by Rene Allen
A friend of mine received a GPS for Christmas.He put it in his car and with his 31 year-old son went for a test drive. He was intently focused on the map displayed by the positioning system when his son yelled, "Stop, Dad! There's a red light!" The man hit the brakes and they stopped inches before entering a busy intersection. "I guess that GPS doesn't show red lights, huh?"
"Guess not," replied my friend.
They continued on. As the man followed directions given by the small computer, he forgot where he was. Only two miles from his home, thinking he was on one road when he actually was on another, he got lost at which point his son pulled the plug on the GPS. "You're so distracted by this thing you've become a road hazard," he said.
Once a year I pull off the bookshelves a little gem, Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. My mother gave it to me me when I was 13. I treasure it as much because it was her gift to me and an acknowledgement of what she knew about me and what I loved, as I do for its lovely insights and observations about our lives as women. One of the essays is about distractions.
The author writes
With a new awareness, both painful and humorous, I begin to understand
why the saints were rarely married women. I am convinced it has nothing
inherently to do, as I once supposed, with chastity or children. It has primarily
to do with distractions. The bearing, rearing, feeding and educating of children,
the running of a house with its myriad pulls--woman's normal occupations in
general run counter to creative life, or contemplative life, or saintly life. The
problem is not merely one of Woman and Career, Woman and Home, Woman
and Independence. It is more basically how to remain whole in the midst of the
distractions of life.
My friend with the new GPS was so distracted by it he got lost. After I stopped laughing, I realized I may have a few similar distractions in my own life, so that in a sense, I am my own road hazard. Signs that I am overly distracted are when I lose focus and become restless and discontent. My thoughts jump and rush with little direction or satisfaction. I feel unproductive and bogged in a mental quagmire of things to do, and things I should do, and things I should do better.
For 17 years, I had a medical practice as an Obstetrician and Gynecologist. Once I saw a patient who was having trouble breathing. She launched into her story. "I just don't get anything done," she said. "I should be a better mother. I should spend more time with my children, do soccer games, crafts and hobbies. I should clean out my closets and cupboards. I should take the dog to the vet for his shots. I should be nicer to my husband and spend more time with him. I should call my parents more often. I should..."
By the time she stopped, I was having trouble breathing myself. "Look," I told her, reaching into my desk drawer for a handful of paperclips. "Assume each one of these represents something you told me you should be doing and that it weighs, well, how much? About twenty pounds?"
She nodded. I recited back all of her "shoulds." With each one, I added a paperclip to a stack on my desk. Intent on what we were doing, her breathing slowed and her body relaxed. When neither of us could think of any more, we tallied them. They came to 200 pounds. "That's a lot of weight to carry," I said.
"Oh!" she said. "Oh, my, I get it."
Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote Gift from the Sea in 1955, before the Womens' Movement of the 60s and 70s. Our lives since then have become significantly more complex. Yet we yearn as did this author, for simplicity, quiet and peace. We ache for identity, for a sense of our true natures that have become lost in the whirlwind of our daily lives.
I don't have tested solutions for this perplexing and age-old problem, but I do have ideas. Some are my own gleaned from experience, and some are from other treasures I've discovered along the way. One of these is Plain and Simple by Sue Bender, a little book written by a therapist on her own quest for self-discovery. She spends time in an Amish community learning about their quilts. In the preface, she writes " I didn't know when I first looked at an Amish quilt and felt my heart pounding that my soul was starving . . . "
We, who nurture and nourish so many, forget our own nutritional needs. In this we must be care-givers to ourselves, seeking those things which are uplifting, of good report and sustaining. We must choose them as carefully as we feed our families, realizing that strong and healthy bodies come from a well-considered diet, and that strong and healthy souls likewise come from well considered emotional, intellectual and social diets.
Second, we must decide what really matters in our lives. Bender writes that "Making a choice--declaring what is essential--creates a framework for a life that eliminates many choices but gives meaning to the things that remain. Satisfaction comes from giving up wishing I was somewhere else or doing something else."
Third, and three are enough for now, is to heed the profound advice of the Psalmist, "Be still and know that I am God." To know God is to commune with Him. It is to partake of divinity and resuscitate that part in each of us that acknowledges Him as Father.
Distractions, like road hazards, may deter us from that which brings contentment and satisfaction. Some of these hazards come from within, others are external. And there are some, like my friend's GPS, we can pull the plug on and choose to leave behind. Additionally, to live in the spiritual shelter of a profound relationship with God is to live with wisdom and direction, and to remember that with God, all things are possible.