Are You Too Distracted to Reflect?

A man must find time for himself. Time is what we spend our lives with. If we are not careful we find others spending it for us. . . . It is necessary now and then for a man to go away by himself and experience loneliness; to sit on a rock in the forest and to ask of himself, “Who am I, and where have I been, and where am I going?” . . . If one is not careful, one allows diversions to take up one’s time—the stuff of life.

Carl Sandburg

In my previous post, I introduced the idea of examining your life in an effort to find areas where fear may be having a very negative impact. It’s a necessary starting point for anyone who wants to make a change in their life, whether fear-related or not.

Here’s the problem: most of us, living in our fast-paced, busy, stressed-out lives, don’t have the time or mental energy to commit to really thinking about what we’re doing with our lives. It’s really a cultural phenomenon: as our lives become more and more inundated with technology along with our responsibilities, we feel greater pressure to fill every waking moment with something. Lots of people have written a great deal about this already: for example, on the glorification of busyness here, and on being overworked here (by Chuck Norris, no less), so I won’t go too much into that.

The irony is that for many of us this busyness is with things that are not really that important in the grand scheme of things. Some individuals are forced by necessity to work extra jobs or long hours. Sometimes the demands of parenting or caring for a sick loved one run us ragged in pursuit of good or necessary goals. More often, though, we’re busy with work that is meant to give us a little extra spending money, or pad our retirement accounts, or because we just can’t say “No” to more obligations. On the other hand, when we aren’t working, we often become consumed with entertainment. I was shocked recently when my iPad showed me a report of my screen time, and I had an average of several hours per day!

It’s incredible how easy it is to have your work and activity time running you ragged, and then your remaining free time dominated by social media, mobile games, or television. There is much merit in working hard, as well as a need to decompress with leisure time. However, I believe much of our free time is taken up with “low-level” leisure activities that really do us little good and much harm, when we could be spending time with “high-level” leisure activities that truly refresh us, such as spending time with loved ones, hobbies, reading and learning, etc. That’s another discussion for another time!

My point is that our busyness in both work and play serve to do little more than distract us from the important things in life. Days, months, and years go by before we realize the cost. In fact, it’s a lot easier to stay busy than it is to really wrestle with the tough questions. Not that we should all become philosophers, who do nothing more than think or navel-gaze all day, but the majority of us could do with a bit more serious reflection.

I wouldn’t have come to this conclusion and started this journey in my own life, except that I was forced into a time of reflection. One year ago I was staying busy with work, activities, and leisure. I was bothered by where my life was, but I made it a habit to bury those unpleasant feelings by getting distracted. Frankly, it was easier than facing potentially hard truths. Then, things started happening: financially I realized my current position and lifestyle was not sustainable long-term. Other people started encouraging me to look at doing something new. Pressure from these two sources finally got me out and searching for a new position.

Finally, immediately after I had accepted a new job (in May 2018), I became very ill with an unknown disease. Having struggled with chronic pain and fatigue for many years, I ignored the early warning signs, until it became so acute I could hardly even function. For the space of about two weeks I could barely walk or move around, much less work or do any activities. Though that time was painful and distressing, it had many good results. One of those was the fact that I suddenly had more time that I knew what to do with. Though my body was in pain, my mind was fairly unaffected, so I had to find something to occupy my time. YouTube and Netflix could only keep me busy for so long; eventually I realized that I had the opportunity to really face the questions I had been avoiding for far too long. It’s entirely possible that without this forced bed rest I would have simply kept ignoring my nagging thoughts.

My main reason for ignoring these nagging thoughts were, of course, fear. I feared that if I turned and faced these questions (“What are you really doing with your life?” “What are your goals?” “What is your purpose?”), it would mean admitting that I had made poor choices in the past (also motivated by fear). Being forced to face those realities was painful, and it was hard.

In the midst of my physical pain, though, was uncertainty, which ultimately overcame my reluctance to face those questions. Although the disease (which we now know is autoimmune) is now mostly under control, at the time I had no idea what was going on or how serious it was. In the realm of the unknown, the brain can take off in the hypothetical, and this was no exception. I found myself wondering about cancer, or MS, or even some kind of terminal illness. When those questions arise, the fear of facing your failures tends to evaporate! It turned out that those unknowns were the catalyst to the self-reflection I really needed, and God used this difficult and painful situation to accomplish something good.

(As a sidenote, it was really interesting how even throughout this difficult illness I had an enormous amount of peace. Though it forced me to face some really tough questions, I knew it was for my benefit in the long run, and God was somehow working things together for a positive outcome. I’ll tell you more about that some other time.)

Sometimes those times of desperate need, facing incredible unknowns, can be the only thing to shake us out of our frenetic daily routines and get us to slow down for a second. I hope that none of you have to go through a similar experience in order to come to the same place: rather, consider making it a point to slow down and take stock of your life. Are you using a combination of work and leisure to drown out those voices that are asking, “What if there’s more?” “Is this really how I want to live my life?”

Even if you think you’re doing well and have it all figured out, there is a voice you will always inevitably hear at some point which nags at you and says “but wait…” Don’t ever dismiss it, listen to what it has to say. Life will never be close enough to perfect, and listening to that voice means stepping outside of yourself and considering your own wrongdoings and flaws.

Ashly Lorenzana

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