The Distracted Mind | Day One

The distracted mind is a curse of our modern world. I know ‘curse’ is a strong word, but perhaps it draws one to seriously contemplate just how malicious and toxic the effects of the distractions of our generation can be on our minds.

The mind itself has an astounding propensity to deviate from what is right and true and good – it has the inclination to be devious. Left to its own devices, it will be up to no good. The problem with today’s generation – and with my own mind – is that we have become okay with distractions. We have been fooled to think it is alright, as long as it is not life-threatening. But why oh why do we not pause to ponder the simple and yet very real possibility that it could actually be soul-threatening?

Yesterday was a pivotal day in my life this year. I had an encounter with God at church, and something about Pastor John Varughese’s (guest speaker from Hyderabad, India and Ascension Ministries) message (on Acts 1 and waiting on Jesus to receive the power of God to share the message of the Kingdom and to go to the ends of the earth with a God-given dream, vision and mandate) that gave me resolve to make the decision to stop all social networking and chatting on my mobile device for the time being. Until I sort out this issue concerning ‘distraction’, I will not go back onto Facebook or Whatsapp or whatever else there is. Even though I usually post encouraging, thought-provoking and reflective statuses on Facebook anyway, I still feel the unease that somehow, precious space in my mind is being taken up by darting thoughts telling me to check my Facebook notifications and see how many likes my posts have garnered every now and then. It is not the only hindrance to my spending time with God, but it is just one of the things. Nevertheless, it is one of the main things that distract me from the things of more crucial importance.

But oh of course, it’s not a big thing, is it? Ha. Of course it is not. But you see, it is a small thing – precisely – that eventuates in a cumulative effect. Remember, it’s the ‘little foxes’ that are the most dangerous and detrimental. It is dangerous not because it’s actually dangerous on its own (in fact, they could definitely be used for good – this is where part of the problem is, we can easily justify it or think nothing more of it), but simply because it is we who disregard its underlying latent effect on our hearts, minds, attitudes and behaviours in the long term.

If you think about it, Facebook or other social networking sites have become a platform for unabashed and unashamed displays of narcissism. We justify it by saying we need it to keep in touch with friends, or that we need to ‘update’ people about our latest charitable endeavours and travels (I will admit to employing this very blatant justification). The more philosophical ones, who take pride in being all deep and meaningful (please note that I am referring to myself most of all), justify their own brand of narcissism and self-aggrandisement by saying that it’s about using Facebook as a medium to influence others positively with stimulating and insightful posts. All this is valid and necessary to point out. Facebook is not evil – to the contrary, it can be used for much good. But it’s no use saying what good it is for if it still remains a source of distraction and ‘noise’ in our lives (well, mine at least).

We all know deep down (well, upon further contemplation, I know) that somewhere in there (in me) it’s about exalting you and I – our ideas, our intellectualism, our philosophy, our charity, our beauty, our appearance, our wealth, our adventurism, our connections, our knowledge, our experiences, our career, our talent, our abilities, our, our, and more endless ‘ours’ (me, myself, I). In the end, we can call it simply, in the potently succinct words of the apostle John found in 1 John 2:16 – ‘the pride of life’ (NKJV) or ‘the boasting of what one has and does’ (NIV). 

Wow. It is worth reiterating: ‘The boasting of what one has and does.’ The distraction and toxic that is ascribed to our incessant Facebook activity is actually caused by our own desire to boast. Facebook feeds on that. Facebook is not the problem, it is perhaps simply one of the instigators that exacerbates (or if you like, exposes) the inherent issue.  And you know what, that underlying desire to boast is rooted first and deepest of all, in pride. 

How do you uproot pride? How do you break apart a boastful attitude? Harder still, how do you break apart a boastful attitude that is so brazenly extenuated or justified by the masses? And even harder still, how to you humble those of us who think we are already humble and right and good? 

To take it one level deeper, let me relate pride to self-righteousness. They are traits that are basically one and the same. A prideful person thinks he or she is alright – no, better than alright. A proud man thinks that he is right because he is already a cut above the ‘others’ – that’s why he can justify himself and justify anything he does or says quite convincingly (or craftily, if you like). So let me admit, I have been self-righteous. Maybe I will always fall into this trap again and again. That’s why I always say that I need rescuing – not from Facebook, or the world out there, but from myself. That’s why I began this write up talking about the ‘curse’ of a ‘distracted mind’. I did not talk about the curse of ‘distraction’. I deliberately referred to the mind, because the mind is not independent of the person in which it dwells and operates. Distraction ceases to be distraction the moment the mind (and thus, the person who operates the mind) chooses to dispel the distraction – by focusing on something more profitable or by removing that distraction from sight or hearing.

Again, I come back to the unavoidable point of ‘choice’. It’s on you and me. We cannot blame anything or anyone else but ourselves. We can blame Facebook or people out there (to the extent that they are external instigators), but in the end it boils down to what we ourselves let in to our hearts, minds and lives. We can always trace it to the point we actually allowed ourselves to be distracted or to give into a certain selfish act or attitude.

Nevertheless, let me emphasize this: it is never about dos and don’ts. It is never about rules and regulations. If you are only being a nice person because you know you will get a reward – or conversely, because you know you will be punished otherwise – then you are merely being extrinsically motivated (which loses the whole point of my article in the first place). The reason I decided to stop Facebook and all these other external distractions for the time being, is so that I can discover and work out the intrinsic motivation that I believe God is working out in me. Yes, the intrinsic motivation – that God is working out in me.

It is a paradox, really. While I am doing my part (working it out – taking the time, effort, resolve), God is actually doing it in me. This is the paradox of faith and the grace of God. God can only pour out His grace in us if we are willing to humble ourselves and be broken at His feet. We can only be filled with the gift of faith if we take the leap – a lucid choice – to believe in Him and do what we must do to turnaround 180 degrees from our old, selfish, godless way of doing things. Now, at the very same instance we have taken this informed ‘jump’ – or what my Dad calls, ‘a leap in the light’ – God begins to transfuse into our hearts, minds and spirits an irresistible (and sometimes at first, imperceptible) grace and power that gives us strength, courage, humility and patience to go about a new way of living and loving life (and Him, most of all).

To be honest, I have been writing this for an hour now, and I never thought I would arrive from ‘the curse of a distracted mind’ to ‘the paradox of faith and grace’. But I am sure this is why I ended up here. This is why I stopped Facebook and every other little niggling – yet so far, cumulative – distraction in my life (since yesterday, ha-ha). So that I will have the time, the space in my heart and mind, the focus and resolve, to work this out bit by bit – as the grace of God breaks me, upholds me, refines me, remakes me into someone more like Him and less about me. In the process, I become more of myself – as Soren Kierkergaard said, ‘With God’s help, I will become myself.’ It simply means that apart from God, I will never find out who I truly am. I will be looking everywhere else, in all the futile and dark and distractive places, for my seemingly elusive ‘identity’. Yet the quickest and hardest, and yet best way, to find it is to go back to my first Lover – my Creator, my Father, my God, my friend, my Saviour, my Hope.

There it is. I started writing because I knew there was something to be discovered and learned today. I wrote because I was seeking – well, I still am. I did not write for anyone. I wrote for myself. But I hope in this, I am able to bless, encourage and challenge you – the reader – to also think about the things or people in your life that hinder you from discovering your God-ordained purpose; to identify the instigators – the little foxes – that make you more tired, more restless, and more lost in the world; to consider what might appear non-life-threatening as quite possibly soul-threatening; to hear the call for spiritual change that involves a wholehearted ‘leap in the light’ – that I promise you will result in a whole-body-soul-mind-heart transformation in the long run of a lifetime and beyond; and most of all, to delve deeper into the real, lasting joys, beauties and gifts of life that God has bestowed on us. You will not regret it. 

 J a n i e ll e

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