The Call Collective

Exploring God's presence and call within the culture.

Tag: Prayer

The Spiritual Pitfalls of Wandering Thoughts and Streaming Music

I have to admit, when it comes to doing menial and repetitive tasks I tend to look for distractions to temper the burden. For instance, when I work out at the gym or clean my bathroom, I insist on doing these things with the aid of one of my custom playlists. I do this because I get bored. Really bored. If I could, I would listen to music or a Podcast whenever I did any routine or mindless task: rooting out weeds from a yard, folding laundry into uneven squares, washing myself with soap in the shower. I find focused repetition boring and dull. I still manage to get these tasks done — otherwise I wouldn’t be a functioning adult — but when I do them I’m usually distracted. If it’s not music, then in my head I’m trying to solve a problem related to my work or replaying a conversation from earlier that day — usually while doing something mundane like checking for cracked eggs in a carton at the grocery store.

I’ve gotten much better over the years, and now I make it a discipline to do certain things without the relief of external or internal stimulation. I have to make sure I’m intentional about living in the moment—in its total and unflattering fullness—as much as I can.

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The Great Temptation of Productivity

We move and have our being in a material world, a world that in many ways can be estimated, codified and measured. We do certain things with the hope and expectation of being able to tally up tangible results. We seek education and skills in order to procure a rewarding or meaningful job. We work hard so we can give our loved ones good lives. We seek to realize our dreams so we can catapult society beyond the wondrous heights achieved by all those before us. We act in order to produce: to create a visible good to which we can attribute value. In placing such heavy stock in the results and value of our actions, we are able to validate not only what we do, but who we are.

Naturally, such an aim—to instill meaningful change and effect through our actions—is noble and good. We were created to tend to the garden of human flourishing—to use our gifts, abilities and circumstances to bring about God’s kingdom. Let us recall the parable of the talents, where the servant who buried his single talent is condemned for having squandered his responsibility to act, multiply, create.

Though in the form of the material, we are also made of the immaterial—we possess an eternal soul created and gifted to us by God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church elucidates the unification of these two aspects—body and soul—to form a single, inimitable nature:

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Giving God Our Full and Undivided Attention

We’ve all been in the middle of a conversation, telling a story, asking for advice, or sharing how we’re doing when we notice the person across from us isn’t paying attention. Maybe they’re eyeing some odd character who just walked through the door behind us, or they’re glancing at their phone in response to a text alert, or they’re simply exhibiting that glazed-over look accompanied with an agreeable, I’m-not-listening-but-am-pretending-to head nod. I’m guilty of this, as I imagine we all are. In many cases, it’s not because we don’t care, are bored, or necessarily have something better to do. Instead, it often has to do with the understandable reality that it’s hard, even at times exceedingly difficult, to give our full attention to something or someone for an extended period of time. And although I think the way we consume information these days, in short, easily-digestible snippets of content at an unending rate, definitely doesn’t make things easier in this department, we can’t blame it only on technology (yes, we’ve all heard a thousand times that the digital age is shortening our attention spans).

The reason it’s hard to pay attention—to give ourselves fully to the moment before us no matter what we’re doing—is because it often requires us to turn away from what we’re naturally conditioned to do. It’s hard to keep our thoughts reined in; it requires an act of the will and a firm commitment to staying focused. And with a weakened ability to focus—to be fully attentive to what’s in front of us—we hinder our relationships with others, the fruitfulness of our prayer, and even our union with God and the knowledge of his will.

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