I've been thinking a lot about distractions lately. It's hard to stay focused in a world determined to overwhelm you with minutiae and panic. How do we filter? How do we prioritize? How do we dig out from the avalanche of paper (junk mail, school papers, and virtual paper in the form of emails, spam, pop-ups)? How do we notice what is important amidst so much that is ridiculous, frivolous, banal, or downright harmful to our well-being? How do we hear the voice of God in the cacophony of modern life?
A few years ago, a family in our church dealt with just about the worst crisis imaginable: a baby with aggressive cancer. Little Lincoln fought for over a year. His family gratefully accepted help from our church family during most of that time, but occasionally, his mother would tell me, "We're circling the wagons."
That was code for "Back off. We need to focus on Lincoln now, on fighting to keep him alive. No distractions."
After a few weeks, Lincoln's mother would call, ready to accept our help again. I so admired her ability to ask for what she needed...whether it was privacy or help. She blessed our whole congregation by welcoming us into her family's need, and she protected her family by keeping us out when they needed to circle those wagons and let God do what only He could do for them.
Amazing grace is all that functions well in the midst of deeply troubled waters, and life-or-death crises have a way of focusing our attention rather dramatically on God.
For many of us, thankfully, the waters are not so troubled, yet somehow that makes it harder to figure out what really matters. We allow minor issues to blow into major squalls, but we fail to see that by tacking slightly to starboard or port, we have clear sailing. A minor adjustment of attitude is all it takes, a quiet prayer, a moment to listen and reflect and focus on what really matters.
Why do we find even small adjustments so difficult? How can we find guidance to make those adjustments that bless our lives with peace, purpose, and love...even in the midst of suffering?
Read scripture. Worship in community. Pray. Serve God in the world and allow others to serve you in His name.
Jesus taught us these things. If we do them, attentively and carefully, we can stay focused on what God wants us to do, how He wants us to serve. Of course we will slip and fail, but God's love and forgiveness are there to catch us each and every time. We just need to keep reaching for Him until it becomes our habit, until we consistently see what matters.
It takes a lifetime, but it's worth it.