The sin of distraction

A non-Christian friend of mine participated in a professional pop-music video a few months back, and the gist of the song was how staying connected 24/7 turns people into zombies. The message is a good one, even if the details might not be appreciated by saints. (Hence, no link.)

Last week, a well known news figure wrote at length about the great sin of today — distraction. An atheist, he even fled to a monastery for a time and gave up his electronics, as he attempted to free himself from its control.

If he’s right that distraction is today’s great sin, then Dug, the cute dog in the “UP” movie, captures it perfectly. He can’t finish a sentence for seeing a squirrel.

There’s always a new buzz, tone, text, tweet, post, status, email, video, link, or grandbaby pic to take us away from a conversation or thought. (Only the grandbaby pics really deserve the distraction, see?)

The problem is not a single moment of distraction, but rather a life lived by them.

  • We get so distracted that the Bible remains unread.
  • We get so distracted that God doesn’t get even a zing of prayer from us.
  • We get so distracted that church meetings can’t hold our attention.
  • We get so distracted that we can’t see our neighbor’s need.
  • We get so distracted that we forget our mission to spread the gospel.

So we turn into religious zombies, shuffling through life ignoring all that goes on at our elbows, our faces aglow with the light of a smartphone screen.

I went through a city park recently on a Saturday. It was full of people, but nobody was appreciating the greenery. Everyone was glued to screens, searching for Pokemon.

Distraction is a decision. We speak of it in passive terms. I got distracted. “Distraction is a way of asserting control; it’s autonomy run amok,” asserted Joshua Rothman in The New Yorker. “Distraction is appealing precisely because it’s active and rebellious.”

So we are responsible for what distracts us. We choose what to be distracted by.

Distraction is not a new sin. Satan has been using bait-and-switch tactics for centuries. James warned us against being double-minded, James 1.8. Distraction has to do with lack of faith, rebellion, dissatisfaction with the fullness of God, listening to other voices besides the Lord’s.

What is the virtue that frees us from the vice of distraction? If you like to think in such terms, consider it as being wholehearted devotion.

I like the word “devotion” over “dedication,” because the former seems to carry more warmth. Rothman quotes a writer who claims the opposite of distraction is joy. The spiritual mind finds this attractive. The joy of Jesus occupies his space, so that devotion becomes the healthy obsession with the fullness of God at work in him.

Paul declares that “for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we live, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we live” 1 Corinthians 8.6. The Lord Jesus takes up all our attention, since “we will in all things grow up into Christ” Ephesians 4.15. It is no exaggeration to say — and heresy to say otherwise — that “Christ is all and in all” Colossians 3.11.

Wholehearted devotion is at the same time limiting and freeing. It focuses and concentrates, because we judge God worthy of our full attention.

Amaziah was a distracted king. “He did what the Lord approved, but not with wholehearted devotion” 2 Chronicles 25.1-2. He got sidetracked by revenge and picked fights with kings. Wholehearted devotion wards off temptations to go down rabbit holes and dead-end trails.

The world attempts to battle distraction with their virtuous version of mindfulness. But it offers, at best, a process or mechanics, rather than content or worth. Mindfulness in this way might be just another distraction from the One who has it all and offers it all.

So Jesus’ words are more applicable than ever, if that’s possible, because he wants our undivided attention. “Whoever has ears to hear had better listen!” Mark 4.9, 27.

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J. Randal Matheny

Servant of the Lord at GoSpeak
Randal and his wife have lived and worked in Brazil since 1984. They have three children, two daughters-in-law, and four grandchildren. Randal's a lefty, a chocolate lover, an author and a poet.

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