In our era it is quite common to hear conversations about multi-tasking. We sometimes wear it as a badge of honor that we are able to juggle multiple projects or tasks at home or at work. We regularly catch ourselves watching television and simultaneously catching up with social media on our phones or other devices.
Occasionally this ability to do many things at once is necessary, but sometimes it is simply a reaction to perceived pressure. Whatever the case, it is seldom truly effective. In fact, recent research indicates that doing many tasks at once, switching between them, makes us more prone to give in to distractions and less able to focus our energies or skills. Contrary to what we might believe, multi-tasking usually reduces productivity, sometimes by as much as 35 to 40 percent.
What happens when that pride in multi-tasking seeps into our spiritual lives? When we believe not only that we are capable of and need to balance many daily tasks, but that we can manage several allegiances all at once? Are we conditioning ourselves to be spiritual jugglers or are we more interested in growing a single-hearted devotion to God and the things of God?
Throughout the Bible there are numerous passages about pure devotion and being single-hearted. “With all my heart I seek you,” we read in Psalm 119:10. We are assured, along with ancient Israel, that we will find God “if you search for him with all your heart and soul.” (Deuteronomy 4:29). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us, “where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” (Matthew 6:21)
It might seem hard to imagine how it is even possible to be single-hearted when we are managing family relationships, work obligations, political chaos and just the ordinary tasks of a typical day. But let’s take that apart a bit.
First of all, when the Bible speaks of the human heart it is usually capturing the essence of what it means to be human — our emotions, yes, but also our intellect, will and imagination. Being single-hearted means that our whole being finds its meaning in one thing, and that one thing is a relationship with God, who is in essence love itself (see 1 John 4:8).
Secondly, being single-hearted means that we attend to all other relationships and obligations in light of that one central relationship with the divine. We might picture it like a stained-glass rose window. All the colors and shapes that surround the central image are essential in creating the beauty of the whole. The outer pieces direct our attention to the center, and the center directs our attention outward as well.
Thirdly, being single-hearted in our love for God gives us the energy and devotion needed to savor all the other pieces of our lives that make up the whole. The sixth beatitude says, “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8) However, the Greek term katharos translated as “clean of heart” is about so much more than being morally clean. It literally means to be without admixture, or to be simply one thing, to be single-hearted. And the reward is to see God.
We see God in our spouses and children, in our grandparents and neighbors. We see God in the person begging at the corner and the essential worker at the grocery store. We see God in the outpouring of stories that come when a loved one dies. In so many ways, being single-hearted in our devotion to God brings benefits that build up all the other relationships in our lives.
We do not have to become experts at juggling. Instead, we need only to ask for the grace to respond to God’s love in us and for us. It sounds too simple, but isn’t it worth a try?
Catherine Upchurch is the general editor of the Little Rock Catholic Study Bible and contributes to several biblical publications. She writes from Fort Smith.
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