Distracted and Consumed

I am chief among sinners. 

I thought about Paul’s words as my pastor spoke the words “Distracted and Consumed” yesterday. I felt the arrows of conviction hit straight and true as he continued on with his sermon, knowing those three words had struck at the heart of a problem. One that I know many wrestle with, even as a society and culture we are suffering from the very disease of distraction and consummation.

I get the irony of writing about this on a platform (and sharing it on other platforms) because it’s the very thing which is distracting and consuming this heart, this mind, and this time. I like to say “well it’s to keep up with this or to share my writing.” Unfortunately though it’s to the detriment of my heart and my focus.

Maybe it’s not so much social media that distracts you, maybe you don’t get consumed by the words, the actions, and the thoughts of others in such a divisive culture we are living in. Maybe the distraction is binging on the newest release from Netflix or your kids’ ballgames (this one I saw first hand last weekend y’all). It is whatever is consuming your time and distracting you from the very thing which God desires of you.

What is consuming your heart that it’s not allowing Him in? What is distracting you to the point you cannot hear Him? I am the first to admit that I willingly would choose those over time with Him, time digging in to His Word, time spent in silence with Him, waiting on Him. I would rather be consumed with distractions than allow Him space in my life…that’s what I am telling Him when I “scroll for just a few minutes.” Or when I say “just one more episode” or let someone else take up residency in my heart.

When I am distracted and consumed, I am more prone to worry, anxiety, doubt, fear, and control. I find that peace and stillness are commodities in short supply. The quiet filling of connection is negated with an empty longing to be known when we are consumed by anything other than the God who desires to know us more.

Maybe it’s time to stop the fighting for our attention and our hearts by simply giving them solely to Him. Not a screen, not the success or failure of our child’s pee wee league team, and not some fictional characters we enjoy.

 

So What? 

You ever worry that maybe God got your plans and someone else’s mixed up? 

Maybe that He got busy with a lot of lives and plans that somehow yours was shuffled into existence in some other person’s life rather than your own? 

I struggled with that for a while, and there are days I think just maybe He flipped my life plan with another’s. Yet I was reminded that my concern is not with someone else’s life (and neither is yours with mine) but it is to be concerned with following Him. Even in that I shouldn’t be worrying over the next thing, the career plan or family plan but should be following Him with full attention. 

His will for me is sure, steadfast and promising. It flows out of Him and embodies every bit of Who He is, and not an ounce of what I think it should be. Yes, He encompasses the personality and gifts that He has given…but ultimately His will for my life is nothing short of obedience to Him. That’s it. It’s not worrying that someone else got that promotion even though they don’t attend church as much as you…or that they seem to be succeeding when you feel like it’s all turning up failures and hiccups. 

I look at Peter, our zealous brother of the Bible. I’m a lot like him some days, and even more so there at the end of John. When I feel like someone else is getting what was meant for me or is favored more than I, I point to them and say, “Hey but what about them??” This is after He’s told me what His will is for me, that He shepherds me and has guided me this entire time I say, but that’s not good enough for me. 

Christ’s response to Peter in at the end of John is the same for you and for me today, when we feel as though our concerns for His plan for others is overtaking us…”What is that to you? You follow me.” 

Oof. 

What if He blesses them and not me? What if they get the thing I desired in my flesh? So what if He does allow that for them? That’s exactly what He’s saying to Peter and to me. So what? I’m to follow Him, period, end of questioning, end of discussion. 

Christ has a mic drop moment with Peter, and if I’m honest, with me. When I heard those words shared by the Vice President of the company I work for, I couldn’t help but feel nudged by God too. Maybe you needed to hear them too today. That so what about them? Just follow Him. Concern yourself with following Him in what He has you in currently, where you’ve found yourself, and not so much about others and where He has them. 

Today may you say So What?  when the pokes of comparison, covetousness or jealousy attempt to sneak in. When concerns try to force their way into your life that are none of your concern, follow Him instead. Make Him the focus rather than the complaint. 

Walk A Mile

img_9895It was supposed to be one mile up and one mile back. On concrete stairs, in the cool of the morning. Yes, the incline was steep but it wasn’t something I hadn’t encountered before in hiking in the Smokies or beyond.

I hadn’t expected the heart talk, the overwhelming sense of God in our midst and the whispers of peace that kept flooding over me. We were a group of four women, three visitors and Nicole walking this walk so many Catholics have for penance. We were there to see and talk with Nicole, spend time with her and hear more about this city her family loves, the people and their desire to pursue Christ in the midst of so much darkness.

Of the week we spent in Italy I have so much to process and ruminate on, so much that God spoke into, revealed and called me to conviction on. But these precious hours on Thursday morning spent walking (and huffing and sweating) up to the Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca was the stone of remembrance I’ll place on this trip.

That talk and that walk point me directly to these verses in Ephesians (which were talked about this last week coincidentally)…

In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.

Ephesians 4:1-3 (The Message)

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We walked a road for a short time hearing how God called Nicole’s family to travel this specific one. It also reminded me of the road He’s called me to travel. It’s not one sitting on my hands, just as Paul’s words are translated. It’s not one that is distracted by the view or the people passing by on their own travels. It’s about the one I am walking, the one He purposed specifically for me, unique to my gifts and talents He has blessedly given me.

The mile may be long, it may be far more arduous and heartrending than I had expected, but it’s one that I wish to be steady in climbing and alert for the time I am on it, obedient to the path He has called me to walk (and sometimes run) even when I am tired, out of breath and straining against my own will and lack of strength.

Gifts and Tools and Talents

For years my dad will talk about tools with me. It must be a tomboy thing. He will pull them out and show me what they do, or point to one in Home Depot and talk about all of it’s uses. In being a new homeowner I am relishing the information he has shared with me over the years, because when something happens (like the washing machine drain pipe coming loose) I know what I need to use to fix the problem.

It’s the knowledge that he has carried for years that I am thankful he spent time passing on to me. The same goes with my car. He educated me so that I would recognize when I was being had by a mechanic or when to take my car in when the alignment felt slightly off.

We all have these tools and talents, knowledge that we have ascertained or been gifted. This last year I truly doubted much of the tools I had in my own toolbox, and questioned any of the talents in which I felt I had. I didn’t put them to use, or I used them for something else in the hopes that would be the fix.

In the middle of Advent season, God showers us with our gifts by ensuring we see the talents we have in the midst of confusion, division, doubts and busyness. He gives us these gifts and tools to be used, to multiply again and again. I think know I have taken these gifts for granted, eschewing them aside because it didn’t seem like they were of use. I heard something yesterday that caught my attention:

That’s the thing with tools. When they are used for their purpose they work well. When they aren’t, well...”

Our gift may be a voice, a song, writing or baking. It could be mothering or leading. So often we doubt the good gifts given and they go unused. We turn into the man who buried his gold in the field because of fear. We see the others around us using their gifts given and we begin to skew our minds into thinking He hasn’t gifted us as well or with opportunity.

But look at how He gifts, each one according to their ability. I started thinking on that after hearing it in the context of my favorite people currently, Mary and Joseph. They were faithful in what they were given. They could have said no, but He knew their hearts, their talents, their faithfulness, and most of all, their ability to carry what He called them to do.

What would it look like if we started being faithful in the gifts He has given us? Instead of living in fear of not accomplishing it with what He has given, but rather rejoicing in what He entrusts to us to carry? Maybe they aren’t the best cookies in the world, but you baked them for that family you knew needed them. Maybe you only get to speak to kids for twenty minutes once a week, but you spoke to the hearts who would listen, who needed you to speak that truth into them. Maybe you don’t get as many views or likes on something you poured your heart into, but you were obedient to do what He impressed upon your heart. (Hi, that one’s me and I’ll dive into that ugly mess in a later post)

Be faithful in the gift given this year. If it matters enough to Him to gift you with it, then it makes an eternal difference that you use it.

His Presence

We long for the whispers in the stillness and quiet. We desire to be in the face of the rocks when the storms rage and hear Him pass by. We want the shouts of answers or the wrestling matches with Him where but a touch leaves us forever changed physically.

But we don’t leave room for Him

I say this looking at myself as well. In the every day, I don’t leave much space for the working of the Spirit to breathe into me. In the busy season we always find ourselves in, we don’t leave much space for Christ’s love to be poured out onto us. We just don’t have the capacity for God, if He could but just see our schedules.

We face the same situation all over again, as if we are the innkeepers when Mary and Joseph approach us asking for space in our lives, to house the One-our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God. We think it has to be tidy first to allow Him in, that we have to get a few worship services and a small group added to our plate before we could possibly be available to Him.

Then they become the routine, but are they giving us room for Him? for even more of Him? Or are we checking those off of our list for the week, leaving unchanged and even more harried at our growing list of things to do and places to be?

Even in the quiet, do we find the space for Him? I know I can find a million things to do at home in order for it to be the right time and place for Him to be present. We point to the external circumstances or distractions when in fact it’s to appease the rising guilt and shame from within as we know it’s in our control and it’s within our realm of free choice, yet we choose the other.

I think on this ever more at this time of year and wonder after the fact how the innkeeper and his wife felt. If they even knew the opportunity lost to be present and in the presence of Christ? When I dwell on the wonder of that moment and His encapsulating presence, I recall times when I have made myself available and chosen to be present with Him. Those were beautiful times that only He and I share, that only He can put words to as I am still left in awe of His power and wonder.

There will always be things, people to take places, to-do lists to be completed, distractions to take our focus away but in the present we have the choice of being fully engaged in Him. He’s chosen us for just such a time, so why won’t we choose Him above the rest?


Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!
 Seek the Lord and his strength;
    seek his presence continually!

Psalm 105:3,4

A Listening Heart

As I sat across the table from my friend, I stilled my mind to intently hear what was said. Not for a lesson for him, nor what I could learn in what he was sharing. No, I was there to simply listen.

Hours before I had prayed over this meeting, the conversation and what would be talked about because I know my friend needed to talk. He needed to share and be heard, something I don’t think he feels is happening with his life presently-either with colleagues, friends, family or even God.

My nature as someone who empathizes with others is to often listen to fix. To figure it out and discern what God is trying to teach-maybe to them but often to myself. I want to hear them but only as I prepare to mindfully respond to what they are saying.

God had other plans as He calls us to walk this life in community. To not just listen with our ears but with His heart, to the cries of His children. To the moans of the earth, and respond appropriately.

A listening heart means that sometimes you don’t respond verbally, but in repeated prayers. A listening heart means you don’t sit and think on how to respond immediately but actually hear the heart of the other person opening up. This was a vulnerable conversation I had with my friend, one in which I shared with him in return something I do not talk about very often (actually rarely). It was an opportunity for God to use me to hear but also for my friend to speak.

A listening heart allows vulnerability to take place and be present, it provides an avenue in which friendship is grown without pretense or expectation. A listening heart bears the burden without judgement. And a listening heart allows time and thoughtful consideration to the person speaking.

I hadn’t fully prepared my head and heart for the conversation that transpired and the heavy weight my friend is carrying presently. However I know God needed me present and listening for my friend more than He needed me to suggest solutions or fixes. He needed me to share a prayer with my weary-hearted friend hours later rather than in that moment. God needed me present and listening with my heart, just as my friend did.

It is a joy to be used and available in such a way…as I am ever so thankful to have rediscovered a listening heart within that Christ fills with His love and compassion.

Comfort to Coals

So my friend Dustin wrote recently about firewalking and it’s been rattling around in my head more and more.

The worry over it hasn’t been the fact that God is calling me out to fire walk with Him into trials and situations. My feet, as well as my hands and knees, bear the calloused skin of prior walks (and crawls) through the coals. The callousness has caused for a while the appearance of uncaring, of complacency and settledness.

It’s shown comfort when there should have been a sloughing off and preparing once more. Yes, we build up the skin which has been exposed to flame…but only to recall and then peel it away for the next walk through fire.

We take the time to smooth out the roughness in order to lay bare the next layer of life, of learning, of walking through it with Him. Not to gloat, not to show off the burn marks, but just because we are called to the fires of life.

While a couch provides respite from life, it gives comfort and a sense of being unlike anything else…it can also entrap us into believing it is what we deserve. We find ourselves in the continual battle of turning to comfort rather than coals. Ultimately though, we are called from that “couch cushion fort” as my friend termed it, to the coals that burn away parts of ourselves, the parts that needed pulling away and preparing for the next moment, the next situation and the next life.

Do not forego rest in times following the testings of life, but don’t mistake that for excuses not to turn and prepare once more to set about the fire with Him. For He’s called us into it, not to leave us but to walk right along side us through it.


 

“And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell bound into the burning fiery furnace. Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.”  He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.”

Daniel 3:23-25