Our Greatest Distraction

“I think God wants us to be whole, too, but maybe sometimes the only way he can make us whole is to teach us things we can learn only by being not whole. “

Madeleine L’Engle Irrational Season

My daughter and I have this laugh we share. It comes from something I told my children when they were growing up: “I don’t really care if you are happy or not. What I care about is if you are obedient to God.” 

It sounds much harsher than I meant it when I said it all those years ago. What I meant was that apart from serving, or obeying God there was no such thing as real happiness.

My daughter reminded me of that saying of mine again this weekend after her pastor gave a sermon in which he said something about wanting his children to be happy.  Shelby said she wanted to tell the pastor that her mama didn’t care about whether she was happy or not — she just wanted her children to be obedient.

But the truth is I do care about my children’s happiness, and I’ve been in a funk over their happiness as of late.

When children are little they struggle with little people’s problems — making the team, making the grade, learning to get along with people they don’t like, learning to accept that not everyone is going to like you.

As we grow up, we get bigger people problems — infertility, joblessness, loneliness. Those problems can lead to even bigger problems of isolation and bitterness, a lack of purpose and focus. All of sudden you wake up one day and those prayers you prayed so earnestly in college — those prayers of making sure that you were doing God’s will seem distant and almost silly.

Is it God’s will that people remain unemployed?

Is it God’s will that people who long to be married remain single?

Is it God’s will that people who long to be parents go childless?

Or is unemployment a result of bad economic policy?

And childlessness a result of poor environmental oversight?

And surely technology has created a false-sense of identity and furthered to isolate us from real lasting relationships, including the one we have with God?

When L’Engle wrote those words about wholeness, she was struggling with an ailment that threatened to blind her. A friend had suggested to her that perhaps she wasn’t trusting God enough, perhaps she didn’t want healing.

But of course, she insisted, healing is exactly what she wanted. So the two of them prayed together. A sweet gracious prayer.

And afterwards?


No. L’Engle’s ailment became more pronounced than ever.

Imagine being the writer who cannot see the world they write about. Imagine Milton dictating Paradise Lost. 

L’Engle held fast to the belief that God’s will for her was complete healing but she accepted that her wholeness may only be manifested through inexplicable weakness.

Happiness is often like that, happened upon as we trip through our daily living. With all the curve balls and blind spots, flu bugs and infertility, unemployment and isolation, disappointment and despair that too often distracts us.

One friend signs all of her notes to me the same: May God be your greatest distraction. 

To be honest, as of late, God has not been my greatest distraction.

But that’s as good a prayer as any during this season of Lent, I think. You?

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