Worried and Distracted

Worried and Distracted

July 21, 2019 

Amos 8:1-12, Colossians 1:15-18 and Luke 10:38-42

Worried and Distracted

            What do you do when you realize that you don’t have your mart phone with you? If you are like most other people then you probably did all or some of the following:

1. You freak out and start frantically searching for it in every possible location.

2. When you calm down and it becomes clear to you that you forgot it at home, you can’t decide whether or not to go back home and get it.

3. But you decide not to and proceed without it, trying to distract your mind with other things.

4. Gradually, you start to feel more incomplete by the passing second.

5. You constantly worry about some important call that you may miss.

6. And what about all those text messages that you won’t read until you get back home.

7. You wish it had been your wallet or handbag you forgot instead. You can deal without those!

8. When you need to call someone, you realize that you hardly remember anyone’s numbers.

9. You get an eerie feeling in your hand, the urge to hold your phone every few minutes.

10. You come across an amazing thing that deserves a photo and a social media post along with it and your heart aches due to missing that smart device.

11. And you realize that maybe not going back home for your phone was actually a bad decision.

12. The first thing you do after reaching home is head for your phone.

13. And tweet or post about how miserable your day was since you didn’t have your phone with you.

            In a recent interview with Dr. Clifford Nass, professor of communication at Stanford University, he made an interesting comment. He said that our technology-addicted lifestyle and our nonstop multitasking might be affecting our ability to concentrate, manage our emotions, and even think creatively. When asked how distracted we are today this is how he responded: “The top 25% percent of Stanford students are using four or more media at one time whenever they’re using media. So, when they’re writing a paper, they’re also Facebooking, listening to music, texting, and Twittering.”

            Now these students may think they are smarter than the rest of us for doing so many things at a time. However, Prof. Nass points out that research has shown that people who chronically multitask show an enormous range of deficits. They’re basically terrible at all sorts of cognitive tasks, including multitasking – even those who said they’re the best at multitasking because they did it all the time!

            Now listen to this: In a study people were divided up into those who multitask all the time and people who rarely do, and the differences are remarkable. People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage a working memory. They’re chronically distracted. But they don’t think they are. Because people have been multitasking for so long, they’ve lost the ability to focus on one thing.

            The question then is whether we can retrain our brains to be able to focus again. The answer is not what you want to hear? We don’t know because people refuse to let go. It’s almost impossible to get a group of people who believe their lives are built around multitasking to stop for two weeks to actually see whether their brains have changed!

            In all fairness we have to say that multitasking or being distracted is not a modern day curse! It is as old as human kind.     

            Take for example Martha and Mary. They were sisters. They were two very different personalities. I’m sure that some people at the time whispered that they could not believe that they were in fact sisters! You see when Jesus visited the sisters, Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he had to say!

            Martha on the other hand was distracted by many tasks. She was multitasking! Being so busy and having to do so many things had an effect on her that we all can relate to when our calendars are full and we have to perform to get everything done: she was frustrated and she complained: “Lord do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?

            Jesus answered her” “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things!” One the one hand we see in Jesus’ answer a gentleness and kindness. The repetition of her name shows that Jesus has patience and a deep understanding for her. On the other hand, Jesus is very honest with her: “Too many things are distracting you and are causing you to worry!”

            I wonder if anyone here this morning can NOT relate to these words? Too many things are distracting us and are causing us too worry! Maybe we should all simply change the name of Martha with our own names!

            I believe that when it comes to life in general and to our spiritual life in particular, we are all multitasking and too many things are distracting us and are causing us to worry! Even as we are trying to convince ourselves that we are able or actually good at multitasking.

            Someone creative came up with the idea to use technology as a metaphor. He says that we think that we are able to cope with the TV of our marriages, the kindle of our families, the emails of friendships, the twitter of our careers, the voicemails of our finances, the text messages of our health and the internet of our church and the webpage of our faith in God.

            We pretend, and we do our best to convince others and ourselves, that we are doing pretty well. We pretend that our priorities are right, we try to convince ourselves that we are able to focus and we tell ourselves that we are doing just fine and that we are coping well! But let me remind you what research has shown what happens when people are trying to do too many things at once:

People who multitask can’t manage a working memory. They’re chronically distracted. They can’t filter out irrelevancy! What if, in our lives, because we are not focused on one thing, we look at irrelevant issues and doctrines and laws and prescriptions and we consider them to be really important and discover that they are not?

            Is it possible that we tell ourselves that we are busy with what really matters but then discover that we are in fact busy with irrelevant matters? What if we are distracted with irrelevant issues and we miss what is really important? Some people work so much that they don’t have any time for family and friends. Others are focusing on one aspect of life and does not have energy our perspective to know that that one thing is not so important.

            This of course is also true in our spiritual lives. I am thinking of an example in our own denomination: ordination of women. For many decades the RCA was convinced that this issue is a serious faith issue. And then when it was determined that it perhaps was not at the heart of the matter, we had a clause in our Book of Church Order that accommodated those who had still considered this issue to be a crucial faith issue. The conscious clause allowed congregations to consider women to be inferior for ministry. And then the General Synod removed the conscious clause from the Book of Church Order! All those years we were anxious about women being ordained, we thought of others who disagreed with us as heretics and now we discover that this was in fact a peripheral issue!

            Could there be other issues that are peripheral and we consider them to be crucial because we are distracted?  “ Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things and they are causing you to worry!” I am convinced that there are many peripheral and non-important things that distract us and are causing us to worry!

            Jesus says that there is a need for one thing. He then also says that Mary has chosen the better part. In other words, as Martha was multitasking and was distracted, Mary focused on one thing that will not be taken from her.

            What is this one thing Jesus is referring to? Many commentators and preachers over the centuries consider Martha as the doer and Mary as the contemplative one. They considered that Jesus placed more value on meditation and prayer instead of being busy and doing things! It is true that this view may be of value to North American Christians who like to do and want to take control. And yes, we all could benefit by being more contemplative, by meditating more, by being deep in thought and by even be more introspective.

            However, I think the one thing Jesus is referring to goes deeper than this. You see, in order to know what this one thing was we need to look at what Mary did?

            Mary sat at Lord’s feet and listen to what he was saying! This was the key! The one thing Martha needed, and the one thing we need, that will not be taken away from her or us, is to listen to the Words of Jesus.

            In the light of our Colossians reading, there is no doubt that Paul and the early church viewed Jesus as Divine, as One with God. So, the Apostle Paul see Jesus and his Words as God’s revelation to us.  This means that what Mary did was to hear and listen to God’s Word! And it speaks for itself that doing follows hearing and listening to God’s Word.

The challenge today is to hear God’s Word with all the noise and distractions around us. And let’s admit: There are many distractions and it is not always clear what is important and what is peripheral. So, we become distracted. You see, the more we do spiritual multitasking the less we will be able to hear God’s Word. Distracted and unable to focus on what really matters!
            Hearing God’s Word today is not easy. In a sense it takes hard work, it takes focus, it takes commitment to be still and as the Bible says: “know that I am God”. And many of us are simply not willing to be still, not willing to wait, to focus and search for God’s word! We are unable and many times unwilling to let go of those things that distract us! 

            There is another danger: When we do hear God’s Word we may not like what we hear! Just like Israel did back then. What if God tells us something that we don’t want to hear? What if God’s word asks us to give up a view, a position on a topic that we held for dear for many decades? What if God says what we are doing, what we have held for sacred our whole life long, goes against God’s Word? What if God’s Word is saying: “The poor is important and you trample on them.” What if God is saying that the rich is cheating the poor, or as Amos says: “We make the ephah small and the shekel great and practice deceit with false balances” what will we do? What if it seems as if wealth is more important than people or like Amos says “we are buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandal”, how will we respond?

            What if God’s Word really challenges our ideas, our ideologies, our wisdom? Will we conveniently continue to multitask and pretend we don’t hear? Will we allow ourselves to be distracted? Or will we listen and do?

            Our reading today says that there is need for one thing: To hear God’s word! We are called to be God’s people, disciples of the Lord of all. It is good for us to be reminded that there are many things that can distract us. Things that prevent us from focusing on one thing. We are called to hear and listen to God’s word! But then the question is: How will we respond if we hear God’s word? Are we ready and willing to allow God’s Word to transform us? Amen