War Against Distractions

distractions

It seems like the faster our world moves, the harder it is to get anything done.  Maybe I’m just particularly susceptible.  After all, a co-worker once told me I had the attention span of a fruit fly.  But I don’t think I’m the only one.  Our world is increasingly littered with distractions.  There’s always something trying to pull us away from the truly important.

I’ve realized the only way to accomplish my goals and be faithful to what God is calling me to do is to wage war on distractions.  I need to consciously, systematically and brutally battle against them.

Here’s just a sample of the distractions I’m warring against these days:

  • Email.  I only check it at three designated times per day.
  • Facebook and Twitter.  Two designated times per day for these.
  • Mindlessly surfing the internet. I use Google Chrome as my browser and Stay Focused to limit my amount of time online.

Here’s some distractions I’m trying to avoid all together:

  • Unresolved conflict.  It’s hard to be productive with a low-grade conflict grinding away in your mind.  The Bible is on to something when it says, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” (Eph. 4:26)
  • Gossip.  Why are you wasting your time with someone who has nothing better to do with theirs than gossip? (Prov. 20:19)
  • Comparison & Envy.  Shouldn’t we be so busy doing what God told us to do that we don’t have any space to worry about why and how He’s using someone else?  (John 21:22-23)

There are a number of practical strategies to fight each of these distractions.  Most of them involve removing temptations from your situation or removing yourself from a tempting situation.

But what really works is focusing your heart on something greater than these petty little distractions.  You were made by God.  We’ve been given the privilege of knowing Him, relating to Him and being used by Him.  He’s given us work to do and fruit to bear.  Focus on that and all of the sudden distractions seem to matter less.

Your call.  You can spend all of today on your Facebook newsfeed envying people you hardly know who are on vacation or you can plunge yourself into everything God has for you today.  You just can’t do both.

Keeping It Real

Last Friday, I wrote about the plans Laura and I had for the weekend – we were getting away for 24 hours to build into our marriage.  Honestly, I hope a lot of married couples were inspired to do the same whether you have kids or not.  But I would also guess there were some people who read that post and felt discouraged.  If you were in that second group, this post is for you!

Maybe your marriage is in trouble and you were depressed to realize you really wouldn’t want 24 uninterrupted hours with your spouse.  Maybe you were frustrated that your spouse never suggests something like this.  Maybe it was an unpleasant reminder that you aren’t married yet and the whole idea just seemed like a cruel fantasy.  Maybe you read it on your phone at the end of a long day while making dinner and listening to the kids fight in the other room.

It’s amazing how quickly comparison kills our joy.

Social media puts the comparison trap in front of us on a daily basis.  There’s always somebody doing something awesome in my newsfeed.  Someone’s always in the Caribbean.  Someone is always getting promoted, buying a house or going on the “BEST first date EVER:)!!!!”  We compare all of that to our boring, ordinary lives and feel miserable.  My friend is surfing in Costa Rica and I’m doing an expense report…wow, I hate my life!

The problem is we’re comparing our real lives with an idealized version of someone else’s.  I’m writing all of this today because our little getaway wasn’t as ideal as you might think.

  • Our night away started with a quick trip to Urgent Care.  Laura has asthma and pregnancy can exacerbate it significantly.  When I left for work on Friday morning, she sounded fine.  By 1.30 in the afternoon, she sounded like an 85 year old smoker who couldn’t breathe.  One breathing treatment, a new prescription and a few hours later we finally got to the hotel much later than planned.  Not exactly the fairy tale beginning you might have imagined.
  • For the record, God didn’t bless us with an unexpected upgrade to the Presidential Suite.  We were in what is probably the smallest room in the hotel.  No big deal but don’t fall into the trap of believing God only shows His love in unexpected blessings.
  • We couldn’t agree on a good place for dessert so we ended up the only customers in some cupcake shop splitting a gluten free cupcake (it was all they had left).  For the record, I believe it was gluten free because it was baked before the discovery of wheat!
  • On Saturday morning, a simple conversation about schedules turned into a fairly significant and at times heated disagreement about some issues that had been building up for awhile.

Before you get too depressed, let me say our disagreement morphed into one of the best conversations we’ve ever had about our marriage.  By the end of that conversation, we both felt more united and excited about our marriage.  So, the weekend was not a bust – we had a good time and were super grateful to get away.

Steven Furtick makes this point so well, “We struggle with insecurity because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”  Don’t fall into that trap – enjoy the life God has put in front of you today.

Swim Your Own Race

A lot of my teenage years were spent in a pool.  I started swimming year round in middle school and stuck with it through high school and briefly into college.  While I didn’t know it then, all of that time in a pool was teaching me some lessons that would become tremendously helpful in life.

For example, I learned to stay focused on my own performance in a race and not pay attention to the other swimmers in the pool.  That one was hard for me – I always wanted to know how I was doing relative to everyone else.  Was I winning? Losing?  How far behind was I?  How far ahead was I?  I had this insatiable need to know because I thought I would do better if I knew exactly how I was doing compared to everyone else.

My coach hated that habit and did his best to break me of it.  You see, in order to look at the other swimmers, I had to turn my head to one side or another and that broke my rhythm and started to pull my body off track.  It made me slower; I was losing time looking at others.  All of my comparing wasn’t helping me win – it was costing me time and making me less effective.

I think about that often these days, especially in the era of Twitter and Instagram.  It’s so easy to get distracted by what God is doing with other people.  Their vacations always look better than mine.  Their churches seem to be growing faster than the one I lead.  Their houses seem nicer.  They seem much holier and happier than I am.  And I spend so much of my time thinking about their race that I can lose ground in mine.

Right at the end of John’s gospel, we see Peter wrestling with something similar.  Jesus has just restored Peter to fellowship and ministry following Peter’s denial of Christ in high priest’s courtyard.  They have this wonderful conversation and at the end, Jesus tells Peter to follow Him and they go walking down the beach.  But John, the pesky young disciple, starts following them at a distance.  Apparently bothered, Peter starts asking Jesus about what’s going to happen in John’s life.  Here’s Jesus’ response, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:22)  I love it!  It’s Jesus’ way of telling Peter not to worry about John and his race but to stay focused on his own.

It would save us so much discouragement, bitterness or pride if we would do what Jesus is calling Peter to in this verse.  Don’t be so worried about everyone around you.  Some are ahead of you.  Some are behind.  What’s it to you?  Swim your own race with everything you’ve got.  Push yourself, enjoy it and stay focused on what God is calling you to do, where He is calling you to go and the pace He’s setting for your progress.  At the end of the race, it isn’t about who you beat.  It’s about hearing “well done, good and faithful servant” (Mt. 25:21) from the One who called you into the race in the first place.  Worry about being faithful to Him and don’t get so distracted by everyone else.