attention on ourselves is unbiblical.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
I read those verses and consider the word others. How often do I reserve my care and concern for those who are similar to myself? Do I seek to listen and find understanding among those with whom I do not easily relate?
Friends, we must be willing to look up and around. We must make ourselves aware of the needs of others whether they are like us or not. This world is a big place that stretches far beyond our own noses, our own communities, and our own experiences. Through the internet, our world has become more connected, and our boundaries have been expanded more than ever before.
Whether we are personally experiencing them or not, inequalities and injustices are happening every day. Are we willing to address these issues even when they are uncomfortable to hear and hard to discuss? Are we willing to concern ourselves with the concerns of others?
When we redirect our focus from ourselves to others we find that our perspective changes. We become more aware and can learn to yield our own opinions and dignify others by making space for every person and every voice.
Looking beyond ourselves creates a bond that reminds us that we are all in this together — that every issue, whether directly or indirectly, affects us all. Because when we genuinely start taking an interest in others, we see the imago Dei (image of God) uniquely reflected in each face. I pray that we all learn to look out for one another, allowing compassion and grace to guide us in moving forward together.
Look up more and take notice of your surroundings. Make the necessary course corrections. Repeat often for best results.