Distractions Kill FaithfulnessFr. Barnabas Powell
Distracted again! And once again the familiar reminder! “Sweetheart, stop watching the iPad and finish your homework.” Back to the task, but slowly the distraction returns, and the pull of what I want rather than what I need starts its all too familiar tug of war inside my precious daughter. But, hey, she’s young, She hasn’t learned how to discipline her actions and desires. That’s why I’m called to parent her.
But wait, what about when my distractions leave important things in my life unfinished? Could that be a similar symptom of childishness winning out over wisdom? Yeah, I know. I hate it when it’s that obvious!
I can trace most of the challenges in my life to the times when my distractions won out over wisdom. In fact, this is at the heart of our timeless Orthodox way of life: to combat the lesser distractions that short-circuit spiritual growth and progress. All of the faith is a constant “wake up” call to pay attention to top priorities so that all the other priorities in my life will find their proper place! In fact, all of my relationships will be skewed towards selfish desires if I don’t first pay attention to the healing wisdom of loving God above all others. It is precisely this lack of distraction that disciplines the rest of my loves to be as they should be: selfless and generous.
Look at our Gospel Lesson in Luke 11:34-41:
The Lord said, “Your eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is sound, your whole body is full of light; but when it is not sound, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.” While he was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him; so he went in and sat at table. The Pharsee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of extortion and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give for alms those things which are within and behold, everything is clean for you.”
Notice how the Lord immediately illustrates His point about freedom from distraction as He confronts the very religious man who invited Him to dinner. Do you think the Lord “forgot” to wash His hands? Of course not. The Lord knew this man needed to be confronted with his distracted life! This man thought he was finished with his spiritual work by merely going through the motions. But Christ wasn’t about to allow this man’s distracted darkness to slip by! The Lord challenged the man to “wake up” to a central reality that protects us from a distracted life (you may want to sit down here and take a minute): Gratitude keeps you awake and undistracted! And the discipline of staying awake keeps you grateful. See how spiritual health feeds itself?
Look, the key to an undistracted life filled with the light that allows clear vision, clear priorities, and focused living depends on learning how to be both grateful and generous with the treasures of your heart! A grateful man is never distracted in his living. It is when the “darkness” of selfishness snuffs out the “light” of a healthy soul that my life descends into chaos. Gratitude equals spiritual health. A lack of gratitude equals spiritual sickness.
The lives of the 70 who followed the Lord, and were fellow witnesses of His resurrection along with the 12 Apostles, are filled with the early heroes of our Faith. Sts. Stachys, Andrew, Amplias, Apelles, Urban, Aristobulus, and Narcissus were men who learned the lesson of Gratitude and Generosity. They embodied in their lives the example of an undistracted life. St. Stachys became the first bishop of the, then, city of Byzantium. He was made bishop by St. Andrew the Apostle who had established the church in the city that would one day become Constantinople, the capital of the Roman Empire. Having shepherded his people for sixteen years, he reposed in the Lord. As for the others, each one shone forth in the episcopal see appointed to him: Apelles, Bishop of Heraclea; Amplias, Bishop of Odyssopolis; Urban, Bishop of Macedonia; Narcissus, Bishop of Athens; and Aristobulus, Bishop of Britain. Each one lived a focused and purposeful Christian life and became the foundation stones of the Faith all across the Empire.
Today, where are you distracted in your living? Where is the darkness of confusion and a lack of clarity clouding your choices and disturbing your priorities? Brush aside all the excuses and the justifications and look closely and you’ll discover at the heart of this chaos, this darkness is a weak sense of gratitude followed by an inability to be generous. Strengthen your ability to be grateful to God and those around you and watch as the distractions melt away and order returns to your relationships, your career, your priorities, and your faith. It is precisely a healthy sense of gratitude to God first, and then to those around you that will always keep you focused on the task at hand: Loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself! Feeling distracted? Perhaps it’s time to learn what a Normal Orthodox Life really is.
P.S. Come, let us duly praise Apelles and famed Aristobulus, the wise Apostles, with Urban, Narcissos, and Stachys, and blessed Amplias, as the most sacred treasures of the All-holy Spirit and the far-shining beams of Christ, the Sun of Glory, whom God brought together by His grace.