“No one is so poor that they cannot at least pay attention.” – Unknown
One of my goals in life is to be more and more generous. However, like most of us, there are times when I feel like I cannot give as much as I would like. Perhaps it’s finances… or material possessions… or even time. But at that exact moment, I’m not able to give all that I would like to give.
There is a way, however, in which each of us can be generous at any given moment. It’s a gift any of us can afford. It is the ability to pay attention.
Everyone needs attention. Many long for it because they rarely receive it. People nod and wave. We often ask, “How are you,” as we keep walking right past a person. And so, many people go through life depleted in the reservoirs of their soul because they have experienced a drought of attention. Yet, we can all afford to pay attention in almost any given moment.
Years ago, a man I worked with in ministry taught me this valuable life lesson. He said it had been handed down to him from an mature minister whom he had watched practice it on many occasions. I had shared with my co-worker how, at the events we led, I felt so inadequate at giving everyone some time so that they knew I was interested in them and cared about them. What he shared that day helped me from that moment on to live generously in those times.
He said that I would never be able to give everyone as much time as they would want with me or as much time as I would want to give them, but I could always pay real attention to the person right in front of me. I could look them in the eye, and not look over their shoulder to see who else I needed to talk with. I could listen to what they were saying, and not try to formulate what I would say in response till they were done. I could focus on them, and let them know they were special. And when those few moments were done, that person would feel special… cared for… noticed… respected… loved… acknowledged. When I finished paying genuine attention to that person, I could feel free to move on to find the next person to whom I could give the gift of attention. Sure, there would be the casual greetings because too many people and too little time meant there was no way to do this for everyone. But for those to whom I could give the gift of attention, their day would be better, and my relationship with them would be deepened.
He was right, of course. I began right away to do my best to practice generosity in the form of genuine attention. No, I wasn’t always successful. I would sometimes get caught up in the chaos and allow myself to get too busy to give this gift, but I did my best. Years have passed since he shared that affordable gift idea with me, and I began trying to be generous in that way. Interestingly, I received a text just this past week from someone who shared how much it meant that I had paid attention to them and to others back then. It mattered to them. It still matters to this day.
So, the next time you think you don’t have anything to give… the next time you want to be generous, but aren’t sure you have a $20 bill in your wallet to hand a college student… or a car to donate to charity… the next time you desire to make a difference by giving… give the gift anyone can afford. Pay attention to the person in front of you at the moment. It may be your spouse, your kids, your co-worker, a neighbor, or the person on the aisle in Walmart who just wants someone to talk to. Whoever it is… whenever it is… just do your best to be generous with your attention. I promise… you can afford it!
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