Do remember the silly old camp song; “Grey squirrel, grey squirrel, shake your bushy tail?” I don’t think our dog, Joy, had ever seen a squirrel until she was seven years old.
In our old neighborhood, filled with winding rows of single-family homes, we walked Joy on the streets and sidewalks. She learned from an early age on our twice daily walks, to ignore the many rabbits who also resided in the neighborhood. Even when rabbits darted across our path, Joy learned not to be distracted by their furry presence.
Three years ago, when we moved into a townhouse community, we established a new walk routine. Across the street from our development we discovered a lovely park with green fields, scenic overlooks, and a playground. It’s the perfect place for walking Joy and letting her run a bit, while also getting some fresh air and exercise ourselves. Not long after our move, when taking the new walk, Joy noticed a squirrel. Like a good pointer, she froze and pointed it. Its bushy tail intrigued her. She was clearly captivated by the way it seemed to effortlessly climb trees and fences.
Her fascination with this furry creature continues. Whenever Joy sees a squirrel at the park, she stalks it, focusing on nothing else. Our morning and evening journeys through the park are largely uneventful until a squirrel crosses our path. Squirrels distract Joy from whatever she is doing and capture her attention and energies.
“Squirrels” cross our paths each day. Though they don’t have bushy tails, they do become all-consuming. They tend to incite fear, confusion, exhaustion, and discontentment. Just like the vermin alters Joy’s focus, so too, we each have “squirrels” that seize our attention.
- Have you ever been in the middle of a conversation and all of a sudden something “new” pops into your head that derails your train of thought?
- When was the last time you walked into a room for a specific reason only to forget it and discover something else catches your attention?
- How many books have you started, but not yet finished?
- Any home improvement projects awaiting completion?
- In what ways do commercials or newscasts impact you?
What are the “squirrels” in your life?
Distractions abound all around us. We overlook most of them or navigate through them to avoid disruption. We do this by identifying them and then determining how we will respond the next time we see them.
What distracts you from God? Are there circumstances, people or attitudes that divert you from truly living in the way of Jesus?
- Pressures to produce at work?
- Keeping up with “the Jones”?
- Assumptions made by others?
- Fear of failure?
- Thinking you are “better” than…?
- The stock market and how its swings impact your net worth?
- Technology – gaming, social media, work?
- Social expectations?
Each of these examples often cause us to change our course and dictate a new path. Collectively, they prompt us to set our attention on earthly things rather than heavenly ones.
Why is it that we can spend 1-2 hours scrolling though social media, playing an electronic game, watching TV shows on Netflix or responding to emails, but yet “don’t have time” to be with Jesus? These are some of the distractions I am talking about.
All too often, we follow the “bushy tail” and lose all focus and intentionality with living.
The Bible shows us the impact of both distracted and focused living. Peter experienced distraction when Jesus invited him to walk on the turbulent lake. With his focus on Jesus, Peter walked on top of the waters, but the moment Peter’s gaze shifted to the wind and the waves he began to sink into the waters (see Matt 14:22-23). Thankfully Jesus caught Peter before he went under the waves.
In another text, Martha allowed the tyranny of the urgent to keep her from the most important activity of sitting at Jesus’ feet. Jesus gently pointed her to a healthier path, showing Martha a “better” use of her time and energy (see Luke 10:38-42). All the while, Mary, Martha’s sister, remained single minded as she sat at Jesus feet and learned from Him.
When do you set at Jesus feet to learn from Him?
Also in Scripture, we see that a man named Zacchaeus went to the extreme of climbing a tree to keep Jesus in view (Luke 19:1-2). Being small in stature, he intentionally put himself in a place where his attention centered on Jesus alone.
What are ways to remove the distractions from your life?
When Joy was young we trained her to ignore the rabbits. Today, this old dog has trouble learning new tricks, so it requires extra training on our part to help her walk past squirrels. We say, “Leave it. Leave it. Leave it.” And though squirrels continue to capture Joy’s attention, she can walk by them – most of the time :–}. Training is intentional no matter one’s age.
What are ways to maintain your focus in godly living? Practice!
Practice “remaining” – Be still with no computer, no tv, no phone, no music, no books. Find a comfortable chair and start with just five minutes. Be totally quiet. Set the timer and gradually increase the time. Just be or remain in the presence of God. Focus your mind and heart upon Him by reciting a favorite verse, imagining a Gospel scene, or recounting His endless attributes.
Practice “redirection” – Vocalize with a simple word or phrase to help yourself focus and direct back to the present moment with truth. When you notice that you’ve chased the squirrel of distraction, speak God’s truth and grace into the moment and allow God to redirect you to Himself. You might try phrases like: “Leave it!” “He is Truth.” “Peace, be still.” Or perhaps, “My ways are not your ways.”
Practice “reorientation” – While redirection represents more of an external response, reorientation describes an internal response to distraction. In 1 Corinthians Paul instructs followers of Christ to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ. Reorient your thought patterns to rightly reflect your Savior. Think on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. This definitely requires both practice and time to shift the narrative and patterns of the mind and heart.
With the celebration of Thanksgiving approaching, notice what distracts you from expressing gratitude. Engage in focused living with and for the Lord. When people, problems, pain, prosperity, and pride scurry across your path, distracting you from the good and plentiful gifts of God, practice remaining in God’s presence, practice redirection so your attitudes and actions do not become controlled by your current space or situation, and practice reorientation to position your heart and mind to meditate on God’s Word which overflows with perfect wisdom, grace, and truth.
Drips from the Word: Muse about these Bible verses. Let these truths impact your living.
Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
Splashes from the Spigot: Drink from deep wells. Check out these suggested readings.
Paul S. Jeon. Living Intentionally before God: Reflections on 1 Thessalonians. Eugene, OR. 2013.
Karen Stott. An Intentional Life: A Life-Giving Invitation to Uncover Your Passions and Unlock Your Purpose. Eugene, OR. 2018.