Plodding through Distractions

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Are you more distracted than you used to be? Focused reading, listening, and speaking seems harder. The velocity of information is leaving us as flat-footed as a junior B defenceman skating backward. We just can’t pivot quick enough to stick with things.

If the stride of speech is too long we give up and coast or collapse.

Think of what happens in Facebook or Twitter debates. What starts out as a confident statement that requires little thought turns into an involved debate back and forth that demands time, attention, and mental agility. Because of those demands, people will panic and resort to blowing it up or shutting it down.

Or maybe your distraction is as simple as being unable to pivot and listen to your kids because your mind is somewhere else. Maybe it’s looking at your smartphone, or maybe it’s just that you are unable to pivot and remove your attention from one thought and move it to the next. Those pivot muscles have atrophied.

Think of your ability to follow one of the apostle Paul’s paragraph-long sentences. Are you able to track his argument? Or do you skip to the end and look for a summary?

Scripture calls us to meditate on God’s Word (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:2, 119:97). The canon of Scripture is an inspired argument that ought to be traced from Genesis to Revelation. We need to stick with it and pray that God would make us a bit quicker on our feet so that we can pivot from the old covenant to the new.

So you might be thinking at this point that you are in agreement and you’re pretty distracted. What should you do?

Here are some ideas.

  1. Use technology. This is not a Luddite rant. Technology can be very useful. One of the most helpful things that I have found to fight distraction is to listen to the bible while I’m reading it. If I’m weak, I need assistance by a double dose of bible input. With headphones on, I can read the bible quietly in the early morning and listen to an audio version at the same time.

  2. Read out loud. Get over yourself and read out loud. (But maybe don’t read out loud at 5:30am!). It might seem childish to read out loud, but if we are getting distracted then we likely have to adapt our expectations.

  3. Face people. If you look at a person in the face you can make eye contact. When you do this, it will be as if they are the only person in the room. Then you know and they know that you’re giving them the best of your attention.  We need to remember that the person who speaks is created in the image of God and so ought to be dignified with our attention.

  4. Plan your plodding. It is good for us to persevere through a hard book or a hard argument or a hard task. But most of the time we don’t allow enough time to keep plodding and getting through it. If we plan to plod, then we’ll feel less pressure to quit and move on to something else. We can settle in to plod.

  5. Look for plodding inspiration. I’ve been reading a lot about the explorers who ventured across Western Canada and USA, like David Thompson, Alexander Mackenzie, and Lewis & Clark. They were all plodders who resisted being distracted from their westward journey. Think of missionaries like William Carey who said famously, “I can plod.” His diligence at his desk and in his travels for the spread of the gospel are an inspiration to all plodding Christians.

If you are finding yourself driven to distraction what are you doing about it? Maybe you can start by reading a book like Tony Reinke’s 12 Ways Your Smartphone is Changing You.

Whatever you plan to do in your fight against distraction don’t forget to help and be helped by others. As the writer to the Hebrews said, “let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (10:24). The encouragement of someone else can be just the kind of spur we often need to keep plodding.

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