As we look at the world around us, it is easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of our daily routines, habits, and obligations. It doesn’t take a close look to see how our lives are filled with continual sports games, busy weekends, and the mad rush to get from one event to the next. Although none of these commodities are bad, they can lead us to live lives of hurried routines and thoughtless habits. How long have we missed out on attentiveness to the little things that help us slow down and practice gratitude, whether that’s a hand-written card, the practice of Sabbath, or lingering in conversation to hear stopping for an extra minute to genuinely hear the answer when we ask,“how are you?”
We need a reclamation of thoughtfulness. This begins by practicing attentiveness to others. Whether writing cards, sending a text checking in on a friend, or cooking a meal for a neighbor; a life of thoughtfulness invites us to consider other people before ourselves. There is also a sense of mutuality within thoughtfulness. When someone does something to aid or support us, we’re given a fresh opportunity to acknowledge their way of attending to us. This can look like writing a thank-you card, or buying that person their favorite drink, not as repayment of their kindness, but as a cascading generosity.
Listening is an important component of thoughtfully considering the needs of others. For instance, many of us can readily point to someone in our lives who seems to have a supernatural talent for giving gifts. This ability almost universally comes from practicing thoughtful listening. If you pay attention to conversations with others, when they reveal their needs and desires, you’ll recognize them–both superficial ones (like gifts) and the ones more deeply embedded (like the need for rest, or the desire for a better relationship with a friend). This allows you as the listener to speak to or address their wishes.
Throughout my time at Indiana Wesleyan, I have realized how much thoughtfulness emerges from the heart of God, too. God is intimately familiar with the innermost recesses of our being because He thoughtfully handcrafted us. He was intentional in each of our individual designs. He also infused us with the image of God, and we reflect our divine creator. This means we cannot dismiss another person as not worthy of our time or attention. It means that all are worth our consideration. What would it look like for us to search out how the people around us reflect the image of God? Who have we previously ignored that could show us a characteristic of God we were previously unfamiliar with?
Scripture reminds us (over and over, in various places, notably 1 Peter 1) to love others sincerely, from the heart. We’re called to advocate for people in general–developing conditions favorable to their thriving–but also to care specifically for the people right in front of us, putting thought into the way we care for those God gives us to love.
There are so many ways to show people the character of God just through practicing thoughtfulness. Extending extra gentleness when someone has had a rough day, mourning with those who are mourning and rejoicing with those who are rejoicing, and even giving a kind smile to the stranger at the grocery store can seem like simple acts of thoughtfulness. You would be amazed at how far they can really go to the recipient.
During transitions, when we pass from one stage of life to the next, it can seem like everything is changing around us, and thoughtfulness about our own needs and preferences often crowds out our ways of considering others. But even as you find yourself “in-between,” think about how you might create space–in your life, at your kitchen table, and in your schedule–to attend to others’ needs and desires.
Some ways that could encourage you to find small spaces of thoughtfulness during this overwhelming season could be sending a follow-up text after a mentor takes time to meet with you, sending a $5 gift card with a card to the interviewer even when they didn’t choose to hire you, taking time to send a written out prayer to the person who requested prayer on Facebook; or even picking a specific quality to thank your roommate for displaying during a specifically challenging season. Although thoughtfulness doesn’t always have to require a bunch of work or money, it does take intentionality, a listening ear, and a desire to show someone the love of Christ. I believe working to show thoughtfulness to those around you will do you good in the end, set you apart, and will make you a great example for those around you, too.