The Danger of Distraction
We all have favorite characters from movies or novels. One of mine is Dug from the Disney-Pixar movie, Up. Dug is an affable dog who aids the elderly Mr. Fredricksen and his young sidekick, Russell, in their quest to stop the evil Charles Muntz from capturing their bird friend, Kevin. Great movie. Great character development. Worth every moment I’ve spent watching it. Or so I think. But I digress.
Back to the dog, Dug. Dug is known for his ability to talk through his specially engineered collar. This, of course, provides for some substantial comic relief. Dug’s trademark line is, “Squirrel!” at which he will randomly stop mid-sentence and stare off into the distance, thinking that he may see a squirrel worthy of chasing. Hilarious! Great writing by the Pixar team, if I do say so myself.
Now, why did I bring that up?…
Ah, yes! Distractions. We have become a society of Dugs. We have become a people ready at a moment’s notice to break off mid-thought or mid-project and chase the squirrels of our own fancy. I’m guilty of this. Maybe you are too. Life is hectic. There are demands on us at work. Our families need our attention. Our schedules are crazy. I get the appeal of mentally checking out. We want a break from the stress. Certainly there are times where breaks are appropriate. God himself gave us the Third Commandment to give us a day to rest from our labors. My concern isn’t with these kind of breaks from our callings. Rest is good. In fact, if we took seriously God’s command to rest, I think the stress which our distractions are employed to numb would be far more manageable.
My concern is with those things that we mindlessly or habitually do to escape from the realities or stresses of our callings. These distractions may not be so dangerous in themselves, but when done mindlessly and habitually, I would argue they constitute a sinful shirking of one’s callings from God. And, contrary to what one may think, these types of distractions provide us with very little true rest. More often they produce anxiety or guilt. In some cases the distracted person wastes time that should have been spent on a project, which forces an unnecessary pressure and results in a poor product. In other cases, the time we use to distract ourselves could have been spent with those we love, in which meaningful bonds could have been cultivated. When those moments are seen as the waste they are, guilt ensues.
Distractions have always been a problem, but I think we’ve entered an era where they’ve exploded exponentially. Distractions can come in many forms. For some it’s video games. For some it’s TV. For me, it’s my smartphone. This little technological brick has become a portal to the time sucking world of things like Facebook, Instagram (or as the kids say today, Insta), or YouTube. With each passing swipe or click, this clever little contraption acts like a portable drug dealer that supplies us with a never-ending fix of new content. If I am a barometer for society (which is another sad case study for another post), under the guise of learning, expanding networks, and cultivating a connection with people, we have become poorly adjusted and disconnected from the world around us. And we do it without thinking. Notice the psychological implications of the last sentence. I challenged myself one day to count the number of times I mindlessly reached for my cell phone. Because it was mindless, I often didn’t realize I was doing it until I had been looking at it for some time. The number of times I caught myself reaching for it was embarrassing.
God’s Word calls us to a more meaningful, thoughtful path. Paul says in Ephesians 5:15-17, “ Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (ESV). To understand what the “best use” of that time is, we need rid ourselves of the busying distractions, and look to his Word. It’s there we find his will and design for us. In 1 Corinthians 7:17, Paul says, “…let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (ESV).
Where have you been called? I have been called as a pastor to a local congregation. There I am called to preach, teach and engage in soul care ministries. I have not been called to scroll mindlessly through Facebook. I have been called as a husband. As such, I have been called to love my wife sacrificially and to provide for her. I have also been blessed with the calling of fatherhood. I am called to love and train my children in the truth of the gospel, to care for them and to spend quality time with them. I have not been called to absentia from them so that I can listen to endless TED talks or watch pointless how-to videos instead of serving my family. I have many other callings as well and not one of those callings is benefited by mindless, time sucking distractions.
As you “look carefully” at your life, are you seeing a life lived wisely? Are you seeing a life where your decisions and behaviors are formed by an understanding that you have a calling from God? Are you “making the best use of the time” knowing that your callings have eternal impact? I would encourage you to examine those distractions in your life which hinder your callings. I would challenge you to take the necessary steps to fight them, and to utilize the more beneficial means of sabbath rest to find the recharging that you soul needs.
Finally, however, it must be said that as you “look carefully” at your life, you will inevitably uncover distractions that have deterred you from your callings. You will have failed others and yourself. When God opens our eyes to this, it hurts. It is in these moments that you must look to Jesus who “set his face” (a phrase describing thoughtful determination) to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). He traveled undeterred and undistracted to Jerusalem to die upon a cross, whereby he paid for your sinful shirking. At the cross, your sins of distraction were forgiven. Look to that forgiveness as your comfort and as your strength to serve him with thoughtful diligence.
Now stop reading this blog, and go back to work :-)