I have a friend who told me a story from his childhood of how his father would help him pass away the boredom of the endless miles that my friend suffered on long, cross-state roadtrips. Before departure, while in the drive-way, Big John would take a crayon and draw a small circle on the inside of the windshield, right in front of where my buddy would be sitting for hours. (This was way back in the days when children would ride in the front seat of the car.)
“’Son, on this trip, every time a bug hits the window in that circle, I’ll give you a quarter.”
I imagine my friend surviving the endless highways of those trips with a singular, quarter-sized focus, with laser-sharp attention to the circle his Dad had drawn, just waiting for any old bug to hit the windshield in that pay-day circle on the dashboard! Big John distracted his boy from the uncomfortable present with a promise of a quarter-flushed future.
Whether it’s counting mileposts, looking at roadmaps, “collecting” various state license plates seen on the highway, counting cows, or simply playing the games found in a child’s travel book of games sold at every interstate gas-station and truck stop, such distractions seem to shorten the hours and the miles, and make a long trip a bit more tolerable for both kids and parents. Sometimes parents really are geniuses!
I think God uses distraction, too, to get His kids through the tough times. I’m not thinking of boredom here, but the dark times of life; the anxious, troubled, unknowing, fearful hours and days of not knowing what’s ahead, and the suspicion that it’s going to be bad. But the distraction that our Father uses isn’t like the mere tricks and games that our folks may have used in our travels. God’s distraction is simply His own overwhelming, calming, tenderhearted presence, with us, on the journey of life. It’s the blessed distraction of our attention being drawn away from danger, hurt, pain, fear, etc., and instead drawn toward a deeper awareness of His presence with us as we face those evils.
It’s His presence with Paul in a hateful, hostile city that encouraged the apostle to stay and build a church.
It’s His presence with inmate Peter that lifted the fisherman’s eyes off of his chains (which now lay at his feet), and to the now-opened jail doors.
It’s His presence with the prisoner John on the island of Patmos that made the old disciple fall flat on his face in worship, and prepared him to write one of the most astounding, mind-blowing books of the Bible—while living in a prison colony.
Whatever trouble, suffering, fear, or hopelessness you are facing—ask God to distract you with something bigger, Someone bigger and better, who will stay close to you through the whole mess, whatever that mess may be. Ask Him to let you know, personally, that He’s there, that He’s already shown up, and He won’t leave you. I don’t hope that you forget your troubles—that has never really helped anyone. But I do hope that you and I can face suffering with a deepening assurance of the presence of a loving Shepherd-God who became a man and lived among us, and promises still to walk alongside us.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me…”
Father, today I am coming undone because of ______________________________. Before I can take another step in this journey, I must know that You are here, close, and with me for my good and blessing. I ask not for understanding, or the removal of the burden, but only that You would show Yourself more clearly to be with me, right by my side through it all. Do it however You wish, but today, please do it, God! Amen.