on distraction {and why it may be your best friend}

Written by Shelly Miller

Editor, Living the Story Shelly Miller is smitten with the art of story to transform a life. She writes about her own struggles as a child of divorce and alcoholism, and the way God redeems it all as a clergy wife raising two teens. With experience as a full-time missionary, advocate for orphans in Rwanda and leader of women’s ministries for small and large congregations, she is passionate to help people realize calling despite circumstance. When her husband H isn’t leading a church planting movement in North America, they drive five minutes across the street to take a walk on the Atlantic, with a camera strapped to her shoulder.

June 3, 2013

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Lately, distraction is my closest companion.

I sit down to look up an address on-line and before you know it, I’ve read three blog posts, checked my email, responded to a Facebook message and updated my status three times. When I get up, walk into the kitchen to pour myself a third cup of tea, I realize that I have forgotten to look up the address. So I start over.

The pen and letter still lay on the table where I left them, next to a half-written blog post, the grocery list, and the pile of laundry I started folding. Two hours ago.

My doctor says distraction is a symptom of the season of life I’m in, so I’m blaming it on my hormones. That is, until I heard Patrick Lencioni speak from the stage at the Royal Albert Hall in London a few weeks ago. What he said changed my mind about the guilt I place on myself regarding distraction, the way it stalls my day and keeps me from being productive.

And true to my current state, I was so distracted by his admission; I only remember one thing he said after that.

Lencioni is a best-selling author of several books including Five Dysfunctions of a Team and one of the nation’s top five business speakers. And he doesn’t even tweet.  He boasts an impressive list of thousands of CEO’s and senior executives as clients. But what I remember the most about what he said has nothing to do with business or books.

He started his talk on becoming a cultural leader by admitting that his personality doesn’t lend itself to a linear, organized, and focused presentation. He told us that he is an ENFP on the Myers Briggs personality test. Of course, wild applause ensued from all the ENFP’s in the crowd, of which I am one.

“The prayer of an ENFP is this,” he begins, “Dear Lord, help me to focus more, oh there’s a bird, on the things I need to do.”

Further, he admitted to struggles with staying focused and on point; that he always jumps around. Finally after years of fighting distraction he decides to indulge it. Actually asks people to raise their hands and shout out a question during his talk, because he’s learned that interruptions help him stay focused.

Sometimes instead of harnessing the way God made us, we fight against it like swimming upstream. It’s a lot of work that gets us nowhere, except guilt-ridden that we don’t measure up to the yardstick of our own approval. And we can place those expectations on others too. Assigning standards and ways of doing life that don’t work, because they aren’t compatible with the way God made someone.

I’ve done this to my own kids, berating them for not being more talkative and outgoing. Until I realized God made them both introverts, which isn’t a weakness at all. I was reducing their personalities to the lens of my own extroverted experience, leaving myself nearsighted and my children feeling rejected.

When I compare my productivity to others or fail to achieve my own unrealistic standards because of distraction, I’m berating myself too.

What if you and I could turn our perceived weakness into a strength? How would that look for you?

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Lencioni did that. He shared a personal story that he hadn’t planned in his talk, something vulnerable, because he harnessed the distraction. It turned out to be that other thing I remembered.

He told us about how he found his teenage son weeping face down on the floor of his bedroom recently because he’d been bullied. Admitted how painful that experience was for he and his wife as parents and how he can’t get past wondering how Mary did it. How she watched her own son, Jesus, be crucified.

A holy hush covered the audience like a thin veil carried on the way of a gentle breeze.

I realized then, that no matter how much money you make, how many clients you have on your list, or how long distraction has been your unwanted companion, our humanity is common. We’re sinners in need of saving.

And perhaps distractions aren’t really keeping us from what is needful, as much as they are leading us to what is most needed. Like a best friend leading us to our Savior.

 

27 Comments

  1. Kris Camealy

    Thank you so much for this, Shelly. Sometimes, I just kick and fight against my humanity, frustrated for all the ways I get it wrong, for the way I waste time, and follow rabbit trails of distraction, for the ways I do not perfectly execute things in real life, the way I do in my mind. I fumble and stagger most days, tripping over all of the ways that I am human. Thankfully, grace catches me–every time. I so appreciate this.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      I feel the same way Kris. And then I realize that many of the distractions were better than my well laid plans. Thankful like you, for grace. Oh yes.

      Reply
  2. kelli woodford

    {the way you write just makes me want to pen a book in response, Shelly. i say that so hopefully you’ll excuse the lengthiness of my reply. 🙂 }
    my strongest personality trait is the “N” in the MBTI profile. i tend to see the big picture everywhere i go and get frustrated with details. by God’s grace, i have always been surrounded by those who pick up my slack with the details of life so i can keep being me and play to my strengths. there have been times where i have been utterly astounded at my husband, my daughter, my mother, my MIL, and how they stepped in behind me to take care of a glaring detail that i missed. i think this in turn has made me a more dependent person (in a good way). it has helped this brazenly independent woman see how much we really do need each other.

    what an amazing post, Shell. seriously going to be thinking about this all day. oh, and i caught that vulnerability thing woven in at the end there. i love how you’re soaking in that lately … 😉

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      Oh, I would be happy for you to write a book in response to anything I write Kelli. 😉 You have so much to say that is so deep and profound and thoughtful. I’m grateful for your response and yes, we do need each other don’t we? It’s foolish to think we can be an island. So why do I need reminding of that? And often.

      Yeah, that word vulnerable is haunting me right now. It’s everywhere I go. I’m listening.

      Reply
  3. Cara Sexton

    Truer words could not be spoken to my weary heart this morning. Here’s to blooming full into who we are. Oh look, there’s a bird! 😉

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      Yes, Cara. I dare say you are blooming around a lake beautifully right now. Enjoy my friend.

      Reply
  4. Sandra Heska King

    I’m hearing this loud and clear.

    To learn to harness the way he made us–would that look anything like taking on his yoke and leaning into Him?

    P.S. I’m an INFP

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      Ooo, that is an interesting thought to ponder Sandra.

      So you are the introverted side of me. No wonder I like you so much!

      Reply
  5. TeriLynneU

    Oh Shelly! I needed this today … I fight those distractions, feeling like they leave me unaccomplished and unfinished. But maybe the lesson is simple: I am unaccomplished and unfinished … but He is faithful and He is still working in me and through me — undone laundry, unfinished writing tasks, distracted mind and all.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      I love where you are taking this Terri Lynne. We are truly a work in progress aren’t we? I know I am. And perhaps contentment can be found in accepting that.

      Reply
  6. DeanneMoore

    So I was talking on the phone to my friend out in OKC when the forecast said they were under the gun again with a huge threat of storms ( a big tornado lifted over the area she lives in later that day.) We don’t talk often and we pack in the “good stuff” when we do. I was sitting on the porch when I stopped her mid-sentence and said “I see a dove attacking a squirrel.” Why could I not just listen for a minute!?? I wonder how many of those who love me shake their heads at this ENFP and think if she could only get it together?? 🙂 … Don’t know what I would do if “the urgent” didn’t get me going at least once a day!

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      My family shakes their heads at me every single day. I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to it.

      Can’t believe we have one more thing in common. If you weren’t a twin I’d wonder if we were somehow sisters. And yes, thank God for the urgent. It gives me the excuse to say I accomplished at least one thing in the day. 😉

      Reply
  7. pastordt

    This is really, really helpful, Shelly – and terribly convicting, too. My mom did this to me and I have done it to my kids on occasion, too – tried to force them into a mold that wasn’t who they were wired to be. So grateful for what you learned on this trip to England and how beautifully you’re sharing it with us all. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      Diana, I wish I could take back some of the things I said to my kids in the past before I understood their personality type the way I do now. I’m still making mistakes as a mother but at least I have a better understanding of how God made them. It makes our household a lot more peaceful.

      Reply
  8. Sarah_piecesofgrace

    I am in a season of figuring out if distraction is my god-given gift or something distracting me from a gift. I relate so much to the distraction and never thought about it possibly just being who I am and something I should embrace.

    Thank you for the different point of view.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      Sarah, there’s distraction and then there is avoidance. I could write another blog post on avoiding using the gift God has given me because of fear and doubt and worry. That is different than distraction. I’m not sure if that is what you were alluding to, but it made me think that way. Perhaps it convicted me? ouch.

      Reply
      • Sarah_piecesofgrace

        It wasn’t originally, but your response has brought me there. I am very distracted, yet it could be avoidance of things which I fear….yikes, and I thought I was just reading a quick blog post! Now you got me thinking…darn you!

        Reply
  9. Laura Boggess

    I love the way you start the post with the image of the door closed and then, at the end…open sesame! That’s how your words made me feel too. Like opening up to who I am, letting the inside free. That’s pretty cool. I think I’m going to have to look this guy up. One of his books might make a good book club discussion.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      Oh, I’m smiling ear to ear that you got that with the pictures Laura. Well, of course you did, you are so on the ball.

      Yes, look him up and listen to his talk that I linked to if you have time . He is so good. It was my first time to hear him speak and I got to listen to him three times. Each time was better than the last. He’s very transparent and full of wisdom.

      Reply
  10. MsLorretty

    Thankyousoverymuch!!!! I feel like THIS is a breath of fresh air and wind beneath my wings because I CAN’T HELP IT! Wonderful! Ah….yes. This is good news.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      Oh, you made me smile. Love your comment.

      Reply
  11. Deidra

    OK. This is the honest truth. I was going to leave a comment here earlier today but…

    Thanks for this, Shelly. We do fight who we are, in so many ways. Well, maybe I should speak for myself. I fight it. I look around, measure myself against him or her, and strike down all the things that make me, me. I needed this reminder today.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      Always glad to see you in the comments Deidra, no matter when you get here. Perhaps the fight to be ourselves continues until our last breath. I’m resigning myself to that anyway, somehow it makes the struggle a little easier. Glad to know I’m in good company though.

      Reply
  12. Nacole Simmons

    Oh wow, Shelly, you know I told you I wasn’t reading much lately, staying off the net as much as I can, but I somehow feel I’m missing out by not reading yours and I’m glad Dan highlighted these. You have so much wisdom I can glean from. One of my worst enemies is myself– I’m always trying to do things the way someone else does, because in my mind my way, or my natural gifts, are just not good enough. I tend to have the most difficult time recognizing well the gifts that I am vulnerable with. People’s perceptions of my offerings stifles me. I love that we seem to be on the same page with asking these questions. Love to you…

    Reply
  13. David Rupert

    I suffer from SOS (Shiny Object Syndrome). I have lots of little pretty things I’ve collected over the years and not much else. But I’ve been able to discover the undiscoverable. I’ve seen things no one else sees. I’ve touched people that some thougth untouchable. So, distraction has it’s benefits.
    And one more thing…

    Reply
  14. Paula Leach Gamble

    Wow, I relate way too well & totally beat myself up for getting distracted so easily. Thank you for a new perspective with grace. “And perhaps distractions aren’t really keeping us from what is needful, as much as they are leading us to what is most needed. Like a best friend leading us to our Savior.” Yes!

    Reply
  15. Ashley Tolins Larkin

    I’m not sure how I missed this before (a few guesses that include distraction), but as a fellow ENFP, this is such a great reminder to me to embrace how God made me. And yes, to remember grace in all its forms for this humanity of mine.

    Reply

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on distraction {and why it may be your best friend}

by Shelly Miller time to read: 4 min
27