Distracted From His Presence

I’ve lived in Silicon Valley for almost eighteen years and throughout those years I’ve watched people become disgusted with the manner of life in the valley. I remember an individual telling me the valley was “toxic to his soul.”

I picked this up pretty quickly when I moved here back in 2001, people and their hurried lives, and the chaotic day to day of work and life after work. I remember laughing to myself and vowing that I would not allow “The Borg” of the valley to assimilate me. Keep in mind “The Borg’s” ultimate goal is “achieving perfection.” Well, I lost. Somehow personal boundaries and the care of my soul got pushed to the back of the line and I eventually became overwhelmed to the point of “burn out.”

In doing “the work of the ministry” I was distracted from caring for my own soul. Well, isn’t that what a “good” servant of God is supposed to do? Neglect your needs for another. I won’t go into the why I did what I did but part of it was to impress others. I’ve struggled with deep feelings of inadequacy most of my life so that drove my need to “impress.”

Here is a brief passage from a book I read many years ago that hit the nail on the head for me. Peter Scazerro, author of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, “…work for God that is not nourished by a deep interior life with God will eventually be contaminated by other things such as ego, power, needing approval of and from others, and buying into the wrong ideas of success and the mistaken belief that we can’t fail…our experiential sense of worth and validation shifts from God’s unconditional love for us in Christ to our works and performance…our activity for God can only properly flow from a life with God.”

Now let me say there were times of refreshing throughout that period of life but it was never enough. I felt as if I was always trying to catch up on missed sleep. Somehow that never happens.

Through the neglect of my soul, my ability to be fully present to others, to myself (self-awareness) and to God was compromised.

As followers of Jesus, we live in a time where there are so many things to keep us from “the better place” (Luke 10:42). So many of us struggle to physically and emotionally keep our head above water. There are many distractions, and I’m not just talking about technology but so many other things that prevent us from having a self-awareness that leads to greater emotional health.

Author Andrew Sullivan wrote a great article that addresses what I’m writing about in this blog. If you have time give it a read: http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2016/09/andrew-sullivan-my-distraction-sickness-and-yours.html

Here is a great quote from his article: “There are books to be read; landscapes to be walked; friends to be with; life to be fully lived… this new epidemic of distraction is our civilization’s specific weakness. And its threat is not so much to our minds, even as they shape-shift under the pressure. The threat is to our souls. At this rate, if the noise does not relent, we might even forget we have any.”

Upon reading this the Spirit reminded me of Jesus warning in the gospel of Mark 8:36, What good is it for a man or woman to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 

Focusing on just my spiritual life and not all the other things that contributed to my loss of soul I “had lost the plot.”

Fortunately, Jesus gives us a wonderful model, a way of living that helps us to flourish in the busyness of life and yet somehow I lost sight of that model in my busy, distracted life.

Let me set this up for you; Jesus gets baptized and then is led into the wilderness by the Spirit. In the gospel of Luke 4:2 it says, “…where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.” The devil tempts him with food, attempts to get him to question His identity as a son and then offers power to rule. Jesus does not fall for the devil’s ploy but acts out of a place of strength to stand against the devil’s temptation.

I’ve read this story numerous times and have never, ever thought of this wilderness, this quiet, lonely, solitary place to be a place of empowerment. But, that is what Jesus models for us.

All throughout the gospels, we read that Jesus often went to lonely places to pray. In Mark 1:35-38, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he travelled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.”

Jesus, having achieved celebrity-like status the day before where he taught in the synagogue and amazed the people with His authority, then drove out an impure spirit, healed Simon’s mother in law of a fever, and that evening, people brought to him the “sick and demon possessed.” Then wakes up very early in the morning to pray. While he is doing this people are already gathering to meet with him. They want more of the signs and wonders of the previous day. Presented this opportunity by his disciples to build on his popularity, Jesus, full of the Spirit is focused on what is next for him and says no to the opportunity.

How many of us need that clarity, empowerment and ability to say “no” to things that aren’t what God has for us? Maybe it is time to rethink this idea of spiritual discipline?

People come to The Healing Path (an eleven-week healing group) and other groups I lead and want a magical prayer or some powerful insight to find healing. When I talk about “silence and solitude” they get this look on their face that tells me they want something easier. It seems most of the time I mention “spiritual disciplines” they view them in very negative ways. Perhaps its because we see it as a place of wasted time, frustration and emptiness rather than empowering. This is why we pursue the quick fix of another glass of wine or a few more episodes of whatever’s on Netflix or Amazon Prime or hours spent watching silly YouTube videos or porn. We seem to prefer escapism versus engagement. It seems we will do anything to avoid silence and solitude out of fear that we might come face to face with our pain, deep-rooted anxiety or feelings of inadequacy within that we’ve repressed.

My problem was I always approached the disciplines as a legalist and viewed them more like a duty, hoping to impress God with my obedience.

Alas, the discipline of “silence and solitude” requires intention. You begin with small steps of learning how to “be still.” Hopefully, five minutes turns into ten, ten turns into fifteen and so forth. For some of you, five or ten minutes might be all you have so don’t feel like you need to do more. Make sure you have your journal with you just in case you feel the nudge of the Spirit. This practice opened up a whole new season of healing for me. It helped me immensely with becoming self-aware of internal wounds, pain and slights that still needed tending to.

So much more to say but I leave you with another quote from Andrew Sullivan’s eye-opening article: “If the churches came to understand that the greatest threat to faith today is not hedonism but distraction, perhaps they might begin to appeal anew to a frazzled digital generation.”