Monday over Coffee: First Things

Need Some Words of Encouragement?

First Things
Amy Herndon passed away a little over two years ago. Amy had a radiant smile, a casual beauty, and unpretentious elegance about her. And, as she battled cancer, she was 'Joan of Arc' brave. Amy held newborns in the church nursery on Sundays and taught Missions on Wednesday nights with my wife, Kelly, for many years. Kelly loved being around her whether they were out at dinner or teaching at church because Amy was always so disarmingly authentic. Amy also had an effortless, yet striking fashion sense. When Kelly asked her how she put together an outfit, Amy said she just found something she really liked, was drawn to, and felt good in, then developed the rest around that. Her biker boots were among her favorite items to build around. 

Emily Howard-Wilson is another good friend of my wife’s, and of mine, as well. Emily is a designer and has a terrific eye. I asked her to help me improve the look of my office — to choose colors and think about furniture. The first thing she did was walk in and look around a bit. After a minute, her eyes fell upon the spine of a particular book among many others on my book shelf. It was a volume on Jungian symbols given to me as a gift long ago. It had a textured light blue cover with a hint of bronze in it. She said, “I like that.” So that’s where we started — with a pleasant color of an interesting book. We matched a paint to the hue of its cover, then had a wall painted that shade. This led to the purchase of some cool, gray, mid-century, modern chairs and a walnut coffee table, which then led to finding an attractive glass and bronze side table. My office soon became a comfortable, agreeable space to work.

Web designers say the same thing. When you click open a page on your computer, they consider where your eye is likely to go first. A good design has a compelling visual entry point where the user’s attention is typically drawn first. And of course, in order for one element to stand out, others must fade into the background. Too much going on diminishes the focal point, creating confusion and disharmony. Returning to the realm of fashion, Coco Chanel recommended, “When putting on accessories, take off the last thing you’ve put on.” There’s something to be said for not overdoing it. 

In fact, sometimes it’s exactly what you leave out that makes things work. With respect to editing, Hemingway always urged his writers to “kill your darlings.” Even if an author really loves a passage, if it doesn’t move the action, advance the theme, or stir the reader’s interest to go on, to go deeper, it probably ought to be excised. Most of the time when you do this, you find the notion edited out is still somehow in there. It remains, in a sense, baked into the whole.

Here’s the thing: whether it is fashion, writing, imagining a room, planning a website, or really almost anything else, if we want things to cohere, we need a focal point to anchor us and to build from. And, we need to sweep a lot of what remains away. In the same way, each of our lives benefits from having identified its central aim, a worthy ambition to which we then devote our primary, though not exclusive, attention. Choosing that first thing is crucial because everything else cascades from that choice. 

So, what is it for you? Curate your life for a minute. What do you put on first? What is your soul drawn to and magnetized by? Build and develop the rest around that. As you arise and walk into your day, take a deep breath, look around a bit. Where is your attention being directed today, this week, this month, this season? Name it. Is it your faith? Is it the family God has blessed you with? Is it a project born of the gifts God has given you?

And ask this: What do you need to pare back so that focal point can emerge more clearly? Look around. Find that focus. Keep reminding yourself about it, come back to it, return to it, especially in a time when chaos is pushing against the normal order so relentlessly. 

What’s your first thing?

God — 
Help me to make room for some free space to recapture my soul’s central point and motivation in the midst of all that is going on. May I find in it a sense of wholeness, a sense of rightness, then adhere to it rigorously, then adeptly, then…effortlessly. 


—Greg Funderburk 

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