I recently read an article by journalist Joshua Becker, which certainly caught my attention. It began, “This world is becoming increasingly filled with distraction – information moves faster, louder and brighter than ever before; entertainment, social media and marketing have never been so prevalent”. Such things constantly beg for our attention and demand our focus.
As one who naturally responds to all the information and bright lights around me, I read on. Could there be ways in which this could actually be inhibiting my life? These distractions are quite obvious – we are well aware of spending too much time attending to social media, watching television or playing games on our phone. But are there also other deeper, more subtle and less obvious distractions, that are so commonplace … we hardly notice their existence. Such distractions weave their way into our regular thinking patterns. Yet, once we identify them, we can acknowledge that they are holding us back?
Our minds are often diverted from more important things. These more important things are likely to be: our relationships, our general health, our personal growth, our life in community with others, the performance of our sporting team, our spiritual well-being, the ministry of our church. While we are responding to the immediate stimulus or distraction, often the inner being is what is most neglected.
The writer of the ancient psalm 139, reflects that the potential of life is so great, that there is regret every time the perfect design of God is wasted on misplaced pursuits. That psalm talks about the pointlessness of trying to escape reality, and the realisation that there is a great future lined up for all of us in God’s design.
We give in to distraction sometimes because it is better than facing up to a decision that needs to be made. Sometimes we use distractions to cover pain. But while distracted, in the real world, our anxiety only increases. Distractions, of the deeper kind, block progress, inhibit growth, destroy happiness, and result in us not reaching our potential. Here are some distractions to be aware of:
- Regretting Yesterday
We can get stuck thinking about missed opportunities and regretting errors of judgment and bad decisions. Nobody lives life unscathed. The fact is we can’t rewrite history, so we need to come to terms with our past, for the sake of all our future relationships. This might mean seeking to make amends where this is possible, and asking for forgiveness in certain circumstances. This will mean being humble, and admitting our imperfections. We can either be bogged down in the past, or focus our mind on the opportunities of the present.
- Wishing For Tomorrow
We can also miss the opportunities of the present by being too distracted by the future. We can get ahead of ourselves, and miss the joys of the day. This is often because today is hard … so we wish for tomorrow. But in this way we are wishing our life away, rather than learning the lessons that might be available. If only this day was over! Work is hard, so we just want the weekend to come. Or, the weekend is quiet and lonely … if only Monday would come. I can’t wait for my next holiday. I’ll start living when I retire. // Life is lived in the now – there is a beauty in the present moment – it will never be seen again.
- Simply Seeking Pleasure
If we only seek pleasure, and not take seriously some of deeper aspects of life, we will not grow. Pleasure, for its own sake, is a terrible teacher, and tends to make us blind and deaf to some important realities. We find ourselves in places of least resistance, rather than in the places of growth and maturity. Embracing challenges, dealing with uncomfortable circumstances, and pushing beyond certain limits, form the pathways to real learning.
- Accumulating Possessions
This is the Western desire for more and more. The desire takes over and becomes an addiction to acquiring things. The possessions take us over, and become our master, and we just want more of the best. These things require our time and energy to maintain them. But our soul is not properly tendered to, and we actually become unhappy. Unless we see that our life means much more than how much we can consume, we will inevitably struggle eventually. // Our lives were designed for making a contribution to society, and finding ways of being kind and generous, especially to those most in need.
- Pursuing Perfection
The most self-defeating distraction is perfectionism. This is the state of not being satisfied with our efforts unless we achieve perfection. This is, of course, impossible. Perfectionism bogs us down into inertia, and results in us being constantly disappointed. This is not good for anyone around us as well, as perfectionists are very difficult to live with. Doing our best … is the way forward, and seeing all pursuits as pathways to improvement. We can healthily pursue best outcomes, work hard with the best of intentions, take pride in what we do – but not try to control outcomes, outcomes that are actually out of our control.
- Making Comparisons
Connected to the distraction of perfectionism, is the tendency to compare ourselves to others … what they have, how they look, what friends they have, how many likes on Facebook they get. This means we tend to lose focus on the good qualities we have, and how they can make a strong contribution to others. We are all different, and that is a good thing. The psalm we read talks about each of us having been formed wonderfully by a loving Creator. To look around with envy is surely a distraction to fulfilling our own purpose. The team, whatever team, whether sporting club, or the church, needs a variety of shapes, sizes, abilities and personalities.
- Needing Notoriety
Our motivations and efforts are compromised … if we are always looking around for notoriety and praise. Will I be in the paper this week? How many people are going to see me going in for the hard ball? Will I get the best player award? Such thinking does not aid team progress. Short-cuts can be taken. What we all need to do, whether it is our sporting team, or our church community, is to play our role. This role is determined by factors such as: our particular talents or gifts, the game-plan of the team, the agreed goals, and the common good. We should come to that place where we live in the same way whether anyone is watching or not!
- Maintaining Bitterness
Many bad and regrettable things happen to us in life. And often this is because other people have been unthinking and hurtful, and have done damaging things to us. The possibility is there, that we harbour resentment, and retain this for years, and slowly destroy ourselves; for often the offender knows nothing of our pain – and we are only hurting ourselves. This is another major distraction from thriving in life. We need to let things go! We need to forgive. God forgives more than we will ever have to forgive. We have to free ourselves from the bondage of bitterness. And sometimes, when given the opportunity, rebuilding broken relationships helps us to grow, and makes us more healthy.
- Being Indifferent
If we ever get a little hardened, or when we continue to suffer in life, or if we get a bit of compassion fatigue, we can start to become indifferent to the need that exists around us, or toward some of the bigger issues of poverty and injustice in the world. If we get distracted from the needs of others by how we feel about ourselves, then all of the good contributions we could naturally make … get left aside. Then all of the joy that could come from responding to opportunities to help others … is missed out on. There is great joy and fulfillment to be found in being generous and kind. We all have much to offer, and it’s a great shame when any of this is suppressed.
Hopefully we can all avoid these distractions and model a healthy life to the community as a whole.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Galatian church, back in the day, these words: “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery” (5:1). Or, in other words, ‘The life of Jesus amongst us has given us the capacity to focus on the important things, and not give in to distractions that may enslave and ruin us’.
This remains a challenge, and we invite conversations around where this has been tough or easy. In community, we want to be supporters of one another … in making the best of the lives God has given us. And ultimately, we will need God’s help to fully embrace life … the way it was intended to be.
People of faith turn to Jesus for this reason – while the world was distracted by self-centredness, personal agendas, power and wealth, Jesus gave up his very life (at the young age of 33) to bring forgiveness and freedom and build a new sort of community … one that cared for each other, and for the world as a whole!