Monday, April 30, 2007

Training our Eyes to See....Details and the Big Picture

Are you a woman who has trouble seeing the forest for the trees? Or, do you rejoice in the forest but have trouble seeing the trees?

Or, have you achieved that happy balance between understanding and appreciating the big picture and also caring about the details behind them? If you have mastered this art of balance, good for you!!

Achieving balance between the big picture and the details requires both experience and application of one's self to understanding when, how, and on what to focus your attention. It's also a like using a car's steering wheel. A car won't stay on the road unless we keep adjusting the steering wheel's position; likewise, we won't stay on the road to balance unless we keep adjusting our focus. When we have driven for many years, we can adjust the steering wheel without even thinking about it. Likewise, we will become better at balancing the big picture and the details with practice.

Arriving at this balance between the big picture and the details has a lot to do with how happy and successful we will be in keeping our homes. The woman who gets lost in the details will spend so many hours perfecting one special area that she loses control of the overall mangement of her day. She will become frustrated that nothing gets done. The woman who is out of balance towards the big picture will end up with the basics done, but not well and without many special little touches. She will be frustrated that her projects often turn our poorly.

The woman who is balanced will express much less frustration. She may not get everything on her to do list done, but she knows she accomplished what is truly important. And, what she did, she did well -- or at least well enough to fill her family's current needs.

As we discussed two posts ago, God's nature presents a beautiful and functional big picture. But, behind that big picture are a myriad of details. Think of a beautiful snow-covered valley. Then, imagine the intricacy of each of those countless snowflakes when viewed singly underneath a microscope. Imagine the billions of people on the planet, and, then, reflect on the many details that comprise a loved one's face.

In fact, beauty in life depends both on the big picture and on tiny, intricate, often unnoticed details. Presenting a clean and lovely appearance to the world depends on the care we take with details. Is out clothing washed and ironed. Does it fit well? Do we have runs in our stockings. What is the shape of our nails? Our cuticles? If we wear makeup, is it applied well, with no smudges or streaks? Are our shoes polished? Is there a button missing, a thread loose, or a snag or a scuff in our overall appearance? After we have attended to such details, it's wise to take a glance at ourselves in a full lenth mirror and take in the big picture. What overall impression does our appearance give?

If we undertake a craft, decorating, or sewing project, its success will depend on whether or not we pay attention to the details. The most beautiful quilts, for example, have beautiful, even stiches and carefully pieced blocks. I am a beginning quilter, and I have found that it's not as easy as it looks! In wrestling to make the details of a quilted project come out correctly, I have acquired new admiration for experienced quilters! However, if we think only of the painstaking details required to finish something and not of how much we are going to enjoy it, we may become frustrated and give up.

Scheduling your time well requires that you think through the details of your day and assign a level of importance to them. Skilled time managers know how to order the details of life so that the truly important things get done. Those of us who are weaker in our time mangement practices are driven by things that seem urgent, but are not necessarily of top priority in our lives. Thus, wise time management requires that we grasp the overall picture and smaller details.

Loving our families involves times when we just enjoy each other and times when we pay attention to the finer points. I heard once that Oprah said, "Love is in the details." I'm not necessarily an Oprah fan, but this is a true statement. Caring for details that make life sweeter and smoother for our loved ones contributes to the peace and harmony of a marriage, a parent/child relationship, a friendship, or even of a church. Caring for details means that we train our eyes to see what others need. It requires that we put aside total self-absorption so that we can think about what will bring joy and peace to another. Even remembering the birthdays of our loved ones and friends requires that we pay attention to details. But, if we fuss about the details and forget to enjoy our loved ones, we will end up being frustrated like Martha was when Jesus came to dinner. Mary wisely understood that this was a time to just sit at Jesus' feet, rather than to encumber herself with too many details of serving.

Remember, paying attention to the details makes life more beautiful and more productive. However, it does not necessarily bring us praise. Often, all that others may notice is the big picture. They may not understand the effort we put into the details behind that big picture. Our husband may casually say, "The house looks nice, honey," but have no clue that we have been spring cleaning down to every little nook and cranny. The new bride who has never sewed in her life may say thank you when you present her with a handmade quilt for a wedding gift, but she may have no idea how many hours it took you to piece it and quilt it.

When we are tempted to feel sorry for ourselves because people do not understand the detail that we have put into something, that's the time to remember that our own eyes cannot come close to comprehending all of the detail that God has woven into the fabric of the universe. Nor, do we always understand how he lovingly works out the details of our lives.

Thus, we have to learn the joy of doing a job well because the Lord appreciates it. We can also rejoice because a job well done adds to the beauty and satisfaction of life. When people do understand and thank us for attending to details, we can think of that as delicious icing on the cake.

In the same way, we must train our eyes to see and appreciate the love and detail that others put into their tasks. Do we listen when our husbands describe the details of their jobs and do we express appreciation for their hard work? My husband works in a field that I don't understand. I do know that he spends long, long hours attending to very minute details. There's no way that I can grasp everything he shares with me about his job, but I can appreciate his heart and his diligence.

Those of us who are married and are parents as well, have a better understanding of the many details our parents attended to as they created a home for us. Have we gone back and expressed our thanks? Likewise, if our child has mastered a difficult task, one that requires attention to many details, do we praise the child for his diligence?

Appreciating the attention that others pay to details is one way of practicing the golden rule. Additionally, it will teach us to notice details and to perform them well, ourselves. If we notice an older woman taking delicate embroidery stitches as she decorates a pillowcase, we can make a note to ourselves to imitate her diligence.

Here are two exercises that can help us train our eyes to see. (If we point these things out to your children, we will be training them in these areas as well).

1) For the woman who graps the big picture, but stumbles over the details: Always be on the lookout for the details in the things you see around you. Notice this whereever you go. If someone shows you an antique quilt that was passed down to them, study how it is made. If you are in a public building, notice how the building is constructed and how it is furnished. If you view a painting, look not only at the overall effect, but try to figure out how and why the artist used certain details. If you are shopping for clothing, note whether the clothes are well made or poorly made. Check the seams and hems. Talk about these details with your children. If your are viewing a piece of well-made handwork or art work in the presence of the artist, express appreciation for the attention to detail. Express appreciation to God for the detail you see in his creation.

Try to re-create fine detail in the work of your hands. When tackling a project, break it down into small steps. Don't fret about the big picture, but take it step by step. If you are sewing, read the pattern instructions completely before you launch in. Likewise, think through a new recipe before you try it. Have the ingredients out and ready to go.

2) If you are the perfectionist who gets stuck on minute details and leaves more important things undone: Make an effort to distill what you read, hear, and see into the most essential points. When viewing a painting, step back and consider what overall impression the painting gives you. When you enter a home or a public building, enjoy the overall ambiance. When you get up in the morning, pray for discernment about the most important thing you need to do that day. When you are creating a project, step back from it from time to time to enjoy the big picture of how it's coming along.

Learn the art of knowing when you have paid enough attention to the detail of a task and, thus, need to move on to the next one. Start your house cleaning each day with a quick overall tidy-up of your house. Then, get down to more concentrated tasks.

Express appreciation for the loving heart behind what people do for you. Don't expect them to meet unrealistic standards before you express appreciation. Don't expect yourself to meet unrealistic standard of perfection before you allow yourself to find satisfaction in the works of your own hands. Strive for consistency rather than perfection.



Christy said...

Thank you for writing. I am so encouraged by reading your blog. I love what you said about asking for discernment each morning that we'd know what is most important today.

Elizabeth said...

Hi Christy,

Thanks for your encouraging post.