My husband and I spent the weekend in Las Vegas.

Through a series of unexpected events, we had found ourselves with a free stay for the 3-day weekend. As much as Vegas is the antithesis of what we love and live for, we also appreciate so much about the city. More on that later, maybe.

The moment that inspired this post occurred when we were in a cab on the way to the Strip– the main stretch of road with all of Vegas’s hotels and casinos. It was early evening, and the sun was sinking behind the parched, craggy mountains of Nevada. As dusk arrived, all of Vegas’s twinkling lights– so unnatural and strange in natural daylight– began to fit.

Beckoning from left and right were monuments to every human pursuit. A fake Eiffel Tower. The names of famous fashion houses. Scantily clad women and men. The promise of winning. Of significance.

There was music booming from the fountains of the Bellagio hotel, which boasts an incredible aqua ballet every fifteen minutes at night. Sinatra, Fitzgerald, and other American classics played as spurts of water danced in perfectly coordinated choreography.

The windows of our cab were slightly cracked, letting in the noise of the Vegas Strip bustle. Suddenly, a song came onto the radio. It was a soft, familiar tune that spoke of another world.

Here I stand, knowing that I’m your desire
Sanctified by glory and fire
And now I’ve found the greatest love of all is mine
Since you laid down your life, the greatest sacrifice

I felt my ears strain to pick up every last word of these unexpected old lyrics. Words that promised something so far and away from every beckoning call on the boulevard.

Your grace has found me just as I am, empty-handed but alive in your hand.
Forever I am changed by your love in the presence of your majesty…

For a moment, it felt nearly laughable that this reverent, faith-filled anthem was carrying us down South Las Vegas boulevard like a vehicle from another universe. Then it felt completely right. It was as though in the mix of the city’s grand, daring, dangerous, and illicit pursuits was exactly where this quiet invitation belonged.

Here I stand, humbled by the love that you give
Forgiven so that I can forgive…

I looked up beyond the winking lights and animated billboards to witness one of the most stunning sunsets I had seen in a while. Pinks and crimsons were strewn across the textured desert sky.

I was still straining to hear the remainder of the song, but found it echoing somewhere deep inside my heart. I suddenly felt aware of the words, the imagery– emanating from the inside-out.

Intentional living begins with listening

This is my story. And it may or may not be your story.

But, what I know to be true is our desire to live for the words that reverberate from within us, echoing many more words outside of us. We want our personal anthems to join a larger, collective anthem.

Even if you never step foot in Vegas, you’ll likely come across options that aren’t the real thing. They’re not what you want to live for, or they’re merely images of what you think matters most.

For many of us, those false invitations aren’t in the form of slot machines, poker games, or affection that we’ve paid for. They’re not even in the highest levels of performing arts, impeccable food, or natural beauty. (Vegas has all of the above, by the way.)

Rather, they’re in the forms of things that we like, but not what we love– or want to love. We start failing to live intentionally when we’ve exchanged like for love.

So how do we live intentionally in the face of so many distractions? Perhaps it’s exactly what I found myself doing: listening. But not just listening to any and every voice amplified by a megaphone as we drive by; just the voices that we know are resonating with strands we hold most dear.

Focused living begins with knowing what to listen for. And eventually, we start hearing that anthem– the story in which we place all of our trust– everywhere. No matter how faint, we teach ourselves to give ear to the voices that keep us living the way we wish to live.

And none of this prevents us from dialogue, or learning, or even changing our minds. It simply informs the way we move, speak, and make decisions. We need this at our core in order to live on purpose.

“Clutter” is sometimes too kind a word. Sure, the pile of items that gather on counters and coffee tables are worthy of the name. But the false notions of purpose we get when we’ve replaced best with good enough? We can call them lies.

How to start listening more carefully

There’s a principle in leadership that the purpose of affirmation is not simply to congratulate someone on a job well done. It’s to call out a quality in someone in hopes that it’ll grow ever stronger.

When someone hears that their work is valued and appreciated, they’re likely to increase their level of effort in response.

In the same way, focused listening comes from reiterating to ourselves where we find our greatest hope. Perhaps for you this betrays a blind optimism, but I hope it’s more than that. The more we call out these truths from the people around us, the more we see and hear them. The more we repeat these truths to ourselves, the more we’re able to experience the world through them.

The best kind of listening does not always start with a clean slate. Rather, it starts with a hunger that knows exactly what will satisfy it. And it keeps pursuing that one thing.

This could mean reading, writing, and reflecting in quiet spaces. It could mean surrounding yourself with others who share your anthem and can encourage you in it. It could mean taking practical steps to live in the implications of what matters most to you.

And it is with this soft determination, this patient practice, that we’ll find ourselves more focused, more centered, more faithful.