The problem of distraction or how it seems harder to think deeply these days

 

Like so many people today, our family owns and uses computers, smart phones, tablets, and ipods.  For much of the day, an observer would notice that most or all of us is doing something with an electronic—listening to music or audio books, checking email, playing a game, writing a blog post, looking at facebook, reading an article, and so forth.  Most of those things are not a bad way to spend time necessarily but what I’ve begun to notice is that the more time I spend doing things electronically, the more distracted I become.

I have been musing about how to approach this difficulty I’m having with distraction and this week I read two articles which gave me some ideas on how to minimize or, even better, reverse some of this trend of thinking shallowly due to my continual distraction.  The first was an article on Facebook (how ironic that it would be on one of the biggest timewaster sites of them all!), 7 Skills Your Grandparents Had that You Don’t.   While some of my friends and I agreed that we do know how to do all of the things on the list (except perhaps haggling), none of us write real letters any more and we regret that loss.  The second article, Unplugging  Your Student–Focusing and Communicating in the Present, is one I read this morning about ways to help your students learn to manage the distractions in order to study more effectively.

Since I am quite sure that my increasing inability to focus on the task at hand is due, at least in part, to my increased use of electronics, these articles helped me to think about some things I can do to help to reverse this shallowness:

1. Write real letters again.  Two of my friends, who live in distant states, and I have decided to each write a letter a month to the others.  While two letters a month is not very much, it is a start, and I’m curious to see if my communication with these friends will be of a different quality via pen and paper vs. email.  I will have to slow down and think more carefully before writing with pen and paper than when I write digitally.

2. Read my “real” Bible instead of the Bible on my tablet and use my paper journal at least five times a week.  I used to copy Scripture and devotional reading as well as write prayers, lyrics to hymns, and my thoughts on my reading almost daily for many, many years but I’ve noticed that I rarely do so now that I use my Kindle Fire for my devotional time.  I suspect that fact many account for the feeling that my devotions are more shallow than they used to be.  I want to see if it makes a difference if I go back to the older style of reading and note-taking.

3. Only allowing myself to check my phone or tablet after I’ve spent a minimum of 45-50 minutes on a task, whether that be cooking dinner, ironing, reading a book, correcting papers, gardening, or working on schoolwork with my students.  By re-learning how to focus on the task at hand for a reasonable amount of time, I’m hoping to also relearn how to think more deeply than I have lately.

4.  As a companion to #3, I intend to stop checking my phone when I am with other people_–family, friends, or even standing in line at the store.  I used to talk with the people around me so much more than I do now that I can bury my face in my electronics.  Instead I need to leave my phone and tablet in my purse or in another room when I am reading with the children, playing a game, having a meal, or just relaxing on the sofa with my husband.

My plan is to start these four things immediately.  I’ll be sure to check back at the end of the summer to report how things are going.

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Wednesdays with Words – June 25, 2014

I’m nearing the end of Good Prose by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd.  My current chapter has not been as quotable as past chapters but here are a couple of thoughts:

The familiar rules about writing turn out to be more nearly half-truths, dangerous if taken literally.  They are handy as correctives, but not very useful as instruction.

‘Never use a five-dollar-word when a fifty-cent word will do’ said Mark Twain, and this advice seems to be universally accepted.  True, there is no faster way to make a passage impenetrable than to accumulate long Latinate words.  But much of the force of English derives from the conquests and invasions that gave it multiple sources.  It is almost impossible to write prose in English without blending short, blunt Anglo-Saxon with more formal Latinate words, and the way you blend them matters.  It is a little-noted fact that a reader’s eye, just glancing at a page, can tell something about the contents simply by registering its texture.  The mere look of your prose can invite readers to go on or can warn them off before they read a word.

 

Wednesdays with Words – June 18, 2014

 

This week I finally read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.  I’ve had it on my TBR list for years but somehow or another I never picked it up to read.  The other day I saw it hanging out at the library, checked it out, brought it home, and reveled in it for four days.  What a wonderful story it is!

Although my childhood was immensely more privileged than Francie’s, I saw in her character much of my own love of books and words and reading as well as my enjoyment in simple pleasures.  The simple pleasure game* is one of my favorites to play with myself.

Here are a few quotes from this lovely book:

“From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she could read a biography. On that day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived.”

“Dear God,” she prayed, “let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me be gay; let me be sad. Let me be cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry…have too much to eat. Let me be ragged or well dressed. Let me be sincere – be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be a liar. Let me be honorable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minute. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.”

“People always think that happiness is a faraway thing,” thought Francie, “something complicated and hard to get. Yet, what little things can make it up; a place of shelter when it rains – a cup of strong hot coffee when you’re blue; for a man, a cigarette for contentment; a book to read when you’re alone – just to be with someone you love. Those things make happiness.”

 

*The simple pleasure game is just finding pleasure in the little things of life:  like a hot cup of tea on a cold day or a iced coffee on a hot one; the smell of newly mown grass; stopping to smell a flower; watching a bird in a tree; putting your feet in a river; eating one piece of good chocolate; hearing your favorite sonata on the radio; putting your hands in the warm earth as you plant the first plants of the year; and so forth.  It’s making every moment count and finding the little pleasures that God brings every single day if only you open your eyes to them.

Humility – one of the ends of true education

So rend your heart, and not your garments;
Return to the Lord your God,
For He is gracious and merciful,
Slow to anger, and of great kindness;
And He relents from doing harm. –Joel 2:13

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart—
These, O God, You will not despise. – Psalm 51:17

One of the difficulties of desiring to give my children a Christian classical education is that it tends to cause pride.  Pride in me because it’s hard and people think that I must be doing something extraordinarily difficult in teaching my kids Latin and grammar or reading old books; pride in my children because they think that they must be studying much harder than everyone else since they are learning subjects that most students no longer learn such as Latin and grammar.

None of that is true though. All teaching is extraordinarily difficult and all learning requires work and concentration from the student.   Reading The Odyssey isn’t truly that onerous.  It’s a great story and it’s readability is why it has lasted for centuries as one of the greatest books ever written.  Learning Latin is no more difficult than learning mathematics–it requires concentration, memorization, and attention to detail.   In the long run, learning English grammar helps so much with reading and writing that it isn’t that much harder than attempting to read and write in high school without knowing what a noun, verb, or compound sentence is.

We do work on Latin and grammar; we also learn math and history and spelling and all of the other regular things children are taught in schools.  And we fail…ALL OF THE TIME.  I fail to correct math in a timely fashion which means the children have to relearn things they should have mastered ages ago if I had caught their confusion.  I fail to make them learn their Latin forms because I am too busy with other things to help them drill.  I fail to make them show their work in math and science because it’s easier to let them do what they want which is to be lazy and not write down all of the steps.  I make them read works that I don’t have time to read or no desire to read myself because it’s easier and I have an answer book.   They fail to work hard because they’d rather play a computer game.  They decide to not try hard at something because they don’t see it’s use.

These are all things that we have failed to do and are failing to do.  I am not a better teacher or a more dedicated teacher or a well-educated teacher.  I’m just an ordinary person, attempting to do my best and failing miserably every time I rely on myself for the strength and wisdom and courage to teach what the Lord would have me teach.  My children are just ordinary students who do well sometimes and fail to do well other times when they do their own thing rather than obey.  In other words, we are all sinners at our house, too, but we are too proud and too ashamed to admit it so we lie.  We lie by only telling about our successes.  We lie by not telling about our failures.  We lie by selectively sharing what works for us rather than the whole story.

That is why reading Cindy Rollin’s post at the Crce Institute blog this morning was so refreshing and so convicting.   She points out that we need help and we need to have the humility to shout loudly for that help and not pretend that we know it all because we probably know even less than we think we know.

I have only one student left at home now and I am praying and asking that the Lord would show me all of the places where I cut corners and where I act like I know things I don’t and lie about it and that He would give me the strength to be honest and cry out to Him (and to the helpers He provides in my life) for the ability to do what is right and to have a humble heart.

I need to start each day before the Lord with these words from the Book of Common Prayer:

ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.

 

False Humility

I was reading a post of a blog I frequent and the author was discussing the need to do away with false humility and accept not just her failings but her abilities without being self-deprecating.

It’s time to be who I am, whatever that is.   No more false humility – I’m sure there will be plenty of opportunity for real humility instead! 

I started thinking about the habit many of us have as Christian women.  We are complimented on something we’ve done–taught a Sunday School lesson, sang a solo, made a dessert, cooked a church dinner, sewed an outfit, grew a garden as well as many other things–and so, so often we receive the compliment with a false humility without realizing it.  I do it myself all of the time. I am embarrassed when I am praised or receive a compliment for what I’ve done, I say that the Lord gave me the ability (which is true) in a sort of denial of how He has used me, and I become self-deprecating and/or withdrawn.

After reading Hearthie’s post, I was struck by her statement that there will be plenty of opportunity for real humility.  It occurred to me that false humility is just a form of pride.  When I am unable to receive a compliment and genuinely reflect the goodness of God in my response, I am, in reality, self-conscious and trying to hide the pride I feel deep inside.  Yes, the Lord has given me certain gifts and, yes, He has blessed me with opportunities to use those gifts for the building of His kingdom, and furthermore, He has enabled me through my circumstances and resources and by the strength and grace of His Spirit, to do these things.  So why is it about me, in my heart, rather than truly about His graciousness in reaching down to gift me with the ability to do these things.

I am cut to the quick and long to repent of this false humility and self-centeredness that gets in the way of true humility and true service to the Lord, to my family, to His church, and to those around me.  I am thankful that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13), including repenting of my pride and self-consciousness.

Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for

“God resists the proud,
But gives grace to the humble.”

 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.  I Peter 5:5-7

Wednesdays with Words – June 4, 2014

This past winter I borrowed Madeleine L’Engle’s book The Rock That is Higher: Story as Truth via interlibrary loan.  I had to return it before I finished it and I hope to one day own it because there was so much wisdom and such a wealth of understanding and beauty in it.  One of the things that challenged my thinking was her contrasting mere fact with truth.  I was very uncomfortable with the idea of selecting some facts and omitting others and of her idea that sometimes facts can mask truth.  I know that many times the Greeks kept important events off-stage in their dramas and that sometimes truth cannot be approached directly but only out of the corner of our eyes, so to speak.  In reading Good Prose: The Art of Non-Fiction by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd this week, I ran across this same idea:

We know that as soon as writers begin to tell a story they shape experience and that stories are always, at best, partial versions of reality, and thus objectivity is a myth. More worrisome are people who want to pursue the other line of argument that ‘everything is subjective.’ Well, of course, everything is subjective, once you get beyond the very barest of facts.  p. 84

 

Subjectivity simply acknowledges the presence of  a mediator between the facts and the truth.  That mediator is you, the writer.  Acknowledging subjectivity absolves you of nothing.  On the contrary, it makes you the one who has to explore the facts, discover what you can of the truth, and find the way to express that truth in prose–knowing as you look for the way to do this that you cannot be complete, that every inclusion implies countless exclusions, that you must strive to do no violence to those facts and those truths that compete for your attention. p. 85

 

Facts and truth: not only are they not synonymous, but they often have a very tangential relationship.  Although the truth must always be found in facts, some facts, sometimes obscure the truth.  Sometimes that essential effort of writing, making some things small and others big, includes making something invisible.  p. 89

 

In reading this, I was reminded of something the Apostle John wrote in his gospel:

And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. — John 20:30-31

John did not include every fact of every thing that Jesus said and did although he was witness to most of it and probably knew the facts of many of the things he missed.  However, he included only those facts that presented the truth of who Christ is and what He has done for our salvation.

So, I’m left with mulling over this idea of selecting facts in order to communicate truth.  Is this something we do everyday?  Is the lack of complete transparency with our facts a lie?  Or are we wise in choosing which facts to present so that we can most clearly tell the truth of a matter?

It is something to consider…