Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend who is about to go on maternity leave. I was excited for her because we had identical pre-kid lives, where we worked and went to school and then once school was done worked a tonne more. I hadn’t realized what a busy, distracted life I had been living until I didn’t have to go to work and was spending my days at home. Especially with a new baby who mostly slept and ate for those first few months and allowed me to have ample time to think and reflect. But, when I shared how excited I was for her to experience this joyful, peaceful time she said something that gave me pause. “I’m not really looking forward to it, I’m worried I’ll feel restless because I love my work and it is such a distraction.” Distraction from what? I wanted to ask but didn’t. See, this friend is a fallen away Catholic and I wondered if perhaps she dreaded the leave because she knew it meant facing the question of God, and her faith.
It reminded me of C.S. Lewis’ book “Screwtape Letters” where the devil advises his minion to distract the human–or the patient– from his thoughts, to keep him busy with everyday life and if this was done then the human would most surely end up in their Father’s house.
One day, as he sat reading, I saw a train of thought in his mind beginning to go the wrong way. The Enemy, of course, was at his elbow in a moment. Before I knew where I was I saw my twenty years’ work beginning to totter. If I had lost my head and begun to attempt adefence by argument I should have been undone. But I was not such a fool. I struck instantly at the part of the man which I had best under my control and suggested that it was just about time he had some lunch. The Enemy presumably made the counter-suggestion (you know how one can never quite overhear What He says to them?) that this was more important than lunch. At least I think that must have been His line for when I said “Quite. In fact much too important to tackle it the end of a morning”, the patient brightened up considerably; and by the time I had added “Much better come back after lunch and go into it with a fresh mind”, he was already half way to the door. Once he was in the street the battle was won.
This is the way of the enemy. Keep us distracted. Keep us busy. When we have no silence in our lives, then it becomes nearly impossible for us to have an encounter with God. I remember asking my students, back when I was teaching high school, how often they spent time in silence, away from others and with no music to distract them. Not even a handful of thirty students could recall a time where something wasn’t buzzing in their ears. It has become even more difficult today where you have access to an endless stream of superficial stories and cute cat videos posted on your newsfeed. Those moments of waiting for someone in the car, or for a doctor’s appointment where you were forced to be still and quiet–to contemplate life– are gone now with the emergence of the smart phone.
But despite all these distractions in the world today there is hope. If we believe as Catholics that God is always after our hearts, that he will leave the entire ninety-nine sheep and go in search of the one lost, we must be hopeful that our loved ones can return to the faith. When we hear them saying they are restless and afraid of the silence then we can be assured that God is working in them, that perhaps they are on the verge of a reconversion. St Augustine said famously that “Our hearts are restless until they rest on you Lord.” When I reflect on these things it gives me great hope that my family and friends are still being pursued by God, that they may not be willing to accept God quite yet, but at least they are aware that something is missing, that they can’t seem to fill their restless hearts by their own power and that to me sounds like a crack in their door is opening and that’s all God needs.