Overcoming distractions is like getting the mice out of your house
When we first moved into our current home, we had a mouse problem… or should I say, a “mice” problem. It turned out there were many. Our cat would stare into the heat vents for hours on end. Then we began to hear scratching inside the walls at night. Finally, my wife glanced down into the kitchen heat vent, on the floor by the counter, and there were the cute black eyes, looking up at her.
To take care of our “mice” problem we got a think called a “Rat Zapper,” and man, did it do the trick. By placing it in the crawl space my oldest son and I disposed of 12 mice over the course of two evenings. From that day on, our “mice” problem was no more.
Until two weeks ago.
We’re not exactly sure what made the difference… maybe it was that our cat had to be put down and the mice felt especially bold as a result. But it’s probably that after 4 years of flawless mouse-eradication, our Rat Zapper didn’t work properly anymore (I think it was the cold of the winter that did it in). Anyway… one night I woke at 2AM to scratching inside the wall at the head of our bed. When I rose in the morning to have my time with the LORD, my oldest daughter (who was rising to go to work), said the mice were really noisy under the bathtub in the hallway bathroom.
Mice are like distractions
The next morning, when I was up early having my prayer time, I heard scratching behind the stove. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a little, black-eyed, gray mouse scamper from behind the trash can to a hole under the desk where our internet cable comes into the house.
I began listening. I began hearing every scratch. When the sound began behind the stove again, I got up to try to peak between the stove and the wall to see if I could spy them out. But there wasn’t room for my big head to get close enough to the wall (obviously). I began watching for them to scamper across the room again. I began trying to get a glimpse, any chance I got.
The funny thing is, I knew there was no way I was going to get one… in fact, I knew I probably wouldn’t even try. They are fast, and skittish, so I felt pretty certain about that. I also knew that withing a week, I’d have a new Rat Zapper in my hand and our “mice” problem would be over once again.
Here’s the lesson: those mice became a distraction to me that morning, pulling me away from the important task of prayer. Spying them out felt urgent at the time. Getting a glimpse of them felt productive. But in reality, it was to no end. No end at all. I became a “mighty-mouse-hunter” that morning, to no avail, and for no good reason… and my time alongside my LORD suffered for it.
Distractions are part of life
No matter what you’re doing, if it’s important, you can count on distractions being an issue. There’s always something less important that draws us away from the task we’ve committed ourselves to do. In my case, it was mice. But other mornings, after our new “Raticator” is in place and doing its job well, it will be something else. I can count on it.
There is wisdom on getting rid of the distractions if possible. But sometimes (most of the time) it’s not… because often the distractions come from your own, active mind. Tasks, chores, or responsibilities that you’ve managed to forget until that moment suddenly pop into your head, convincing you of their urgency and importance. Conversations you had the day before, or need to have today loom large in your consciousness.
Distractions, plain and simple.
How to overcome distractions
I’m by no means a pro at overcoming distractions… but I do feel I’ve made some pretty good strides over the past 10 years or so. I’d like to share some of the practical things I do to help myself overcome them. I’ll do so in the context of my morning prayer time, since that’s one of the most obvious areas where I need to win the battle:
- Minimize the possibility of distractions by finding a quiet, still, peaceful place and time for prayer and study. That’s part of the reason I get up early. Nobody else is up, all the noise-makers are off (music, phones, TV, computer, etc.)… even the pets are asleep. Or, I may need to partner with my wife and kids by letting them know that I’m going to be praying and studying, so I’d appreciate if they not interrupt me unless it’s an emergency. I can’t stress this enough… your environment really matters.
- Use helpful tools, like a note pad – I don’t remember where I heard it, but one of the greatest helps has been to have a notepad or some other way of jotting down those “urgent responsibilities” that pop into my head in the middle of my prayer time. When the thought arises, I pause, write it down, and resume my prayer time. That way I can be free to focus on the task with confidence that the task won’t be forgotten. But this only works if I am in the habit of implementing some kind of “system” for my daily responsibilities where I can plug in that task to ensure it gets done. If I don’t, it will pop into my head again tomorrow as I’m trying to pray.
- Remind myself that the distraction is usually not as important as it seems – It’s funny, this time our “mice” problem was only 2, very busy little mice. I know that because we’ve only disposed of 2 mice with our new Raticator, and all the scratching sounds have ceased. I suspect it’s that way with most distractions... they seem large and looming at the time, but really represent a very minor issue. This one is a battle for the mind, a battle for where I will place my focus and attention. I struggled with it in grade school, and I still struggle with it now. But unlike grade school, I now have some maturity and practice at overcoming distractions (I hope).
- Ask the LORD for the fruit of self-control – This is huge. Part of the reason you came to Christ in the first place is because you realized you can’t live up to the holy standards of God. That’s because in yourself, you are a fallen being. You don’t have the capacity on your own to be un-distracted or responsible. But God has promised that one of the manifestations of His Spirit in your life is the characteristic of “self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Ask Him to produce self-control in you, in that circumstance where you’re experiencing distraction. Be specific. Seek His help. Depend on Him in the moment to give you the strength to set your mind where it needs to be (Colossians 3:2).
I would love to hear how YOU handle distractions when you’re trying to accomplish something important. Leave your comments below…