A third obstacle to interior listening is allowing external distractions to disturb our interior serenity so that we cannot truly listen. Part of the listening we need to do is paying attention to how God is inviting us through the needs of others, through our loved ones’ struggles, through the needs of the world. Gazing on others with compassion, praying for them, taking action to alleviate others’ suffering or to offer assistance, are all part of how we are called to respond lovingly to others.
But having done all we can, it’s important that we then try to let go of those situations and entrust them to God. When we don’t, when we give others’ situations, needs, problems, or conflicts undue importance so that they take over our thoughts and attention, they can distract us from God’s call. We risk actually becoming deaf to the other ways that God invites us. Distracted by others’ needs which we can’t do anything about, we stop paying attention to God’s call to us. We might even give in to worrying about things that we can’t do anything about.
When we worry, we lose our serenity or forget that God is taking care of the world, and then we can become too distracted, agitated, or distressed to live our own deeper calling.
Creating our own distractions
If we or others have a problem that is too painful or anxiety-provoking for us to confront directly, we sometimes create drama or conflict around the problem. This focuses our attention on the drama–a less painful problem–and distracts us from our deeper pain, and often, from the best thing that we can do to grow. When we do this, we prevent ourselves from addressing the real conflict, and sometimes from hearing God’s call to us within the situation. We have created our own distraction!
I have a personal example of this: my tendency to procrastinate when I am going to give a talk or presentation to a large group. I often become anxious about speaking to a group, so sometimes rather than simply being straightforward about preparing and dealing with my anxiety as it comes up, I will put off working on the presentation until the last minute. (I’m “putting off” my anxiety, along with the work.) When the time to give the presentation comes close, I become all stressed out and rushed because I didn’t give myself the time to prepare that I usually would. This stress—as difficult as it is—distracts me from the larger, underlying anxiety for a while. In the end, though, I have to struggle with both anxieties, and my procrastination makes the experience of giving a talk much more difficult for me. But even though I can see this so clearly, I still sometimes procrastinate when I need to prepare a talk.
When our loved ones create drama around a small problem to distract from a bigger problem they don’t want or cannot resolve, we can easily get drawn in by the drama, and waste our energies. We are called to love and support our loved ones, but only in rare cases are we able to “fix” one of their problems. If we try to resolve what only another person can resolve, we stop expressing our love wisely and we trample on the other’s responsibility and dignity. We start worrying about things we can do nothing about. We might become controlling, rather than helpful. We can be so taken up with them that we forget about our other responsibilities. Worry isn’t truly helpful to anyone, and can quickly become self-destructive.
Helpful attitudes to distinguish distractions from a call to discern
When we truly love others, it can be hard to know when to reach out to help and when it is more helpful to let them sort things out for themselves. Some attitudes that can help us to love while remaining true to God’s call are:
- intentionally making choices out of love that seeks the best for those I love and for myself
- seeking wisdom to respond in the way that is most helpful at this particular time
- entrusting others and their struggles to God’s love
- when we have done all we could, and we pray and entrust the person into God’s hands, we let go of our thoughts and worries about them, and return our attention to our life and our call
Share Your Insights!
There are many other external things that can disturb our serenity and make it hard for us to quietly listen to God in our daily lives. What are the things that make it hard for you to quiet down, that you see as obstacles to the deeper listening that can help you to grow in a spirit of discernment? If you have a topic you’d like me to talk about in the blog, or something you would like to share, please do so in the comments or in an email! I’d really love to hear from you, and I’m sure other people reading this blog would find it helpful, too.