We typically see distractions as a negative. We have a plan, and an unexpected interruption not only causes us to pause our activities, but diverts our attention and thinking. Distractions can even divert plans all together. Different than a delay or temporary holding pattern, you can be going down one path or line of thinking and then a distraction literally has you change course entirely. There are times that distractions are an allure from the immediate at the sacrifice of the ultimate aim. We know we need to get something done or take certain steps in a direction but along comes that distraction and it’s so much simpler, easier so we alter our course.
Theologically, distractions are often framed as a tool of the enemy, a way to shift our attention from God. I have totally seen this play out in my life. But, the ultimate Creator of all the “tools”, God can use distractions too. A couple of weeks ago I found myself so very thankful for a distraction.
I had a moment. I’m not going to call it a panic attack because the physical symptoms were not as present as I associate those moments with, but it was a panic. Someone told me they had done something for me, so very well intended, but I immediately flipped out about the ripple effects I envisioned. See I have a handful of things that are literal nightmares for me. And I mean literally. I actually have nightmares about these things. Some people wake up from a terrible dream of them falling off a cliff, or the whole standing in front of everyone naked, and while I have zero desire to experience those dreams those are the images that haunt my REM cycle. One of my reoccurring, heart beating out of my chest, nightmares is people talking about me negatively. Now I don’t think anyone wants to be talked about behind their back, and most of us want negative talk to our face. But I have these dreams where I either “catch” people talking about how terrible I am, or I’m some how an unnoticed observer of these conversations in the corner during some gathering. I’m 40 something. I should be over this by now. And while I have come so far with my mental gymnastics and worked so hard on my thought life, even as I write this I can feel the anxiety creep in. So in this moment I’m sharing about that is what was happening, this friend, again, so well-meaning, shared something on my behalf and all I could do was instantaneously write, direct and produce the myriad of conversations I just “knew” were now taking place.
After the initial panic my eyes started to well up. I grabbed my phone. My thumbs furiously sent a text novel to two people that I knew would calm and correct me. I couldn’t call because in about three minutes I had an online meeting I had to be a part of.
That meeting was my distraction.
Last week, when talking with my high school girls small group, I shared the idea that Parker’s kindergarten teacher repeatedly shared with them: Stop. Think. And choose. We talked about how if we could stop, catch our breath, or pause to think on how we want to respond vs. how we feel God is leading us to respond, and THEN choose our response…we would have much better results in life. But in this moment I had, I couldn’t stop. So I am thankful for the distraction.
What makes a distraction different from a pause is the shift in attention. There is beyond extreme value in slowing down our responses, in being still and pausing, but our thoughts and attention still tend to be on the “it” we are putting on hold. Sometimes we need to forget it all together.
In working with people I often encourage them to find a place to put their hands and energy to service. This is partly because I think we are designed to thrive in sharing with others what God has deposited in our lives, but also, and maybe even more of a reason, it provides a distraction. When your are consumed with yourself, thinking more about what yourself is thinking and feeling is not always productive. Sometimes you need to distract yourself.
I’m fairly certain Isaac was thankful for his dad’s distraction when he noticed that ram. (Genesis 22)
I wonder what Moses was pondering, or if he was in the midst of self criticism, when he was distracted by a burning bush. (Exodus 3)
Paul was completed derailed by his God sent distraction that completely caused him to change the direction of his life. (Acts 9)
Pretty much every disciple was in the middle of their work when the distraction of Jesus came along. (All the Gospels)
I want to clarify. While I think we can discover how God is able to work through all distractions, even the ones we deem more used as a weapon against us, but every now and then I think he just gifts us with one. Standing outside of time, I love how God used a meeting scheduled months ago, to take a moment that happened seconds before to distract me. For an hour I was unable to wallow in my worry. (This was not a meeting where I could zone out/pretend to listen.) Requiring me to engage produced totally unrelated fruit.
After the meeting I still had concerns, the fear of how people now viewed me didn’t disappear, but the distraction decreased its weight. I could carry it now. It was much lighter.
Where could you use a distraction? When was the last time your attention was diverted, and in retrospect, you are thankful?