Today has been one of those “its like déjà vu all over again” mornings that noted American philosopher and sports icon Yogi Berra aptly memorialized. I’ve cleaned the kitchen counters and cooktop, washed and dried the dishes, removed leaves and pine needles from the pool filter basket, and adjusted the time clock for the front lawn irrigation system. I’ve also paced through the house looking for additional chores to accomplish. Currently, I am sitting at my dining room table staring at a nearly blank screen, and I’ve noticed that the framed prints hanging on the wall to my left are slightly askew. It’s taking an enormous amount of self-restraint not to interrupt this writing and adjust their alignment. And just like Frodo’s observation to his trusty companion, Samwise Gamgee, in the Lord of the Rings: “Because we’ve been here before. We’re going in circles.” – so too am I.
I am not a habitually tidy person, on the contrary, I battle with lackadaisical neatness. So, I needn’t gaze far for a historical corollary: I am a master at identifying and completing necessary, albeit untimely chores when I have an uncomfortable or undesirable assignment to complete. It’s as if my procrastination gene has muscle memory. Although I’m now thirty years removed from undergraduate collegiate days, I still FEEL like only yesterday I was rounding up the soiled clothing from off the floor and traveling down to the basement laundry with a handful of quarters. It wasn’t enough to binge clean my washing, I would also head over to the Dean’s office to exchange my student ID for the community vacuum, and when I was finished with that I would dust my desk, carefully arranging my papers and pens into orderly stacks and color coordinated rows. Maybe the obsessiveness of my actions could be justified if I had been expecting company – perhaps a weekend visit from my long-distance girlfriend. But that was never the case. It truthfully meant that I had a term paper due the following day, or an exam that needed some immediate and diligent study in preparation.
Three decades later, and I still struggle with stalling tactics in my daily life. I do it at work; browsing news feeds or Facebook posts instead of updating a submittal log or sending out an email request for a change order. And now I’ve done it this weekend; delaying the first blog post which I committed to write. I’m reminded of the conversation I had earlier this week with Joe, my mentor and friend, when we reminisced about Mary and Martha’s interaction with Jesus. I think The Passion version from Luke 10 illuminates the passage most clearly:
40 But Martha became exasperated by finishing the numerous household chores in preparation for her guests, so she interrupted Jesus and said, “Lord, don’t you think it’s unfair that my sister left me to do all the work by myself? You should tell her to get up and help me.”
41 The Lord answered her, “Martha, my beloved Martha. Why are you upset and troubled, pulled away by all these many distractions? Are they really that important? 42 Mary has discovered the one thing most important by choosing to sit at my feet. She is undistracted, and I won’t take this privilege from her.”
How often I mimic Martha’s attitude and behavior, becoming exasperated and then rude and demanding. Yet Jesus’ response is to affirm Martha, affectionately calling her “beloved” before he questions the value of her prioritizations. I like that God takes the time to affirm us before he moves into correcting my distracted waywardness. When I insert myself into Christ’s words it instantly changes my perspective: “Phil, my beloved Phil. Why are you upset and troubled, pulled away by all these many distractions? Are they really that important?” Yes, I have been here before, and as I recognize in a thousand different circumstances that my propensity to select a distraction over a more important action, thought, or task is the first step out of my circular rut. For me that is as simple, and as uncomfortable, as prioritizing the amount of time necessary to memorialize a few thoughts (that’s a fancy way to say “write this blog”) with which others might readily relate.
Are you facing a challenge in your life that you’ve been avoiding, and do you find yourself returning to innocuous or repetitive coping mechanisms and evasive strategies as a distraction? If I understand Christ’s words to Martha, choose the most important thing; set aside the diversions, and do it.
My name is Philip A Wallinger and for decades I hid behind a diversion of pornography. In my struggle to become clean I discovered a calling that now fuels my heart. Since I know the battle of shame, self-condemnation, and self-delusion from bottom to top, I have relatable insight, encouragement, and correction to offer others who desire to walk clean also. In the coming months, my own story will likely unfold in 1,000 word or less increments. My prayer is that we experience hope and healing together.
And now that my allotment of words for this installment is used up, I have a couple of picture frames to level…
Always in His Grip,