Our Distractions

In a recent essay for New York magazine titled "I Used to Be a Human Being," Andrew Sullivan writes: 

Every single minute on the planet, YouTube users upload 400 hours of video and Tinder users swipe profiles over a million times. Each day, there are literally billions of Facebook “likes.”  We absorb this “content” no longer primarily by actively choosing to read or watch. We are instead guided to these info-nuggets by myriad little interruptions on social media, all cascading at us with individually tailored relevance and accuracy.

A small but detailed 2015 study of young adults found that participants were using their phones five hours a day, at 85 separate times. Most of these interactions were for less than 30 seconds, but they add up… and whether they were aware of it or not, a new technology had seized control of around one-third of these young adults’ waking hours.

Now as much as it may feel like this is an entirely modern problem, due to the staggering miracles that vibrate incessantly in our pockets, distraction, and the anxiety that often accompanies it, is truly an ancient problem.  Who will we choose to listen to?  Let’s look together at this story recorded in Luke’s gospel, in chapter 10, verses 38-42…

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

This passage is fundamentally about choice.  The choice before us is between the ONE thing that is necessary, which Jesus calls the good portion, and the many things that are ultimately imposters of divinely important truth.  What will we choose?  Three observations:

  1. Mary prioritizes rightly, choosing glory over shadow.  She realizes the shocking opportunity she has to listen to the Eternal King in the flesh, the Promised One.  Would you turn down a chance to listen to Elon Musk, Tim Keller, or Joanna Gaines if they happened to stop at your house for dinner?  How much more should we prioritize time with the King of the universe? 
  2. Martha on the other hand, chooses temporal obligations over a connection with Jesus.  The problem here is the state of Martha's heart, not the tasks she’s involved in.  In a dead give-away, Martha gets bitter at both Jesus and Mary for leaving all the work to her… You can almost hear her scream, “Doesn't anyone care about the work getting done?  We don’t have time for small talk!”  Isn't this so like us in America?  We sacrifice divine intimacy upon the altar of productivity every day.  
  3. But here's the kicker - how does Jesus respond to someone so distracted and anxious?  How does he respond to us when we make the wrong choice?  Notice this: He is so gracious.  He says her name two times, as if to say, “Martha… Martha!  Snap out of it!  Come out of the iPhone-induced, task-saturated distraction coma and look at me!”  Why are you so worked up about the election, about what your crazy aunt said on Facebook, about cleaning out your email inbox, about so-and-so's cute Instagram post of their remodeled closet.  Stop working so hard, stop thinking you need to consume every drop of information that’s barreling at you like a flood.  Shut off the notifications and “be still, and know that I am God.”  What you need more than Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Star Tribune, or CNN is ME.  Choose me, Jesus says, and you will never be disappointed.  

C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity sums this up well... "It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind."

Let's come in out of the wind together and confess our sins.

Father, we dwell in a land of technology-induced distraction and a constant anxiety that we need to be doing, reading, posting, and texting.  While technology is meant to exist for the good of humanity, as tools you knew we would create in order to carry out your grand mandate to fill and subdue the earth… we so often fail in that by bowing down to the work of our hands.  We turn to our glass screens scraping for temporary relief from boredom, rather than turning to you for an ocean of joy.  We allow our devices to distract us from the truly essential relationships in life, preventing us from using our full faculties to love you and love others.  We have been guilty of being "alone together" - refreshing our feeds or texts while we're supposed to be enjoying life in the present with friends, family, or neighbors.  We've given up opportunities to share truth with others because we have not put our technology under submission.  We’ve allowed it to rule us, rather than ruling it for your glory and the good of others.  And Father, in this age of individualization and customization, the potential for different streams of a similar sin are almost endless, and so we confess our personal sins to you now in the quietness of this moment.   . . .