Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

November 20, 2011


Please may I have your attention for a few minutes?


            One of my favorite stories is about an old man who went to live with his son and his family in his declining years. Every afternoon the old man went for a walk in the neighborhood. He had a routine. He was gone about an hour, returning just about suppertime.

            But one day he did not return in an hour. Two hours had elapsed by the time he strolled back into the house. His son and his wife were irritated. They had begun to fret about the old man’s safety.  “Why were you gone so long, Dad?” his son asked; “You were late for supper and we were worried about you.”

            The old man apologized and explained: “I am sorry I caused you to worry about me, but I ran into a man who would not stop listening to me!”

            The old fellow wanted attention. When he got it, he lost all track of time. That is easy to understand. We all want the attention of others. Children will often “act up” in order to get the attention of Mom or Dad.

            I thought about the old man recently while having lunch with a friend. We were together but he was not “with” me. As soon as we sat down he placed his cell phone on the table as though to say, “I am expecting an important call.”

            His phone rang several times. Each time he said politely, “Excuse me; I need to take this call.” I continued eating while he kept talking on his phone. Between calls he would say, “Where were we?” I think he really wanted to talk with me but his mind was somewhere else. When I was talking I could tell that he was not really hearing me; what I said was not registering.

            Perhaps I should have told him that I was frustrated but I chose not to do it. Instead I reached in my pocket and turned my cell phone off. I remembered that more than once I had been guilty of the same behavior. Silently I vowed not to allow my cell phone to do to someone else what his phone was doing to me.

            It is human nature to want and need the attention of others. When something is tearing our guts out we want someone to listen to our pain. We want someone to listen and care about our troubles. When family and friends are not available, we will even settle for the attention of a stranger.

            When the football coach yells, “Listen up!” he expects to have the complete attention of his team. No player who values his life will pull out a cell phone and say, “Excuse me Coach; my girl friend is calling.”  

            When the drill sergeant barks, “Attention!” his soldiers immediately shut up and come to attention, ready to listen to orders. They do not want to suffer the consequences of failing to pay attention.   

            Coaches and drill sergeants, and others, can command the attention of those around them. Most of us cannot. We have to depend on the kindness of our friends to give us the attention we need. To do so is easier said than done. We can quickly observe someone else failing to listen to us but it is more difficult to recognize your own failure to listen when others are speaking to you.

            Along the way I taught my children a few things. And they taught me some valuable lessons. Our oldest son Matt was home from Navy duty one weekend. We were having lunch in our home when the phone rang. Before I could get up to answer it, Matt quickly picked up the phone. Then I hear him say, “He is having lunch with his family right now; if you will give me your number I will ask him to call you later.” He was firm but kind. I learned that day that there are times when you need to give your family your full attention and tend to the needs of others later.

            We seldom know the pain that others are enduring. And usually we will never know until some hurting person senses that we care enough to truly listen. Listening with your heart signals to a fellow struggler that you really care.

            The other day I had breakfast with a good friend. I left my cell phone in the car. We shared stories and lost track of time. Hey, I think I am making progress. What about you? Who in your life is asking for your attention? If you will listen with your heart, you may hear someone saying, “Please may I have your attention for a few minutes?” + + +