I forgot until recently how much I love the book Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. The book consists of letters written from the devil to his nephew who is a “novice demon”. It is really good at pointing out ways that we are slyly pulled away from a real relationship with God, and sucked in to an empty world – all the while believing we are living full, enlightened lives. A friend posted a quote from this book recently on Facebook and I thought it was kind of ironic. Indulge me while I share a part that feels relevant to me today:
“And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes that he does not like, or in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give them a relish, but which, once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off. You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. it does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing.”
Do you ever get the sense that you are running from something, or keeping your head above water? Or is there ever a feeling of anxiety that you can’t quite place? I ask because I’d like to know for sure that I’m not the only one that ever feels that way. I have noticed more often as I “grow up” that those feelings come from (seemingly) nowhere, and if I stop and look at my life on paper, it might not seem like anything’s wrong.
But there are things that slip in and steal my focus. Clog up my calendars, inboxes and even my mental space. What I know now is that we have to be constantly battling against these seemingly innocuous invasions, because I firmly believe they are sent in to our lives to distract us. As Lewis points out in his book, distraction and “curiosities” in our lives are such succulent tools of the enemy. We don’t think to resist them because they don’t seem “bad”.
While some may be easier to identify (technology overload, too many activities), some come disguised as innocent pleasures or even blessings. Things like new relationships that deep down we know aren’t going anywhere but they’re “fun”. An offer to join a certain club or organization. A titillating gossip circle that gets your blood pumping. Emails arriving daily from magazines, stores, charity organizations, self help gurus, and countless other senders who love to give you all those words and images you find so appealing.
Those things clog up the works. They keep you busy, thinking about material things, about what other people are doing instead of yourself, about how fat/skinny/poor/beautiful/stupid you are. Individually, none of the things I’ve mentioned could be viewed as having such a devious intent. But the end result is what matters. Before you know it, you’re checking 50 different apps on your phone, going to countless meetings, browsing through websites you weren’t even interested in until you got that email, and sending text messages to someone who doesn’t even really know you. And yes, I’m speaking from personal experience.
The most liberating and beneficial thing any of us can do is start knocking these distractions out. Going through your email and unsubscribing from every single non-essential sender. Believe me – those businesses or organizations will be around when you actually need them. That person who is lingering around in your life that you just can’t seem to let go of? Let go of them. Learn to say no when someone asks you to sacrifice your last few free hours of the weekend. Yes, even if it’s for church or charity or a family member. Unless it’s an emergency, everyone will survive if you say no.
What happens when you start eliminating distractions, or at least when I do, is that weight literally lifts off my shoulders. I can breathe. I can think about ways I might be able to spend that open time. And after knocking one distraction out, it becomes a lot easier to let go of others. Don’t be surprised if once you do this, you start doing better at work, being a better friend, better listener. And most importantly, hearing God’s voice more clearly. He doesn’t often shout over the noise. He patiently waits for us to listen to the calling of our Hearts over the clutter of our lives.