Death by Distraction

An enthusiastic cricket is hiding somewhere in my house, chirping his tiny heart out. And while I admire his tenacity for life, I’m now contemplating multiple ways of finding him and ending his one-bug symphony.

It’s never ending. Constant. Like an itch that never stops itching. Like a squeaking fan that won’t level out. Like a dripping faucet that no matter how you jiggle the handle, the water continues to fall. Splat. Splat. Splat.

This little cricket has been torturing me for three mornings now. I sit down to read, pray or write but my thoughts get drowned out. By a bug. In the crowded room of my mind there are lots of voices trying to get my attention but I can’t focus on anything but the chirp, chirp, chirp that I hear from somewhere in my living room.

I really do want to pray. I honestly want to read my bible. But that stupid bug is making it impossible.

I wonder if God notices this. I wonder if he gets tired of waiting for me to talk to him, to read his letter, to think about his words. I wonder if he is annoyed that I am letting a tiny bug derail my good intentions. It’s a bug, for crying out loud. Isn’t God more important than my fixation on the chirpings of a tiny creature?

But this question only leads me to wonder about the rest of my life. I think about all the other times when my focus has been snatched away by something as mundane as the chirping of a cricket.  As I sit in my car I fill my ears with NPR, when I’m sitting in the doctor’s office waiting to be called I fill my eyes with CNN. When I sink into the couch after successfully finishing my day (as evidenced by the silence that only having children tucked away in bed can bring) I fill my mind with TV shows. All these things are neutral really. Nothing inherently wrong with them. Much like there isn’t anything sinful about the noises that a cricket makes.

But they are so very distracting.

This morning, when I WANT to pray, my brain resists, jumping to focus instead on the noises of a bug rather than the thoughts of my heart.

In the same way, I WANT to commune with God throughout my day – talking to him when I’m upset, thinking about his words when I have a quiet moment –  but my mind resists, jumping to focus instead on the noises of the world around me.

Sometimes I wonder if Satan planted the cricket. But that’s probably a stupid thing to think, right? I doubt that demonic forces were at work when little mister cheerful decided to live somewhere under my bookshelves.

But do I think that Satan might use his influence to throw distractions at me? Maybe. He’s not dumb. Instead of tempting me with obvious sins he just places neutral, harmless suggestions in my path. The effect might actually be better. An obvious path towards temptation might push me towards God (either before the sin as I ask for strength to walk away, or after the sin when as the guilt pushes at my spirit and I turn to God in repentance.) But a distraction? That isn’t inherently sinful? Ah. Now there’s an idea.

I was talking to a friend about this recently. And while I can’t remember who I was talking to (sorry, friend-who-I-talked-to if you are reading this!) but that thought – that distractions might be more powerful in distancing us from God than actual temptations – has stuck with me.

So, I’m actively thinking of ways to reduce the non-bug “chirping” in my life. (Incidentally, I’m also actively thinking of ways to reduce the live-bug chirping…and the ideas get more violent the longer I have to listen to this little menace. Ahem.) To that end, I’ve taken the FB and CNN apps off of my phone so that they’re not immediately accessible. I’ve put a scripture in song CD in my car so that I have an easy alternative to the radio. Beyond that, I’m just asking God to turn my thoughts towards him in my quiet moments, rather than turning towards the TV, books or websites to fill my mind.

I’m not turning into a puritan though. This isn’t a blog post decrying the evils of modern media. I’m not chucking my TV and burning all my secular CDs. I still plan to read a fiction book being released by one of my authors in a week and I still plan to record my favorite TV shows when they start airing again. This is not fear-that-anything-not-spiritual-will-infect-and-destroy-me based. This is just me, realizing that there is a lot of noise in my life and it’s slowly started to drown out the truly important things that I need to focus on during my day.

It’s also true to that during a year when life has been harder than usual and when my emotional and spiritual support systems have been smaller than usual, I really need to focus on God more than usual. It’s not time to wander away from God – it’s time to get closer. But that’s really a whole other blog post.

In any case, maybe you need to evaluate the “noise level” in your life at the moment. Are you thinking less and less about God and more and more about things that really don’t matter? Is the chirping loud and God’s voice quiet?

While writing this, I was reminded of a part in “The Screwtape Letters” (an imaginary account in which an elder demon advises his young protégé on methods for successfully tempting a Christian) where the older demon discusses the power of non-sinful distractions. C.S. Lewis (brilliantly) writes,

“…you will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention. You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday’s paper will do. You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but in conversations with those he cares nothing about on subjects that bore him. You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room. …Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes that he does not like, or in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give them a relish, but which, once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off.

You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick.”

So friends, what is the “Nothing” that is pulling you away from the Light? What is your noisy bug?

(Also, if you find any grammatical errors in this post, please blame the cricket ; )


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1 Comment

  • Tyler Shippam says:

    Sooooo true. Distractions have been very heavy on my mind in recent days and this causes me to reflect even more. What are the truly important things in my life? And what are the things that keep me from those? Mostly, :distractions

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