Throughout our “Personal Liturgy” series, we’re interviewing members of our church family to hear how they are impacted by and actively fighting against the “joy killers” in their lives. This week we interviewed two different missionary members: Sammie Mogabgab and Patrick Coker. Sammie is a member of Midtown Downtown and for the past two years has worked in College Ministry through our Residency program. Patrick has been a part of Midtown since 2007. He and his family now call Midtown Lexington home. Patrick works at Colonial Life as a Senior Motions Designer concepting and creating marketing videos.
How does distraction most often show up in your life?
Patrick: It doesn't have to show up; I seek it out. I have a big sinful tendency to look for an escape (a root idol of comfort) and that usually shows in watching TV shows and media consumption. If I have had a hard day, I subconsciously race to the end of my day to get my "reward" of watching Netflix until I get sleepy. I also subconsciously look at Twitter a lot. Whenever there is some downtime, my first thought is usually to pull out my phone.
Sammie: One major thing I get distracted by often is 'improving myself' in a vain way. I could be on Facebook or Instagram for two minutes, but I get off of social media and I immediately feel worse about myself. I see someone who is prettier or who has cooler clothes or something more spiritually profound to say and I have a list of things I need to do to be more like that. Eventually, I get exhausted by the ways I 'need' to be better and instead of leading me to the gospel, I'm led to more distraction because I need to do something to feel better.
Where have you seen personal growth or victory in this area?
Sammie: Something that the Spirit has been impressing upon me is that I cannot simultaneously be seeking to look prettier, have better clothes, and be more impressive to my followers and be moving towards the Spirit. So I am in large part off of social media. I don't have the apps on my phone and the websites are actually blocked.
Another victory is that I’m becoming increasingly aware that my thoughts are connected to what I'm seeing. Now when the hyper-critical thoughts pop up in my mind and I start to feel overwhelmed, I stop and realize, “I felt fine about myself 10 minutes ago and the only things that has changed is that I saw this girl's really cool Instagram, hmm.” There is now no stronghold in the voice that's telling me that I'm not good enough and hopefully the slippery slope ends there.
Patrick: When I first get home, I put my phone somewhere out of my reach. My kids have started noticing my phone use habits so I’ve started making a conscious effort to not have it on me when they are awake. I’ve recently even switched back to reading a paper Bible because I realized that when I was reading my Bible App on my phone, to my kids, it looked no different than when I was playing a game or checking Twitter.
Media consumption remains a daily battle. I still usually watch something before I fall asleep but I have to make a decision to not “check out” while I do. On a good night, I choose conversation and prayer over media consumption.
Are there any habits that you’ve established to help fight distraction in your life?
Sammie: I stay off social media the majority of the time. This just takes away the temptation to find people or things to compare myself to. I've also realized that being alone in nature is a really helpful way to fight distraction. When I get distracted, my eyes are down and I am hyper-focused on myself. When I am in nature, my eyes are up and I am reminded of the glory of God. Another helpful habit I’ve established is going on walks by myself to pray. My thoughts often lead me to want to distract myself by doing something but when I'm on a walk, there's not much else I can do but talk with my Father.
Patrick: One simple approach for me is just to ask people how they are doing. There is always somebody hurting and usually something I can do, whether that’s stopping to pray for that person or meeting a physical need. When I take small steps to consciously make life not about me, it stirs in me a desire to play and seek people out and care for them physically and emotionally.
How has your understanding of the gospel specifically impacted how you deal with distraction?
Patrick: Because of the way Jesus loves me, I do not have to be a slave to my comfort idol. As I remember what Jesus has done for me and as I look to Him first, I have the strength to now run towards the things that are hard; I can hurt with the hurting or take on part of someone's pain.
Sammie: When I am tempted to distract myself, I am ultimately seeking to make myself feel better—to deal on my own with the fact that I’m not okay. The gospel reminds me that while it’s true that I’m not okay, no efforts on my own can fix the soul-level reality that I’m broken. Now, while I’m still aware of my depravity, I can rest knowing Christ has been victorious over sin. I have assurance that I have been redeemed by the blood of Christ and now get to be in relationship with the Father because of what He has done. So when those feelings of inadequacy creep in, I don't have to distract myself and numb myself, but they can actually serve as a reminder to give thanks to the Lord that the gospel is true!
Have there been any scriptures, books or teachings that have been particularly helpful as you have dealt with distraction?
Sammie: Isaiah 55:1-3
“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and withoutprice.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David."
The book Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer has been an incredible gift in fighting distraction. When I am distracted, I am not finding God to be all that interesting or inspiring. The Knowledge of the Holy goes through the attributes of God and it has led me into worship over and over again.
Patrick: Weirdly, it was a Midtown sermon on suffering (Luke: Jesus and Suffering). There was a part of it about voluntarily suffering alongside people and why we do that. It didn't deal with distraction specifically, but it made me realize, "your problem is not your problem - it's our problem." And that sobering realization helps me fight distraction, by focusing on what's real.