Why what we focus on matters

My three year old ate the tip off her red pepper at lunch yesterday, and then spent the next 10 minutes methodically trying to pick every seed from the pepper stem with her little toddler fingers. After watching her for several minutes, my mom finally said, “Let me show you how I eat a pepper. Focus on the parts you want to eat instead of the parts you don’t want to eat.” My mom quickly separated the flesh of the pepper from the stem, flicked a couple of seeds off, and viola! It was ready to eat. A minute later, the pepper was in my little one’s tummy, and she was moving on to her carrots.

I found myself reflecting on my mom’s statement as we finished lunch. It seems so obvious, doesn’t it? Rather than picking out every little seed, you just eat the part you want and throw away the stem with the seeds still attached. It’s faster, it’s cleaner, and it’s way easier. Right?

But it doesn’t just apply to peppers; it also applies to life.

When you focus on the best parts of your life, rather than the worst parts, life will be better. When you focus on what you want, rather than what you don’t want, you’ll move toward what you want faster. When you focus on what you want rather than what you don’t want in relationships, your relationships will be better.

I’ve watched my mom live this out. She has walked through really hard circumstances throughout her life. In fact, she’s walking through some right now. But rather than focusing on what all is going wrong, she’s choosing to focus on what’s going right. Instead of focusing on her loss, she’s focusing on her blessings. Is she denying reality or stuffing her emotions? No. She’s dealing with them. They’re real. They’re crummy. But what’s also real is that she woke up this morning with breath in her lungs. She lives in a country where she has clean water in her tap and plenty of food at the store. She’s healthy, and has parents and children and grandchildren and a brother who adore her. She has good friends who love her, a Savior who died for her, and the beauty of creation all around her. She could be in the pits of despair if she was focusing on “picking out” all the things she doesn’t want. But why spend your life focusing on the less desirable parts, when there’s so much beauty and goodness to enjoy? She’s bravely choosing to focus on her blessings and trusting her God to redeem the rest.

Parenting is a daily exercise in this, too. When I focus on helping direct my children into the girls I hope they will be (good listeners, kindhearted, self-disciplined, loving, brave, strong, good communicators, eager learners, servant-hearted, and faith-filled), rather than focusing on and reacting to behaviors or characteristics I don’t want, my children do better. They are happier, more peaceful and we move toward our goals faster. Do they mess up? Sure. Are there still behaviors and characteristics that need addressed? Absolutely. They’re not perfect. They’re kids! But when we quickly address the negative and quickly get back to the positive, our days are better. When I treat them like they’re kindhearted, self-disciplined, loving, brave, strong, servant-hearted, faith-filled, eager-learning girls who are good listeners, they’re more likely to become that. In our house, proactive parenting is so much more peace-filled than reactive parenting, and keeps us moving toward our goal of raising kind, brave, strong, self-disciplined young women.

This is true in relationships, too. I recently listened to a sermon by one of my favorite preachers that touched on this. With his credentials in marriage and family counseling, he said he’s seen this first hand over and over and over. When someone continually focuses on what they don’t want their spouse to do, it often ends up happening. He once counseled a couple where the wife was so worried and focused on the husband not cheating, that he eventually cheated. (I’m not saying that’s OK. Ever. Regardless of what our spouse does, we’re all responsible for our own choices and ultimately responsible to the high calling of righteousness that we have in Christ Jesus.) But by continually focusing on her husband not cheating, she missed the beauty and happiness of their faithful marriage, and what she focused on eventually happened. This might be an extreme case, but the concept is often true. We need to focus on and speak what we want in relationships, not what we don’t want. There’s no sense in spending the time “picking out” everything you don’t want when the beauty of your relationship is right there to enjoy.

The crazy thing is, we all get that choice. And it’s new every day, and actually, every moment. We get to choose in that moment, what we’re going to focus on. And that choice is always ours. No matter what is going on in our life, no matter how crummy is feels, no matter how the other person is acting, we always have a choice in the matter. We always get to choose what we focus on and how we respond. We always have a choice in what we’re going to speak. Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” There is power to create in the words we speak. And in Matthew 15:18 we see that our words come from what’s in our heart. So the thoughts we think, the things we focus on, turn into our words, and our words carry power. We need to focus on, think about, and speak what we want, not what we don’t want. With so, so many blessings in our lives (clean water, plentiful food, a safe place to live, religious freedom, life, health, healthy family members, friends, church family, maybe a car, a job, enough money to keep us fed and a roof – a real roof with shingles – over our head, etc., etc.), there’s no sense spending our time and our energy picking out all the things that aren’t ideal, when we could simply enjoy the best parts.

It was just a simple pepper, a grandma’s simple teaching moment, and simple lunchtime thoughts, but when we’re on the lookout for the good, we find it everywhere.

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