I’m sitting in bed with a sore throat and body aches, writing. Writing helps avoid focusing on how crummy I feel. My son just got over a twelve day bout of bronchitis, and then we cut our Thanksgiving holiday in the country short when my husband got a soaring fever, and a lingering cough suddenly got out of control, keeping him up throughout several nights — pneumonia it turns out.
The last few days he’s been lying on the couch, pumped up with steroids to help stimulate his breathing which had become scary shallow. Ultra-cranky about spending his much needed four-day Thanksgiving vacation alternating between sweats and chills, with that hacking, chronic cough, and loss of sleep, he suddenly became like a wild, highly agitated dog with rabies, blurting out some serious, whining, flailing arms and legs and all, a wail buried underneath a tangled knot of frustration. He’d been dreaming about hiking in the Sierra National Forest, excited to show us the big trees — the Sequoias, and relieved to be breaking free from the stale routine of office life for a few days out in the fresh country air.
No go on that one.
After almost 2 weeks playing Florence Nightingale for my son, who turned 18-years old while sick and sweating on the same couch (anyone with a teenager knows how fun that is), only the Holy Spirit could fill me with patience and compassion for my husband facing this temporary, but nasty illness. I whispered, “focus on prayer instead”.
Bless his heart, he listened. Sinking into the couch with mellowed breaths deepening, he turned into the sweetest angel you can ever imagine.
In filmmaking, the term ‘rack focus’ means changing the camera lens’ focus from an image in the foreground, to an image behind it, or vice versa. The idea is focusing our camera lens in a scene where we most want to draw attention. For him, it meant rack focusing from angst to the comfort of prayer, which in film terms, would also mean changing the focus of the story to a more positive outlook.
Consider the idea of making a movie about what we focus on in our lives.
For instance, I know a person who spent much of her adult life focusing on keeping up with the Jones’. She long ago gave up a religious life. Breaking the commandment Do Not Covet spoke volumes about the main plot line of her life. Although her neighbor had a bigger and better house with a swimming pool, day in and day out, obsessed about creating a home like her neighbor’s house, she even decorated her kitchen and dining room with the same wallpaper. She’d spend hours upon hours neglecting her children while shopping for outfits and trying on clothes in front of mirrors, preparing for the neighbor’s weekly Friday night gourmet dinner parties, and spending more hours at the beauty parlor getting her hair done in a style just like her neighbor’s hair. Throughout the day she sipped vodka from the bottle.
If her life was a movie, you can imagine the ending. In real life, it didn’t turn out well. She ended up addicted and on the streets. This mind you was a suburban mother with a nice house.
Although this is a true story with extreme lessons about rack focus, even if we’re focusing on everyday worrisome issues and stressors in our own lives, God is surely blurry in the background.
With God out of focus, the vibrant fruits of the spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control, muted, also fade into the background of our days.
I make it a practice in my life to keep the presence of God my focus which always brings peace, harmony within my relationships, and abounding faith. But, without realizing, my focus often shifts. Recently, I found myself worrying about my changing livelihood, with a tinfoil-chewing kind of anxiety sharpening into focus which changed the whole tone of my days. I became depressed, lost patience, and four days seemed blended into one long, gray, lost day, precious moments missed, blurred in the background.
Thankfully, before bed one night I picked up Brennan Manning’s book on the side table by my bed, The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus, and read:
“Jesus says that if you will let the real God come into your life, then you will experience a huge freedom from anxiety over survival, not of the usual concerns over livelihood that will furrow your brow or weigh you down.”
Ahh! His words allowed for a simple rack focus back into God’s loving embrace, to the peace that surpasses all understanding, to the floating on a cloud like comfort that God brings, even amidst storms, weather shifts, and uncertainty.
It’s in such racking focus in our lives that we return.
Jesus always reminds us to return. The kingdom of God is at hand! Right where we are. In our midst. Within.
When our focus is other than on God, not only do we miss the grace before us, we also project onto 70mm wide screens of our lives, stories filled with dramas of worries, turmoil, relationship troubles, lies, workaholism and lost opportunities. Such stories might not be as extreme and dire as the lives of those portrayed in the movies like Wall Street and Goodfellas, but surely, what’s in focus will dominate the screen of our lives. Don’t we want our movies filled with stories of grace and happy endings?
In seeking first the kingdom of God – everything changes.
“The thought of my pain and my homelessness is bitter poison. I think of it constantly, and my spirit is depressed. Yet hope returns when I remember this one thing: The Lord’s unfailing love and mercy still continue, fresh as the morning, as sure as the sunrise.” Lamentations 3:19-25
What’s in sharp focus of your life today?
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