Troubled? Turn Your Full Attention to Jesus

by | Jun 14, 2019 | Articles, Reflections

Here in California, we are in the middle of the season the locals call “May Gray” and “June Gloom.” Every spring, low altitude fog and clouds come in off the coast in the mornings and grace us with their presence, sometimes burning off in the afternoon but often lasting for days. No rain—just clouds, and dampness, and the occasional drizzle that leaves everything damp and soggy. On one recent overcast morning, I woke up feeling tired, sad, lonely, and discouraged. There are lots of pieces threatening to come loose in my world these days. Even though life is steady at the moment, and I have every reason to be grateful, it also all seems on the verge of collapse. The gray skies combined with restless sleep the night before made the uncertainty feel particularly oppressive.

On my drive to the office, the news on the radio was all tragedy, political scandals, conspiracies, and war. So I did like anyone would do: I looked for a distraction to cheer me up. I plugged in my phone and found a playlist I’d created on Spotify exactly for that sort of situation. And a few songs in, the old hymn, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” came on.

So I did like anyone would do: I looked for a distraction to cheer me up.

First published in 1918, the hymn starts by asking questions we can all relate to: “Oh soul are you weary and troubled?/ No light in the darkness you see?” Well, let’s see. The world is a mess. People are confusing and irritating. Sleep is a precious commodity I don’t let myself get enough of. The strands of my organized life seem fragile right now and apt to snap at any point. Most of the loved ones I’d like to turn to for comfort are thousands of miles away. Weary: check. Troubled: check.

Coastal clouds hovering over Southern California in June, 2008. Photo by Kevincollins123, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia

The hymn then continues with an answer for our discouraged hearts: “There’s light for a look at the Savior, /And life more abundant and free!” About what you’d expect: the answer is Jesus. I nodded to myself as I turned into the parking lot. Right. Jesus. I knew that, but good reminder, I guess? Doesn’t help these icky feelings go away, but I can just wait them out like I’ve done before.

The chorus, though, was what made me stop and reflect. “Turn your eyes upon Jesus/look full in His wonderful face/ And the things of earth will grow strangely dim/ in the light of His glory and grace.” Look full in His wonderful face. Not “Keep one eye on the world and the other on Jesus.” Not “Keep thinking about ways to sort out your mess but also look to Jesus.” Turn your full attention to Him. Do I do this? More often, I say I’m turning to Jesus, but after I’ve said a prayer, I go right back to focusing on my worries. Or, I use the rest of my attention to seek out pleasant distractions.

In Hebrews chapter 12, the author likens the journey of the Christian to a race, and exhorts us to “let us run with perseverance” and to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2). I’m not a runner, but I am a swing dancer, and I imagine the principle is the same: where your attention turns, that’s where you tend to go. You can’t look in one direction and expect to move consistently in another. For a competitive runner, a distraction from the road straight ahead could mean the difference between winning the race or not.

The “life more abundant and free” is available to us, but instead we tend to settle for a life of ‘good enough’ and apathy.

James shares a similar sentiment in regards to asking God for wisdom: “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6 NIV). I like the way the King James Version translates the same verse: “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering…” When I pray for wisdom in following Jesus in the midst of my uncertainty, but only with half-hearted attention—“wavering” from my faith that God can and will provide—then all I can expect is more rough waters ahead.

The world tells us that the cure for unpleasant thoughts and feelings is distraction. More shopping. More media consumption. More leisure activities. More drinking. But if those are the directions we’re turning when we find discouragement at our doorstep, then the rest of our lives will follow. Instead of finding solace in Jesus, we’ll find that we barely notice His presence in our lives at all, and wonder why He is so silent in our times of need.

Not that shopping, or Netflix are bad in themselves. But are we using them to enrich our lives, or to simply dull the aching of our tired minds, rather than seeking out the Lord of the Universe for guidance and rest? (I am still preaching to myself here.) The “life more abundant and free” is available to us, but instead we tend to settle for a life of ‘good enough’ and apathy.

If we can learn to turn our sights fully to Jesus in our moments of discouragement instead of to the distractions of this world, we won’t have any room to focus on our troubles or our weary hearts. We’ll be too busy meditating on His awesome love and glory. As the hymn says, “the things of earth will grow strangely dim/ In the light of His glory and grace.”

Jesus, today I am re-committing to turn my full attention to You when my attitude and disposition leave me feeling drained and needy. I want to learn how to look fully at your promises and faithfulness when my soul is troubled and weary. Thank you for being always loving, always attentive, and always wise. Amen.

Featured photo by Johannes Plenio from Pexels

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About April-Lyn Caouette

April-Lyn Caouette has been working with Joy of Living since November 2018. She is the editor of the Joy of Living blog as well as the quarterly newsletter, and manages the Joy social media accounts.

April-Lyn is also a co-founder of Love Thy Nerd, a non-profit ministry where she is an editor, writer, and resource coordinator. She holds a B.A. in Philosophy & Religion from Colgate University, and is an alumna of the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course.

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