Soul Distraction

By Larry Platner

I’m tired and need a break. What shall it be? A movie? Facebook? Xbox? Maybe catch up on a box set? Sports? Or read a book? Thank goodness for so many choices, otherwise I might get bored… and nobody wants that.

We are awash with entertainment right at our fingertips. One press of a tv remote. One swipe of our phone or click on the computer. The result? Many of us gravitate to these entertainment sources whenever we have a bit of time on our hand. Heaven forbid that we are left with nothing but the thoughts in our head.

Entertainment in itself is not a bad thing, (unless it is a bad thing), but have we become too dependent on it as a way of dealing with life? Has it become our escape? From boredom, feeling down, loneliness, anxiety, restlessness; a distraction that enables us to ignore the murmurings, the longings and the cry of our soul for satisfaction?

Soul sustenance

Some years ago I realised that my relationship with God wasn’t what it should be. I had developed entertainment habits to give me a buzz as a way of dealing with life. As a result, my becoming more like Christ was hindered and my soul wasn’t healthy. I knew that God should be my sufficiency, the one I turn to for soul sustenance. 

So began a journey to deepen my relationship with God and break my reliance on entertainment to get through the days. My prayer is well summed up by St Augustine who said, “Narrow is the mansion of my soul; enlarge Thou it, that Thou mayest enter in.” Too many of the rooms in my mansion were entertainment centres. Oh, I was having a daily quiet time, well, almost daily – reading devotions, attending church, etc. But my soul was longing for something more. I longed to hear His voice more clearly and know His love more deeply. 

In my times with God I needed to find ways to better connect with Him. Oddly, one of the ways I discovered was the monastic practice of silence, to cease talking and thinking about all the stuff in my life and just be quiet before God. It is hard! Thoughts of what I needed to do that day, what people had said or done to me, (or I to them), problems I was trying to sort out, (and much more) distracted me. But I’m learning and surprisingly, my awareness of God and His love for me is growing.

Which is your habit?

I think the monastics were on to something when it comes to being in the presence of God. They established the practice of the seven offices: seven times during the day set apart for prayer, Bible reading and reflection. The first one at 3am, (that’s right 3 AM!), interspersed throughout the day until the last one at 12am. In between these they worked, ate, rested and had leisure time. The idea was to enter into God’s presence with the aim of emptying oneself in order to be one with Christ. It was maxed-out soul care.

Seven offices is a lot but the habit of setting time aside; time to be in the presence of God is vital to our wellbeing. Who better to be with than the God who made us and is the source of love, peace and joy? Yet being still before God, learning to listen for His quiet voice, is hard when we’ve become so used to being entertained. St Augustine nailed it when he said, “Habit, if not resisted, soon becomes necessity.” Have TV, films, games and social media gone beyond a sensible source of entertainment and communication and become a necessity for us today, even us Christians?

Habits are necessities; we depend on them to do life and this is good. But we can form habits that distract us from what we really need. I would urge you to ask yourself the question, “When I am feeling a bit down, restless, uneasy or anxious, what is my first response? Distraction through social media and/or entertainment, or time with God?” Which is your habit?

Learning to persist

Another thing I am learning is to persist when my times with God are dry. In a culture that promises excitement, fun and enjoyment, the idea of doing something or being with someone that doesn’t reward me with a buzz seems counter intuitive. But our relationship with God should not be ruled by our feelings.  If we want to go deep with God then we must persist even when it feels like He is not there. To make our time with Him conditional on Him making us feel good leads to a superficial relationship. To persist in seeking and being with Him in dry and difficult times is to discover and know Him deeply.

I would suggest two resources that I have found helpful to develop my habit of being with God; the four volumes of ‘The Divine Office’ by Phyllis Tickle and the book, ‘Backyard Pilgrim, Forty Days at Godspeed’ by Matt Canlis. The latter is a 40 day devotion with a daily walk during which you reflect on what you read.

There are many resources to aid your time with God that can help you develop the habit of being in the presence of God and knowing Him. As you do so, you will find that the mansion of your heart will have more room for God and will be a much more restful, contented and peaceful place filled with the love of God.