Below is an essay that I sent to those on the Cove Presbyterian Church e-mailing list. You can hear a podcast of this message by going to the Cove Presbyterian Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.
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In the thirty years I’ve been a minister, I’ve run into a lot of folks who are struggling through difficult times. Of course, the reason for the stress varies. For example, some are fighting through a sudden separation from someone whom they love, the kind of thing that happens with death or divorce. And others are facing a sudden change in something that at one time offered them a lot of security and comfort, you know, like good health or a steady job. And still others feel as though they’re being cut by a thousand knives, all those little issues that they’d probably be able to handle if faced one at a time but that have suddenly become like a flood. And these are just a few examples; struggles come in all kinds of forms to all kinds of people. But regardless of their shape, more often than not, these traumas can really dominate a person, leaving them isolated and alone to obsess on a problem over which they have limited control.
Now during my time as a minister, I’ve seen this happen over and over again. And I’ve also heard well-meaning friends offer the same kind of advice. As a matter of fact, I think I’ve probably said this more than once myself. They see their friend burdened and heavy laden, and in attempt to move them past their lethargy, they’ll say something like, “You just can’t sit around moping. What you need to do is work in the garden or see a good movie or maybe hang out with friend. In other words, you need some kind of distraction that’ll get you out and away from your troubles.” Now that what they say.
And even though I certainly understand the reason for this advice, I think the words used are off-base. You see, when we say that the garden or the movie or the friends are distractions, we’re also suggesting that the obsessing and the worrying is actually living. In other words, we’re living our lives when we’re passively thinking about the one who’s gone or the security we lost or the onslaught we’re enduring. And sitting still and silent is somehow a natural and reasonable way to deal with our struggles until we find something to distract us from our new life-style.
And since these distractions divert our attention from the kind of person God created us to be, I think it’s not too dramatic to call them satanic, and let me explain what I mean. I believe scripture, especially the devil’s encounter with Jesus in the wilderness, shows that Satan is the great distractor. As he did with Christ, he tries to tempt us to look away from the God who loves us and is leading us into the future. And regardless of how we see him, Satan becomes the source of those thoughts and feelings that cause us to obsess about things beyond our control and to feel shame about ourselves. Therefore, we resist Satan when we resist succumbing to the temptations he throws before us and decide to move forward in living the lives God has given to us.
Of course, I recognize that from time-to-time we all face struggles. And in the face of those struggles, it’s tempting to do nothing but focus on the problems we have and the pain we feel. But before we assume that this is somehow the reality found in the lives we’ve been forced to live, I think it’s important to label these temptations for what they are, distractions leading us away from the people God created us to be. And then, as we pick up a trowel or buy a ticket or just hang out, we can recognize that what we’re actually doing is saying to the great distractor, “Get behind me Satan.”