The night was cool, and the wind whistled through our backyard redwood trees. The moon had taken refuge behind a bank of clouds, so the space was dark and solemn. An empty deckchair invited me to the edge of our barely rippling pool.
It was God calling me to that place, but I didn’t know it yet.
When most of us think of a holy Someone calling our name, it’s usually a beautiful and serene event. This was not one of those events. Sometimes God’s holy invitation into these dark midnight spaces has been hand-crafted so He can speak life-giving honesty into my calloused and cranky heart.
I went to sit in the dark that night because I was agitated, but I didn’t know why. I was a little depressed and a little anxious and a little ticked off and a little critical and a little disappointed, but I couldn’t give myself any good reason for feeling any of that stuff. I was unsettled and restless and confused. I walked perilously close to the edge of the pool, onto the deck, and finally into the empty chair. I looked up at the sky and said, “What?” It wasn’t like I was asking an honest question with an open heart. If you read the next sentence at a hurried pace with no pauses, you’ll understand.
“It’s midnight God, and I can’t sleep because I’m ticked. And obviously You’re up to something and have driven me into the dark to sit in this stupid deckchair. So what could you possible want now?”
That kind of a “What?”
But God didn’t turn His back on me. He turned His back on His Son at Calvary, in my place. He was about to speak truth into my heart, and He couldn’t have spoken any clearer to me.
“This agitation and frustration you’re feeling, son – the depressed and anxious and ticked off and critical and disappointment stuff. Those are all distractions.”
The “distractions” label He provided wasn’t the a-ha for me. I knew these things were distractions in my life. They were placed front-and-center before me in order to move me away from the stuff I was supposed to be concentrating on – my marriage, my children, my business, and my art. The revealing and life-giving part of God’s voice to me wasn’t something I was prepared to hear Him say.
“There are distractions that other people cause, and there are distractions that you bring on yourself. Most of your distractions are created by you.”
This was not an audible voice, mind you. God doesn’t speak to me that way (at least, not yet). This was a powerful thought that entered into my heart, and was both harsh and loving.
“Most of your distractions are created by you.”
The remainder of this article is taken from my Macbook journal – written between midnight and 3:00am, by the pool, in the deckchair. I don’t want you to think that this became some intellectual process of greater self-awareness. What I wrote came through shouts and tears and prayers and Scripture remembrances. And as you’ll discover, I don’t have many answers – only observations.
At the top of the blank Pages document, I typed these words:
When I choose some ongoing stupid behavior, there is always a specific corresponding distraction that I invite in. These distractions derail me from creating anything.
(I began to explore three observations.)
Fear Leads to Procrastination
And in those moments when I choose to allow fear to reign in my heart, the distraction I experience becomes procrastination.
For an artist, the fruit of fear is procrastination.
It makes sense, right? I become too scared to distribute my art, so I keep it in the garage. And when I choose that, I end up developing a list of excuses. That’s all procrastination is – a list of excuses for not creating what I’ve been called to create.
Lust Leads to Low-Grade Depression
I really don’t want to talk about this one. After 47 years of living on this planet, you’d think I would have this one figured out by now. It’s a beast that I’ve learned to knock out, but not kill.
When I was 22 years old, I went to visit my grandfather at his home. We talked about a number of different topics (as was our custom), but then I asked him, “Granddad – How old were you when you finally quit lusting?” He answered with one word.
And then he laughed.
And then I laughed.
When I choose to give in to an ongoing and consistent pattern of lust, the distraction becomes low-grade depression. For me, the fruit of lust is always a day of the blahs.
I begin to see the flaws in everyone around me. I create imaginary arguments in my mind – arguments where I win every time. And I don’t see the world as something filled with beauty and wonder, only as something to be fixed or corrected. People become objects to serve me, not the other way around. I don’t want to talk to God, and I just want to escape from every important relationship.
Defying Authority Leads to Insecurity
When I served in a church, I always battled authority. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a strong opinion that’s contrary to the lead pastor or the project manager. I think most artists have their own strong opinions that clash with those in authority over them, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
I think the problem comes when we defy that authority and actively work against it.
In Scripture, authority is seen as a covering. God places authority figures in our lives to cover us. So it stands to reason that when we defy authority, we remove ourselves from that God-provided covering.
So when I choose to defy authority figures, the distraction becomes severe insecurity.
There is tremendous security in having a covering in my life – a covering that protects and defends and shields. Whether or not my authority figures provide a perfect covering every time (they don’t), they’re still present in my life for a reason. Paul wrote to the early Christians that “the authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1-2). And the kicker is that he wrote those words when Nero was reigning, and was burning Christians in his garden.
At 3:00am, I finished these thoughts by the pool. The clouds had given way to the beautiful moonlight, and my unknown agitation had turned into soft laughter. At midnight there had been some broken and secret place in my heart. By 3:00am, Jesus had entered into that exact place, and offered healing.
I accepted it with gladness.
I went to sleep, and woke up four hours later, feeling like I had wrestled with an angel that night. I think that’s a more accurate description than I care to admit.
A few hours later, I went to work feeling clean and unencumbered. I felt light – like some burden had been broken.
The remainder of my week had a ton of distractions.
But none that I caused.