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JOE LAGUARDIA: Paying attention is an active spiritual discipline

Paying attention is a spiritual discipline

When my wife, her family and I lived in South Florida, we teased my mother-in-law about the fact that she claimed to have seen "white goats" at the nearby on-ramp to Interstate 95.

"Sure," we'd say, twirling our fingers around our ears, "White goats... we see them all of the time."

Years passed and the teasing continued until one day my wife and I went on a date. We had to go from Jupiter to West Palm Beach, which meant that we had to get on that infamous on-ramp.

Wouldn't you believe that no sooner had I looked than I saw white goats.

"Right," my wife teased, "White goats. You're as crazy as my mother!"

It's been nearly a decade since I saw those goats, but it didn't take that long to realize that my mother-in-law is not crazy (debatable) after all; rather, she simply has a keen sense of awareness that most people lack.

Why, it seems that every week, she comes home with a much-desired toy for our children she spotted at the nearby thrift store. "Where did you find that?" I ask perplexed and amazed.

I don't know how she does it, but that woman finds treasures fit for heaven.

Awareness is not only useful for bargain hunting and spotting out-of-place livestock, it's also helpful in cultivating a vibrant spiritual life. I have a feeling that we miss many of God's blessings and miracles in our life because we are not aware of them. We don't look for them, so God moves in our life unawares.

On more than one occasion, the Bible encourages us to be aware of what the Lord is doing in our midst. In the Gospels, for instance, Jesus told parables of people -- usually servants (Luke 12:35-40) or bridesmaids (Matthew 25:1-13) -- who missed out on God's visitation because they were either asleep or ill-prepared.

First Peter 5:8 warns Christians to "keep alert." Paul echoed this sentiment in his letter to the Corinthian churches (1 Cor. 16:13).

Jesus, Peter and Paul knew something about faith: Even in the midst of persecution and hardship, faith perseveres and stays focused only when the faithful are vigilant in keeping both eyes on the Lord. Not to mention, it's hard to witness to our faith when so many things go unnoticed.

One of the things they teach in seminary is to be aware of your surroundings: notice people and places; pay attention to body language; remain ever cognizant about your own reactions with and to others. Such wisdom helps in writing sermons as well as providing some decent pastoral care.

It also helps keep one's faith grounded in God's Kingdom because God's reign can remain in the shadows if we fail to have our "lamps lit" (Luke 12:35).

Paying attention is an active spiritual discipline. It requires effort to not let things get in God's way. Things like anxiety, concerns of this world, and worrying about things we can't help or change can easily distract us.

Perhaps that is why awareness and faith go hand-in-hand: So many of us hold on so tightly to our own concerns we aren't open to what the Lord has for us. The more we try to control something, the more we miss out on what is really happening.

Either that, or we're so busy trying to look ahead, we miss out on the joy of now.

One of the greatest lessons I've learned as a father is to heed the request, "Daddy, look at this!" It's when I fail to look that I fail to enjoy some of the greatest blessings on earth.

God says sometimes, "Child, look at this!" You never know, you too may see a few white goats -- and get that much-needed laugh you were longing for -- in the oddest of places.

The Rev. Joe LaGuardia is the senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, 301 Honey Creek Road, Conyers. E-mail him at trinitybc3@bellsouth.net or visit www.trinityconyers.org.