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Target Fixation

Last winter before the pandemic I was waiting for a parent conference to begin. The father and I were sitting in the conference room where he was telling me stories about his daughter. One of the best was when he shared how he used the school parking lot on the weekends to teach his daughter how to ride her bicycle. He was moving her from training wheels to just two wheels and though the parking lot was the perfect practice area because it was flat and it was free of traffic — plenty of room for error, he thought.

But instead of finding the open spaces freeing and fun, the girl demonstrated the uncanny ability to head straight for the only points of danger in the entire lot – the light poles. He shared he would help her get started and run along beside her, but regardless of what direction he released her, she would turn abruptly and pedal straight toward one of the three light poles in the parking lot. He humorously described how only through multiple heroic efforts he had managed to save her from wrecking. Finally, the man concluded that his daughter was not focused on the proper goal, which should have been learning to ride her bike without training wheels. Instead, she seemed to focus on not crashing into the closest light pole. By default, her focus was the light poles rather than learning to ride. This meant that regardless of her intention, her gaze locked on the pole and her steering followed her gaze. She focused where she did not want to go instead of where she wanted to go.

This is actually a phenomenon known as “target fixation.” Target fixation refers to focusing your eyes on a particular place or thing. They actually warn folks learning to ride motorcycles about it—or so I am told. (I promise I would not know!)

With target fixation you will end up staring at one item in the road — say, a guardrail or the middle of a curve or the back of a car — and then running right into it. I have discovered there are hundreds of YouTube videos in which a motorcycle rider has a camera attached to his helmet and you can see this process as it is happening. You find yourself yelling at the driver, “Look out!” But it is too late.

Motorcycle instructors tell riders that the key to avoiding target fixation is to look beyond and actually turn your head to see where you want to go. So, instead of looking to the middle of a curve, for example, you look through to the end of the curve and the road ahead. For dads teaching daughters to ride bikes, they need to look beyond the light pole and to the other end of the parking lot!

So, when it comes to the mode in which we will live our lives, where is our focus? Is our focus on the little picture or the big picture? Or to put it bluntly—are we focused on God or on something else? Are we seeking to build the kingdom of God or our own little fiefdom?

The truth is we all do a little of both. Part of our struggle as disciples is to recognize when we are focused on the wrong target. I think that is why worship is so important because it harkens us to remember our purpose. Our purpose is also clearly defined in the very first question of the Catechism which many of us learned in our childhood:

Question 1. What is the chief end of humans? To Glorify God and enjoy the Lord forever. Jesus also warns his disciples about the dangers of target fixation in the 6th chapter of Matthew, when he encourages them to live for God.

“Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore, do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed, your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

(Matthew 6:25-33 NRSV)

May we all seek to live our life with this call from our Lord keeping both God and serving all of God’s people as our “target fixation.”

Alleluia Amen.


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