Distraction Is the Enemy

This post appeared as a column in the August 29, 2021, issue of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin.

In my role as communications manager for the parish, I am technically a contractor. Even before the pandemic I was working primarily from home, setting my own schedule, and providing freelance support to a handful of other Catholic clients.

As many of us have learned over the past 18 months or so, working from home can be a challenge. Distractions abound: kids and pets, music and media, food and other comforts, are constantly beckoning, particularly if you don’t have set hours.

Make no mistake, even good distractions (like my daughter Lily wanting me to watch an episode of Nature about giant pandas with her) can be from the Enemy. When we succumb to distraction, little by little, we weaken our resolve and our self-control. For me, it often looks like this: I’m working away on my laptop when a message comes in that reminds me of something that need doing on the home front. I leave my desk to address it while it’s fresh in my mind, and our Airedale Bruno greets me at the top of the stairs, hoping for a walk.

It’s a beautiful morning, and I’m not on deadline. There is no reason I can’t walk the dog right now. Maybe I do walk him and fall a bit behind on my work—no biggie. Maybe I don’t walk him and instead reward myself with a cookie or two on the way through the kitchen for sticking to the task at hand, more or less.

Regardless of which I choose, the temptation is to step away from what I set out to do intentionally and to react to the circumstances of the moment: what is convenient or urgent or enjoyable. Little by little, I move from acting intentionally to reacting instinctively—and as I fall behind on what needs to be done, I have to carve out time that could have otherwise been spent with family, friends, and God.

This is not to say that work should come first. Instead, the point is to decide where to spend my time—to act intentionally. A man or woman who regularly gives in to distraction and lives reactively hands his or her reins to the Enemy, who is happy to ride us in whatever direction we are headed as long as it’s not toward God.

So what can I do? The weekend before last I was blessed to spend on silent retreat at the Demontreville Jesuit Retreat House (demontrevilleretreat.com) and was convicted about time wasted—and the countless unknown sins of omission that occur when I’m not paying attention. I prayed about how to address this, and the answers were, of course, the same as last year: fasting and prayer.

Why fasting? Just like the periods of abstinence required by Natural Family Planning, fasting—even in small ways, like omitting salt or drinking only water for a day—develops self-awareness and self-control. The more I do it, the more I strengthen myself against the little distractions that become bigger temptations day by day.

Why prayer? Because God wants us, freed from the Enemy and en route back to Him. Prayer in the morning helps to focus my efforts for the day. Frequent Holy Communion strengthens me against temptation and sin, helping me to love and serve God rather than myself. And a regular examination of my conscience and my day helps me to see when God is calling and how I am—or am not—responding.

So that’s my post-retreat resolution: daily prayer, weekly fasting, and regular Communion. Let’s pray I don’t get distracted.

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