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The Freedom of Focus

Jul 26, 2022Blog, Culture, Theology

As a kid growing up, I was constantly being reminded that there was an invisible line that I had to “watch out” for in order to not get in trouble for something. The trick was to figure out where the line was, so that I wouldn’t be in danger of accidentally crossing it. This idea carried into my faith-walk as well. My life as a Christian became about lines not to cross. Sin was basically anything on the other side of any line that I found, so my goal as a Christ follower was to just not cross any of those lines. That seemed great in theory, but if I’m being honest, just like the kid version of me, once I found the line it would become a focal point for me. I would inevitably walk up to it, push it, prod it, step on it, and sometimes even cross it.

Two things happen when I focus on the line: 

First, whatever is on the other side of the line becomes forbidden fruit to me. I’m sure you remember the story about Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit from Sunday school, but there’s something small in the details of this story that has really floored me lately. In Genesis 2:9, we are told that the “Tree of Life” is in the center of the garden. We are also told that there is another tree in the garden that no one should eat the fruit of called the “Tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil” (Genesis 2:17). But in Genesis 3:3, when Eve is talking to the serpent about this forbidden tree, she places it in the center of the garden. Did the two trees switch places? It seems like a small thing, but I think that Eve was so focused on the line (forbidden fruit) that it became the center of her world. Rabbi David Fohrman says, “Desire focuses on the forbidden and magnifies it not because the thing is objectively important, but simply because I can’t have it.” You see this in kids. My sons could care less about something until I tell them they can’t do it. It doesn’t even matter what “it” is. There’s something alluring about what is forbidden.

Second, I take my focus off of Jesus. You see this with Peter in chapter 14 of Matthew’s gospel. When Peter is focusing on Christ, he is able to walk on water, but as soon as he starts focusing on the waves, he starts to sink. You can replace waves with any other hardship and the outcome would still be the same. No matter what surrounds you, taking your focus off of Christ won’t help. It’s only by completely losing ourselves in Him that we find safety from the waves.

So how do we live in this tension without going crazy? After all, it’s way easier to create rules and lines than it is to keep our eyes on Jesus. In the New Testament, we meet a group of Jews called the Pharisees and they’re all about following the rules, so much so, that they were constantly adding more rules to the rules that were previously established just so they weren’t tempted to cross any lines. These guys were so committed to following the rules and not crossing any lines that they missed the Son of God in the flesh. They couldn’t see Jesus because they were so focused on the lines that they thought He was crossing. What’s odd is they created these rules to please God and be close to Him, but they forgot to do the thing that God had called them to do, which is to love Him and love others. 

So, let’s take our eyes off the waves and the lines, and instead focus on Jesus. It’s easy to miss God when you’re focused on lines, but it’s hard to cross lines when you’re focused on God.