So we just got back from family vacation, and it was a real good time to see human nature at work. After all, if you know the experience, everybody crams into some kind of condo or house or even campsite and it can be crazy. For us, now that there are spouses and kids in the picture, it’s a whole other level of “family time”. It’s fun just watching it all unfold.
Anyway, it was my first week back together with our 3-month-old, Kaela, because I’d been on a week-long mission trip just prior, and I noticed that she has a pretty good pattern down with us at this point. To start, she knows how to make her wants/needs known. They say humans are genetically programmed to respond most to a baby’s cry; I believe now. So when she’s upset, I know to run through my list of her needs, is she: hungry? cold? tired? in need of diaper-changing? or just bored? Sometimes we find the problem quick, sometimes not so much, if at all. And then I’ve noticed a second part of the pattern — if we don’t meet her need soon enough, or can’t figure it out at all, she goes to a whole new level I like to call the “red zone”.
That’s partly because, yes, she turns red and whips into a wailing frenzy, and because she’s “past the point” as folks say and there’s no simple calming her down. Seems like whatever was originally bothering her, Kaela is gonna take some serious cooling off before she’s receptive. While still in the Red Zone, she’s just impossible to please. That brings me to the last step in the pattern, the only tool we have left at our disposal by this time. Distraction. If we can divert her attention long enough to break through, enough for her to forget whatever she’s upset about, refocus, and cool down, then we might be able to get back to what she needs. So we have an arsenal of toys, grown adults sing/dance around the room, and whatever else we can do to distract.
Now, as far as human nature, I see it go past infants into my sister’s children, Enoch and Evy at ages 4 and 2. Usually rather than needs they get an idea of what they want, a firm idea. Sometimes that idea is dangerous, or inappropriate, etc., so we tend to say, “No.” So they travel to the land of the Red Zone and it’s the same story. They’re bigger and stronger, so the Red Zone is more formidable, but there are the same symptoms — it’s like they don’t even remember what they wanted originally, nothing is gonna calm them down, and they’re impossible to please. Enter the distraction. So when it’s 9pm and a kid sees the Krispy Kreme doughnut box on top of the fridge (as is mandatory at the beach for us), and said kid wants to eat the whole dozen, when one of us refuses then it’s crazy time; but right away somebody else is piping up, “Now, hey hey, kid, Dora is on TV” or “let’s go read a story…let’s put on your Lightning McQueen pajamas…”, etc., etc. Then things can get rolling again.
And all of this is true with adults. It’s an official anger-management technique to distract. Even in his day, Thomas Jefferson advised people who were getting perturbed to “count to 10” or even to a hundred, if necessary. We take deep breaths, or whatever else, to take a step back from the stress that’s causing the fear/anger, so that we can get perspective again.
The whole pattern is entertaining a little bit, when it comes to doughnuts and nonsense, but what about when we fall deeply into this with one another, and particularly with God? It might be terribly dangerous to our spiritual lives. It’s quite possibly just what Jesus speaks to here in Matthew 11:16-24. He’s addressing a crowd in the towns where he’s been doing miraculous things, even his hometown, and he describes them like punk kids in the marketplace who whine when Jesus doesn’t give them their way. They say, “Dance, Jesus, dance!” For some reason it reminds me of those famouse Western scenes like in “Back to the Future 3” when Mad Dog Tannen wants to see Marty get those feet moving:
Unlike Mr. McFly, Jesus isn’t one to moonwalk on command, or anything else. and the crowds in these towns say, “What gives?!”
Jesus goes on to talk about how they’ve been impossible to please. They called John the Baptist too “goody-good” or even almost crazy, because he fasted and lived as an ascetic in the desert; but Jesus, eating and drinking with common (even sinful) people, was too “bad” for them, too rough around the edges — they called him a drunk. What could anyone do right for these folks?
So where’s the distraction? Well at the end of the speech, Jesus gets pretty for real with the crowd and starts into some “Woes”. He points to cities/places that these Jews would’ve considered infamous for their sinfulness and hatred towards God, and he claims that their own towns were in greater spiritual danger than those. Sodom, the city God wiped completely off of the earth, is one that Jesus says is better off than these towns he’s in. That’s not baby toys, or Lightning McQueen PJs, that’s a firm message. But I don’t think it was meant to drive anyone away, or bury them in guilt, or make them quit following him. I think it was a call to wake up, to step back and get perspective, to reset their attitudes and get out of their Red Zone of self-centeredness. I mean, here are what some would call the most blessed moments in earth’s history — these few years when God in Jesus actually, physically walked and breathed and worked. But the people, plenty of them, were so stuck in their own desires, in their own little worlds, in that mode of being impossible to please, that even Christ Jesus wasn’t pleasing to them, nor the mighty things he was doing in their midst.
As usual, I think Jesus gets tough with these woes, it’s to provoke change in the people so they might wake up to the LIFE that is walking right in front of them. Same story for us today. We leave in a time no less blessed than those days. By what we claim, Jesus has lived, died to free us, invited us into his resurrection, forever, and God has poured out God’s Spirit on the people. But, still, daily, if we can’t rearrange our narrow definition of what we want, how and when we want it, then we might look on God’s goodness with contempt. We might scorn the fullness of life that’s right in front of us.
So consider what it is to let God distract us away from our own ways. We’ re good at being distracted, too. When mama asked me to clean my room as a kid, something as dumb as a dust bunny or a butterfly on the windowsill could keep me entertained for hours rather than straighten up that mess. And we’re good at distracting ourselves from “real life”, with vacations and beach trips and weekend diversions. But how many times is it just a short-lived breath of relief from the daily grind, rather than a deep resetting of the heart? We settle all the time for mild “R & R” that will recharge us to go back to work and other drags; but I think we hesitate to ever really let God distract us at the spirit level and start realigning every part of our lives. No wonder real satisfaction can be so elusive.
I say again, consider what it is to let God distract us from our own ways. All the way. Deep down. I think Jesus makes clear that sometimes it’s like he is doing some dancing — not on command, but more like a loved one dancing around the room saying, “Hey! Hey! Look at me! Wake up! Snap out of it!”