We are so distracted here in America. Even in the simplest decision of eating food, we have hundreds and hundreds of different food companies and brands vying for our attention (or rather, our dollars). As Christians we may not think anything of it. “It’s just how it is,” we might say. But with so many things going on in our lives – jobs, school, friends, relationships, bills, etc – we rarely make time for God. Oftentimes, He’s just part of our schedules – not the other way around.
Tonight I joined with a group of friends (some old, most new) for prayer. For about an hour or so we just stood in a circle and prayed. For Eugene, for each others’ needs, but – most importantly – for God’s presence. It was the one common theme in each of our prayers that really stuck with me. Why? Because more often than not, I’m focused on my own thing. God’s frequently a part of it, but that’s just it: He’s a part, not the whole.
Ethan Holub, the guy whose house we were praying at, encouraged us beforehand to really focus on God as we prayed. He said, quite accurately, that most of the time we pray out of habit or out of show and we hardly ever truly acknowledge God. Honestly, it was difficult.
No, when it was my turn to pray it was relatively easy. For one thing, I was the second person to pray. And for another, I had thought of what I was going to pray about a couple minutes before. I said the things I wanted to say and squeezed the next person’s hand (indicating it was their turn to pray). It didn’t take long for my mind to wander into tomorrow’s events and all the things I need to take care of tonight. If it wasn’t tomorrow, it was Friday and how I need to go to the bank before my first shift. One thing after the next led my mind farther and farther from the group praying before God.
By the end of the prayer time, I was refocused. But I don’t know if my prayer experience tonight was as good as it could have been. If I hadn’t been thinking about my to-do list, I would have been hearing and feeling the hearts and prayers of those around me – a style of empathy that is increasingly rare in American churches. I know for a fact that if I didn’t go to this group, I might not have prayed at all.
After prayer was over, though, Ethan popped in a documentary DVD and invited anybody to stick around and watch it. Since I no longer have homework, I decided to stay. It was a video about the displaced people of Uganda fighting to survive in little huts and villages while malaria and hepatitis run wild within and militant groups wander around just outside the villages – abducting any loners to make them part of their armies.
One kid, named Sunday, told the American travelers that he was aspiring to be a doctor and was studying restlessly in order to do it. He went to school every day, but was sent home each time because he didn’t have the school uniform, which he couldn’t afford. In his own words, though, he’s “stubborn.” He knows that in order to be a doctor, he cannot neglect his studies. And even though the school sends him home each day, he does not stop teaching himself at home.
I found myself jealous of what Sunday had.
As I said at the beginning, we’re distracted in every day situations, like picking a place to eat. But we’re also distracted in the bigger parts of life, like what we’ll be when we grow up or what kind of career we want to have. We’re so focused on being in the land of opportunity that we don’t focus on really anything specific. It’s why college students change majors so often; we can’t make up our minds. But Sunday – in a poor, diseased, and overall dangerous village – knew what he wanted to be and went about every day with that as his focus. I wish I had that.
Our country is focused on efficiency, productivity, and profit: We want more of it all. We want to spend less and make more all in half the time it took yesterday. This drives us into a fast-paced society. And yet here I desire the slow pace that Sunday has in Africa.
The other day I was reading the Gospel of Luke. At the end of chapter 10 is a story of two women and Jesus. Martha and Mary, sisters, were hosting dinner for Jesus. Martha took charge of cooking all the food and setting the whole ordeal up while Mary, much to Martha’s frustration, simply sat and talked with Jesus. Scripture paints Martha with a certain word, though: “Martha was distracted with much serving,” (10:40). American society is a lot like Martha; we’re too focused on “what needs to get done” that we miss out on talking with Jesus.
I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty about their busy schedules. But what I am saying is that our busy schedules must be a part of our overall lives with the Lord. Jesus must be our primary focus as we go about the little tasks of each day. It’s like a round of golf: You don’t set out to do well on one hole; you set out to do well on each hole so that you do well for the entire round. Your final score is what’s most important. In life, God is most important. Each season we go through – however long they may be – is one hole in a round; meant to be played well, but not meant to be the only hole played.
I can’t tell you what hole I’m on or what round I’m in. But I can tell you that I’m feeling the difficulty of focusing on this particular round and this particular hole instead of all the other rounds and holes I’ve ever played. Like Martha, I’m too focused on all the different things I think I need to do when the most important is to hang out with Jesus.
In a world that lives with the “no-tomorrow” attitude, I am choosing to live one day at a time. As my society goes about its fast pace, I am choosing to go at my own. It’s not about getting to a certain point by a certain time; it’s about enduring to the end, focused on the prize.