by Lee Coleman
As I type this post, I am looking out over an inches-thick layer of ice that fell over the last two days, experiencing a “four day weekend” which could evolve into a six or seven day weekend. Realizing that outside life was about to shut down for the foreseeable future (again), I can’t help but reflect on the incredible number of disruptions to “normal life” that have occurred over the past twelve months.
I was sitting around a table in Guatemala last March eating hand-made tortillas after a long day of mission cataract surgeries when word began to spread that the NCAA basketball tournament was cancelled and airport travel was threatening to be disrupted due to the novel coronavirus. Unease turned into action as it became clear that the prospect of an extended stay in Guatemala due to the pandemic travel restrictions, on both the Guatemalan and American sides, was quite possible. Phones with Guatemalan broadband service were borrowed and passed around until quicker outbound flights were procured and travel to the sprawling urban metropolis of Guatemala City arranged for the next day. Amy and I still laugh about our hastily-arranged hotel that actually had a sushi restaurant on the first floor. You haven’t really had the full spectrum of sushi until you’ve had a spicy tuna roll served to you by a Guatemalan waitress with “Karla” on her name tag.
Having travelled to Guatemala numerous times over spring break, we have an informal tradition for easing the culture shock back to the States. After clearing the long Customs lines, we’ll seek out a burger and fries (we know exactly where to find the Chili’s in the Houston airport), and catch up on what’s been happening in March Madness. This time, however, instead of basketball coverage, all of the screens were covering the coronavirus, introducing us to Dr. Fauci and concepts like “flattening the curve” and whether masks should be worn to stop a global pandemic.
The rest, as the saying goes, is history, but a history that is still being written. Months with limited or no time at work. No school, online school, or (gasp) homeschool. In-person church services cancelled, then restarted, then cancelled again. Quarantine theater played out over Instagram, YouTube and TikTok. And the masks. Wearing, talking about, and arguing over the masks. I need to screenshot the Gap and J. Crew websites to make myself remember there was a “masks” section next to the chinos and V-neck T-shirts. And of course, the “most important election in our country’s history” was underway just in case you didn’t feel like normality hadn’t already checked out months ago.
2021, or as the meme jokes, “twenty-twenty ... won,” has proven to be just as disruptive so far. Something happened at the Capitol building, either a violent coup attempt or a bunch of morons that busted down some doors to take pictures of themselves in places that would incriminate them in illegal activity ... depends on which news source you believe. Kids, everything lives forever on the internet, trespassing and coups included, like your parents warned you. Except some of these people are parents (eye roll). Everything is still getting cancelled: church, school, sports, and, of course, people. Except the Super Bowl, and in a weird semblance of normal, Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski won, but not with the Patriots. Instead they raised the trophy with the “Tompa Bay Gronkineers” as the T-shirts read.
So, instead of being shocked that I’m sitting at home on a Tuesday morning drinking coffee in my pajamas contemplating an “unprecedented” ice storm (sorry precedents, you’ve been cancelled) instead of examining eyes at the office, I’m thinking this must be that “new normal” everybody keeps talking about. Disruption seem to be what’s on tap for the foreseeable future.
Disruption may be more in-your-face lately, but let’s be honest: our lives have been and always will be destined for disruption. And that’s okay, as long as we fight the dangerous possible end result of continual disruption: distraction.
Distraction, noun: “a thing that prevents someone from giving full attention to something else.” Since I’m speaking to Christians, I don’t think we’ll have to dig too deep to know what or who it is that deserves our full attention, but it’s worth examining what kinds of disruptions prevent us from giving our full attention to God.
Often, the disruption that leads to spiritual distraction reveals what our hearts are valuing more than God. Jesus’ good friend, Martha, showed how easy it is to be distracted from seeing Jesus, even when he happened to be sitting in the living room. As she stressed over the hospitality, he admonished her, “... Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).
What makes us troubled and anxious? Disruption in our regularly scheduled life? Elections, pandemics, ice storms? For Martha, it was the loss of control. Maybe the dinner crowd was too big to prepare food for, or perhaps she and Mary didn’t have advance notice that Jesus was coming. Regardless, it had her troubled. And she was anxious. Why the anxiety? She could have been nervous that the food wasn’t going to be good enough, or she might have been worried that the dirty kitchen was going to make people feel like she didn’t have it together as a hostess.
Or maybe the latest developments in the Roman government had her on edge? Or rumors of a faraway plague had her concerned that mandatory face coverings in the temple were about to be a thing? We don’t know what unique stressors made Martha predisposed to being troubled and anxious, but she was a human just like us, and struggled with dealing with her well-planned life being thoroughly disrupted.
Usually, distraction from Jesus doesn’t come with any old minor disruption. It comes when something (other than Jesus) that already holds a prominent place in our hearts experiences a seismic shift.
“I can’t go to work? But what am I supposed to do? That’s who I am!”
“My political team lost/won the election? Now we have no/all power!”
“How can they cancel that actor/actress? That’s not fair!”
If you find yourself troubled and anxious from disruptions to the point of being distracted from Jesus, take heart! For starters, you’ve recognized there’s a problem. Second, you’re in good company as one of the many millions of humans that tend to be distracted from that which they long to keep in the forefront of their attentions.
For Christians, we can certainly co-opt good secular advice: limit social media, recognize our limited ability to impact the political realities of our nation, appreciate family relationships when disconnected from our routines. But we have endlessly more helpful resources of our God in Heaven to call upon. So, ask the Lord to focus your attentions. Be like David, who possibly had the most disrupted life, usually of his own doing, in the Bible.
Psalm 27:4 “One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.”
Also, remember that God is training us for glory, as the Holy Spirit exercises the muscles of spiritual formation, in this case, self-control, through the disruptions of life.
Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
Until our control is tested, there can be no growth toward self-control. As you are waiting for the ice to melt, the pandemic to end, masks to come off, and life to finally return to “normal,” identify the areas that cause you trouble and anxiety, and pray through disruption, that God would keep you, like Mary, at the feet of Jesus. And remember, distraction is not condemnation, no matter how disrupted your life may feel.
Romans 8:1-2 “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”
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