Paying Attention to Your Dashboard
Updated: Mar 15, 2021
I looked at my gas gauge as I pulled into our driveway for the third time that day, and I realized I was down to a quarter tank of gas. I tend to watch the gas gauge on the car pretty carefully, because I do not want to run out of fuel. My husband could tell you I get anxious if it falls below an eighth of a tank. Paying attention to the gauges on our car is important, but do I pay attention to the gauges and warning lights of my life?
Jesus often used metaphors and pictures in his teaching. A metaphor can allow us to access a truth more easily and fully. Consider the dashboard of your car with all the gauges and warning lights; consider the dashboard for you. Are there warning lights and gauges for our life? We learned to operate our car and pay attention to the dashboard—we can steward our life well as we learn to read the dashboard of our life with wisdom and skill, especially as the Spirit guides. Proverbs 4:23 reminds us to guard our hearts… this is one way to think about this exhortation.
What is the fuel gauge for your soul? What kind of fuel are you using to provide energy? How do you know when your tank is near empty, and you need to refill? When I become depleted I can be tempted to fill my tank with a bit of chocolate rather than a meaningful prayer time. Of course, if I pair the dark chocolate (less sugar) with coffee and time with Jesus it may be just what is needed - just kidding - mostly. How do you fill your tank? Are you running on fumes and is a red low-fuel light glowing on your dashboard? What does that look like for you or me… am I particularly edgy or grumpy? Am I fatigued all the time?
What about the temperature gauge for your engine? How do you pay attention to emotions? Are you aware when the engine is getting dangerously hot and your anger level is approaching the red zone? Do you notice when uncomfortable emotions surface before they reach the danger zone where you may explode, implode or panic.
God created us to feel—it is our design. What is needed to regulate emotions and walk with God? Emotions operate as indicator lights on the dashboard of your inner life: shame, anger, delight, fear, anticipation… and more. It is not that the emotion is the answer—the emotion is an indicator of things that are happening within and can lead us to process and experience life well. But I need to pause and pay attention—then I name the emotion, feel the emotion, and bring it into prayer. The Psalms are a guide for our prayer as we navigate the inner world of emotions and beliefs. A spiritual director, counselor, or wise friend can be helpful as I process.
Warning sounds and lights are triggered when a seatbelt is not buckled or a car door is not closed properly. What signals you when healthy boundaries are not in place in your relationships or perhaps your work schedule? How can I re-establish healthy boundaries where they are needed? What other warning lights and gauges might inform your inner life?
How do you pay attention to the speed gauge? What is the optimal pace for your life in this season? That depends on the limits of your vehicle and where you are driving, doesn't it? Speed needs to be aligned with weather conditions and the terrain of the road. In stormy seasons and on treacherous roads it is beneficial to slow down, and there are times accelerating speed is needed and appropriate. In order to enjoy travel, accomplish our purpose, and arrive at our destination safely we need to be attentive to many things. Some of those things are beyond our vehicle: the road and the lines on the road, other vehicles, signs and traffic signals, the weather and more. And some of those things are within our vehicle.
Curt Thompson reminds us to "Pay attention to what we are paying attention to" in his book, Anatomy of the Soul. Step back for a moment. How could this metaphor of the dashboard of a car serve your reflection and prayer regarding your life?
Where do you tend to focus your attention? Also, notice what you tend to avoid being attentive to? If I consistently look beyond myself for the source of the problems in life and neglect to attend to my own heart I am in a significant danger zone. If my life starts to derail through consistent emotional challenges, relational conflict, health issues, increasing anger or debilitating fatigue, I may have developed a habit of ignoring the warning lights and gauges that God has provided.
Living well involves engaging the external world... and the internal world. We must learn to read the dashboard of our soul, attentive to inner cues provided for us and, particularly, listening for the Spirit of God to guide and interpret for us. Trustworthy and wise companions will also offer us beneficial insight.
I remember my first flat tire. I was driving a Dodge Omni, my first car, by myself at night on my way home from the house of a friend. Initially something just didn't seem right, but eventually, the sound and feel of the car made it clear that I had a problem with my tire. I just wanted to make it home so I drove on that wounded tire. Well, the wheel got me home, but it was damaged beyond repair. I will plead youth and ignorance for how I pushed through the warning signs. Today we have a vehicle with a light on the dashboard that indicates trouble long before I would notice it while driving. Are we as attentive to our inner life as we are to the actual vehicles we drive?
Finally a car needs a tune up, a minor fix, or an oil change regularly, and, on occasion, it will need a major repair. Usually our mechanic reminds us that consistent maintenance upkeep is beneficial for the well-being of our car.
Our life needs care too. For me, there are daily and weekly practices of attentiveness to God and there are also periodic spiritual and emotional soul “tune-ups.” These are critical too. For a "soul tune-up" I retreat—I intentionally pull away from the fullness of life’s usual rhythms for a half-day, a full day or a weekend to attend to God. The spiritual practice of retreat has become essential in my walk with God. It is a place for realignment, repair, and renewal. It is there I deeply pay attention to the Triune God: designer, sustainer, and source of my life. As you steward your beautiful, God-designed life, how do you pay attention to God’s invitation regarding the needs of your life, internal and external?
Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.
Proverbs 4:23 NLT