Paying attention and not paying attention

I strive to pay attention in church. I thought it was hard when I was younger, when I didn’t really understand a lot of what the pastor would drone on and on about teach about. I liked the singing part because I liked singing and enjoyed hearing the people around me sing. But the sitting still and listening part was a little difficult. I drew pictures on the bulletins, sat next to friends and wrote notes back and forth, daydreamed, and thought about lunch.

I remember one time trying to bring Super Fudge by Judy Blume to church, probably because I’d seen a younger child reading a book during the service, and I thought that would be okay. It’d keep me quiet and entertained. My parents weren’t having it. I felt bad for trying to pull something like that at the age of ten, when I was completely capable of siting still. My mom made my leave it in the car, and to this day I can’t think of Judy Blume without feeling a small modicum of guilt. I knew better.

The songs were my favorite part. Even before we went to our church, where music is important and done well and given lots of attention, I knew the words to the songs and liked singing along. We went to a hymn sing at our church one night, and I desperately wanted to suggest “Shine, Jesus, Shine” when they started taking requests, but I couldn’t get up the courage to suggest it. I whispered it to my mom, kind of just so someone else would know what I wanted to sing, and she said (OUT LOUD), “Ashley wants to sing ‘Shine, Jesus, Shine’.” Thus, I was outed, but then we sang that song.

Shine, Jesus, Shine. 

Fill this land with the Father’s glory.

Blaze, Spirit, blaze. 

Set our hearts on fire.

Flow, river, flow. 

Flood the nations with grace and mercy.

Send forth your word, Lord

And let there be light.

See? It’s a good one.

The songs we sing in church are still meaningful to me. And I can now sit perfectly still during the sermon, look like I’m paying attention, and on a regular basis actually be paying attention. If I think of something I need to do later, I write it down and put it out of my mind. I try not to think about lunch or how badly I want to take a nap that afternoon or work the next day or anything.

But when the final song of the service comes, I’m pretty much done with paying attention. At my church, it’s typically a pretty short song, a chorus you sing through twice before you are dismissed. They’ve never been the songs that are most meaningful to me, mostly because I’m already mentally gone.

This week I had a stressful day, which bled into a stressful evening, for a number of reasons. I did some things this week that stretched me in numerous ways and stressed me in numerous ways, so when I went to work one day, my stomach was tied up in knots, and despair was near at hand. Not real despair but the thought that you have too much and feel too much and have too little time and ability to deal.

Out of the blue, one of those short songs we sing at the end of the service came into my mind and kept playing itself over and over. It was one I’ve never particularly liked much, maybe for lack of paying attention to what it said. The tune isn’t anything special, and I’m pretty sure we’ve never sung it in the middle of a service. I’m surprised I even knew the words.

It just kept singing to me.

Oh, let the Son of God enfold you with His Spirit and His love.

Let Him fill your heart and satisfy your soul.

Oh, let Him have the things that hold you,

And His Spirit like a dove will descend upon your heart and make you whole.

How did I miss this before? The meaning became quite clear to me as I kept hearing it in my mind on repeat. The things that hold you… not the things I’m holding but the things that keep me captive. Oh, how true that is! His Spirit like a dove will descend upon your heart and make you wholeYeah, because I feel partial when I’m stressed, partially there, partially capable. This is GOLD.

I had texted a friend earlier and told her how I was feeling. True to her record of faithful friendship, she texted me a prayer for peace that surpasses all understanding.

Somehow this short song I had never paid attention to was bringing me that peace, reminding me that God comes in the middle of stress and anxiety and burden-bearing.

It reminded me that the words of the songs we sing in church can have more to them than we think, that paying attention even when it’s rote or almost lunchtime makes all the difference and on the flip side of that I also realized that God can instill truth into my heart even when I’m not paying attention… and bring it back when I’m ready to.

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