Even in the midst of a time that comes with a forced slowing down, I’m hurrying. My attention span is nonexistent, darting from one thing to the next and back again in cyclical motions to the point of not getting anything done at all. Or, when the thing gets done (finishing a book, writing an essay, listening to a lecture), I find I comprehended very little of what just transpired. I can’t remember what was said, what I was supposed to learn.
For all my talk of introversion and not being bored yet and love of solitude, I’ve encountered an inherent bent in my sinner’s flesh to rush, a desire to take the easy way into and out of things. Good habits are hard to keep because they require slow time. They require the discipline to sit and pay attention to one thing.
I’m troubled to notice just how much technology, an unending series of temporary bursts of dopamine, sucks us in. As soon as we give our minds over to social media, games, YouTube videos, and the like, we get stuck there. “Just fifteen more minutes” doesn’t work. Scrolling is numbing. And I’m not saying anything new here, just recognizing how dangerous media can be when left unbound. The “high” is so short that we need more and more stimulation to make it last. And it’s addicting. When I pick up my phone before the Bible in the morning, it’s rare I ever get around to opening the Bible at all. The moment I put down a book or my pen during the day to scroll through my phone is the moment I know that any later attempts to pick up my book or my pen again will be almost impossible. I have so many half-finished journal entries because I let myself be distracted in the middle by something else. I’m not well-versed in the psychology of the matter, but it’s spiritually scary.
There’s always something else. Everything in this world is begging for our attention. The world begs for our worship in no uncertain terms. Satan knows. He knows the more time we spend pitter-pattering after fragile and fleeting things the less time we spend actually following Jesus and striving to live more like him. Because that’s really all the world is: fragile and fleeting. It’s temporary, frustratingly so. It offers promises of satisfaction and fulfillment only to throw it all back in our faces and scoff and lure us deeper into the recesses of lust, of pride, of control. “Just try harder,” it says. “Just get more. Then you’ll be satisfied.”
Humans are habitual creatures. We find something that works for us and we stick to it. The trouble comes when that thing that works for us is not a good thing, not a soul-filling thing. There are two options. We can scrabble after the world’s fleeting promises, taking things into our own hands, blind to the illusion. Or we can cling to God’s promises, acknowledging that any attempt of our own to satisfy our desires is pitiful and destructive. The latter is harder because it requires our spirit (which yearns for God) going to war with our flesh (which yearns for instant satisfaction). It requires complete surrender. It requires transparency. It requires attention for a constant period of time, none of this short-term, second-long, quick and easy satisfaction.
The world offers many iterations of the same gods (everything we idolize). We can hop around when one ceases to satisfy us. We can jump from one high to the next. The very nature of the world’s gods is to be temporary so we’re constantly searching for the next thing. The thrill of the search draws us in, and it’s most dangerous in relationships. If we idolize other people’s approval we will jump from one person to the next in our constant search for new affirmation. We will never befriend long enough to get to the hard parts of a friendship that are no longer self-affirming. If we idolize romance (and the boatload of potential idols that come with it such as self-image, sexual satisfaction, affirmation, etc.) we will jump from one love interest to the next, always in search of “the one” but with the twisted understanding that “the one” will never make us feel bad about ourselves or will otherwise live up to our idealized standards for them. Commitment flies out the window, here, and heartbreak walks through the door over and over and over again. We’re looking for steadfast satisfaction in sources that are just as unreliable as we are.
In contrast to the endless choices that insidiously dangle before our eyes, God only offers himself, which can be scary. We like having options. But we don’t need other options with God. We don’t need to turn anywhere else for affirmation and, ultimately, for identity. He promises to provide everything, all in one, and he does. His promises are sure. He doesn’t change his mind or wear a mask or take advantage of us like the world’s gods do.
I’ve been convicted lately of how my distraction is distrust. It’s keeping my options open. If this following Jesus thing doesn’t work out at least I’ll already have one foot in a different world, in a world called “Eliana’s Will Be Done.” But over and over again that different world proves disappointing. I may glean brief moments of emotional or physical satisfaction, times when I think I am finally in control, calling the shots, but then the Spirit shines a light on my heart and I see my sin, my misplaced loves. I see how I took what was meant to be a good thing when surrendered to God and instead turned it into something for my own enjoyment and selfish means. And I crawl back to the cross, weeping for how I’ve fixed my eyes on something other than Jesus.
But this cycle is not without hope. We’re welcomed back to the cross. God doesn’t send us away. When we come to him with repentant faith and Spirit-led resolve to keep trying, to seek accountability, to call our sins what they are rather than sugarcoating them, to grow, he welcomes us in. Not only that, but he goes out to find us. Even in the roiling darkness of sinful action, thought, and word, he is there. The Holy Spirit dwells within us and does not abandon his home. The war is never one-sided. God has, in his unfathomable mercy, already stepped into the darkness with us. And he doesn’t just go into the throes of ugly desire with us; he calls us out. We don’t have to get stuck there because he has called us to something so much greater, so much more filling than anything our controlling hands could grasp: his loving kindness and grace.
Let’s run after that! Let’s run after the soul-filling, desire-satisfying, wholly trustworthy love of Jesus. There is nothing in this world that even comes close to the true satisfaction (true rest and reassurance) that we are beloved, called to be still at his feet and know that he is God. We don’t have to look anywhere else to fill our longings. He still blesses us with earthly treasure, but we ought not to mistake those gifts for gods. When our faces are set toward heaven, earthly blessings become even more enjoyable in their truest sense because we are not looking to them for identity or affirmation. We can rest in our Savior’s promises and thus truly know and savor the joy of what he has created.