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Distraction:

October 1, 2013

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Google defines it as being “unable to concentrate because one’s mind is preoccupied.”

The Free Dictionary says that it is “having the attention diverted.”

But the best explanation I found was Wikipedia’s:

“Distraction is the divided attention of an individual or group from the chosen object of attention onto the source of distraction. Distraction is caused by: the lack of ability to pay attention; lack of interest in the object of attention; or the great intensity, novelty or attractiveness of something other than the object of attention.”

As a friend, colleague and fellow parishioner shared his sense of finding the people of God, at least those who claim to be followers of Christ, to be distracted I found my spirit in agreement.  i-Phones, cable TV, hate radio, social lives all place a claim on people’s lives.  They consume a lot of energy and even more time to maintain.  Life in our culture is generally very demanding.  But the thing that seems to me to play the biggest role in the distraction of our spiritual lives is our jobs.  Our jobs are demanding.  They want first place.  They demand to be the priority.  And we let them take precedence over our family, over our social lives, our hobbies.  And then we find ourselves wrestling for time with our family or friends (depending on our priorities).  And then our social interests.

In my own small town community that places such an enormous value on social capital – whether or not you were seen at this event or the other, whether or not you are interested in music and the arts or something of less value, and just what you will sacrifice for the sake of the community – we have such competing priorities that our commitment to our spiritual lives plays second fiddle.  We argue that the arts feed our spiritual lives but really they are just more of a crutch that excuses our inattention to our spiritual lives… unless music and shows are our gods.  We argue that our social engagements are important for our business relationships.  And then we are always struck by the family time we have sacrificed in this competitive economy.

We have lost sight of two significant Christian virtues/influences.  One the Sabbath element and the other vocation.  In Israel’s formative days there was no Sabbath.  No one took a day off.  And God basically says to them, “Look I took a day of to admire my creation, you should too.”  But we don’t.  Or if we do take time off, we use it not to admire God or his creation but to make up to our families and friends all the time we wasted at work trying to make a living while failing to make a life.  And God, the One who has instructed us to “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” – that is to set apart for thanksgiving to God and admiration of Him and his work – barely gets a nod.  We might make a token statement that we are admiring his creation while we’re golfing, hiking, or spending time with our family but truth be told we’re likely just resting and simply enjoying the “day off” and precious little time of the day is actually spent talking to God or praising God or even mentioning God unless it’s invoking his name in vain.

The second element of this, I said was vocation.  The word vocation comes from the Latin “vocare” meaning “calling.”  The idea is that there is a calling or summons from God to do a certain work.  We now interpret it as vocation and think, erroneously, that it refers to our chosen profession.  But we cannot chose a calling.  We raise our children with the horrible question “what do you want to be or do when you grow up?” instilling in them a self determination devoid of “calling.”  When God calls, income become insignificant.  God is trusted to provide.  When vocare or vocation is determined the assumption is that if it is God who guides it is God who provides, in accordance with His good will and His knowledge of our needs not our selfish understanding of desires.  These days our culture is focused on what I like to do, what I am good at, what will make me a lot of money, etc. and then we rationalize that we can do anything for God’s glory, that it is just as important to be a scientist, or a self-employed mechanic or business owner or lawyer as anything else.  And having invested so much of ourselves into this self actualizing existence we follow it with all the energy, intelligence and imagination we can muster, never thinking to ask if it truly is what God is calling us to do.  How many of us entered into our profession with a clearly directed sense of God’s calling rather than a hoped for approval from God of what we had chosen.

And then our life pursuits overtake our faith.  And since obedience was never a part of our vocational calling we don’t see it as an essential part of our day to day living.  We don’t get up in the morning praying because we know that we are unable to do the work to which we are called without God.  Because it wasn’t God that showed us the big work he wanted us to do which would make us dependent on him to do.  It was something we chose to do.  And perhaps if we do it well enough we will honor Him and He will be happy (“He should be,” we reason) that we took the time to say we are doing it for Him.  And work becomes a priority in our life, not faithful service.  And then we neglect everything else to get the job done.  And our family suffers, and our friends suffer, and our faith seems to fizzle, because truth be told we don’t need God to do our work.

This sort of distraction is what makes church nonessential.  We don’t need it to be successful according to our understanding of success.  And our commitments to the church are secondary to our work, to our family, to our friends, to our dreams, or it is just another way to help us feel better about ourselves.  And then we buy the line that we can be spiritual without be religious.  Or we build a straw man of “organized religion” into which we throw everything that we don’t like…

And Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and over our homes, and over our country, saying:

“Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.  For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side  and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

Do we know that we have been visited by the Lord himself?  Do we realize the choice we need to make?  Do we make that choice out of a sense of God’s direction?  Do we even have a sense that the Lord is with us?

I pray that amidst all of the distractions in life, you take the time to say “no.”  No to your business, no to your family, no to your friends, no to TV, no to your i-Phone, no to the radio, no to life … so that you may say “yes” to Jesus.  And to learn to trust in him in all your ways.  To acknowledge him in all your ways.  To seek him while he may be found.  For the day is coming when we shall have to give an account.

Go back and look at the picture at the top of this post.  Do you see Jesus?  Stare at it hard for at least 30 seconds.  Then shift your attention to a white wall.  See if you don’t see him more clearly.  Spending time looking at, paying attention to, listening for Jesus allows us to see him in so many more settings.  I close with this prayer from Peter Marshall:

Father, I am beginning to know how much I miss when I fail to talk to thee in prayer, and through prayer to receive into my life the strength and the guidance which only thou canst give.  Forgive me for the pride and the presumption that make me continue to struggle to manage my own affairs to the exhaustion of my body, the weariness of my mind, the trial of my faith.  In a moment like this I know that thou couldst have worked thy good in me with so little strain, with so little effort.  And then to thee would have been given the praise and the glory.  When I neglect to pray, mine is the loss.  (-From the Prayers of Peter Marshall ed. Catherine Marshall).

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