Holy Everything: Learn to focus on what matters most
A distraction is defined by Merriam-Webster as "an object that directs one's attention away from something else." Everything can be a potential distraction. We live in a world full of diversions. Digital devices. Social media. Gossip. To-do lists. Our own wandering minds. Even otherwise healthy parts of life can become distractions when they pull our focus away from important relationships and responsibilities.
For our Lenten series today, we're journeying with Jesus from distraction toward mindfulness. Last week we trekked with him from isolation toward community. We are traveling alongside Jesus throughout this pre-Easter season from some of the challenging realities of life toward more hopeful possibilities.
Mindfulness isn't a word located in the Bible, but its meaning is something Jesus invites his followers into on multiple occasions. The word mindfulness means "the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened awareness of one's thoughts, emotions, or experiences." Mindfulness is about being fully present and conscious of the moment at hand.
Jesus lived way before distractions like the Internet and airplanes and cell phones and reality television. Yet even back then, people spent a lot of their lives distracted from what mattered most. Throughout the Gospel of Luke (the third book of the New Testament and our map for the season of Lent), Jesus invited people away from distraction and instead toward a state of non-anxious awareness.
As a pre-teen, Jesus encouraged his parents to relax from their worried distractedness about his safety. The story is recorded in Luke, chapter 2, verses 41-51. Jesus and his parents were with their wider community celebrating an important religious festival. Jesus got separated from his parents but initially they weren't worried. They figured their family and friends would watch over him. Then, after about a day passed, Mary and Joseph began to panic. They were distracted and overcome with concern about their son's wellbeing (understandably so).
Three distracted days passed. Eventually, they found Jesus in the temple "sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions." Mary said to her 12-year-old son, "'Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety."
Jesus responded, "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" Jesus wanted his parents to have relief from their worry and distractedness. He wanted them to be mindful of the fact that nothing was more important to him than learning, listening, and asking questions about God.
Luke, chapter 10 contains a story about Jesus' interaction with two sisters, Mary and Martha. It's a story about shifting from distraction toward mindfulness. Jesus valued both sisters, and they, along with their brother Lazarus, were good friends to Jesus. When word arrived that Jesus was coming for dinner, Martha got down to business. We can imagine her scrubbing the baseboards, organizing the medicine cabinet, and baking fresh bread. Mary, on the other hand, was not interested in any domestic preparations. Instead, all she wanted to do was sit at his feet and listen.
It's sort of irritating really … I wanted Jesus to say, "Mary and Martha, you're both so awesome! Way to go, Martha, on your thorough use of that Swiffer Wet Jet and Pledge dusting spray. This place looks great. And way to go, Mary; you're a great listener and always so go with the flow."
But that isn't what happened. Instead, Jesus said with compassion to his dear, organized, distracted friend, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing." Mindful Mary had figured out what mattered most and released the rest. Jesus thought that was worth noting.
In what areas of your life might Jesus be inviting you away from distraction and more toward mindfulness? What diversions are holding you back? How might you build a life where you are able to focus on your core priorities? When might you carve out time to learn, listen, and ask questions?
It's easy to be worried and distracted by many things. It is for this very reason that Jesus directs us toward mindfulness so that we might reclaim our ability to focus on what matters most.