Essays on Faith, Family and Culture

Scattering the Sheep

“Matthew 26:31
Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, ‘I WILL STRIKE DOWN THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP OF THE FLOCK SHALL BE SCATTERED.’

This morning I understood one thing: Satan attacks by scattering the sheep.

In this case, the sheep was my attention span.

It happened like this…

I am not one to ascribe everything bad in my life to Old Scratch. For the most part, I think that most of the bad stuff in life is either chance, poor choices, or garden-variety evil.

Every once in a while, I sniff the sulfurous smell of Old Scratch at work. You know who I’m talking about. Captain Red Underpants. Milton’s Hero of Paradise Lost. That one.

I’ve been feeling very unsettled lately as if God is working a big change in my life. I spent days in prayer and fasting trying to discern his will. Finally, it came to me loud and clear after hearing the gospel of the talents read a few weeks ago.

You remember that one, right?

Jesus tells the parable of the master who hands out talents to three servants. To one man, he gives 5,000 talents; to another 1,000; to the last, one. The man who receives 5,000 invests it and doubles it. The man who receives 1,000 invests it and gives his master a good return. The fellow who got one talent? He buries it out of fear and has nothing but the original talent to return to his master. His master isn’t happy about that, no not at all. And so Jesus is teaching us that God gives us talents. It’s our job to make the best use of them and to return them with love and gladness.

My “talent” is writing. Communications. Words. Family lore has it that I started speaking in complete sentences. When I was preschool age, my vocabulary and speech were so advanced that a professor stopped my mom and asked questions about me. I scored almost a perfect score on the SAT verbal and barely passed Math. God gave me talents, all right – and not for numbers.

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I realized during one of these prayerful periods that my talent is (duh) writing. So I must write. God put it on my heart to focus on my writing; really intensely focus on it. Write. I felt a burning desire to write.

I applied myself to Night Songs, which you can read right here on the blog. I picked up I Know You, the sequel to I Believe You, and I’m a few chapters away from completing the first draft.

Then panic set in. What if my books don’t sell? I need to make money. My blogs. Yes, my blogs! My content writing work! Must. Work. Harder.

The sheep were scattered. Suddenly, my attention – which had been focused with laser-like precision on the answer I received during my prayer period, to focus on my writing with truthfulness and honesty – was now scattered in a thousand directions.

In the space of four days, my resolve to focus on my writing, my fiction, my essays, crumbled.

I did the following dumb things:

I tried to buy a hosting package and move an entire blog, in the space of three hours, to a new host. Anyone who has done this before will tell you it takes time – a lot of time. The time I don’t have. Plus I hadn’t built that brand up enough to support the hosting bill. In short, I scattered my ‘sheep’ of attention and wasted three hours fussing with hosting I didn’t need only to have to call the company and shut it down. The temptation to make money struck. I could make this into a brand! A coaching brand! Books, courses…

But that wasn’t what God had called me to do. He said to write. He put the vision of books and essays and blogging and original thoughts into my heart and said, here, this is what I want you to do. I want you to be honest and tell stories.

That was it. He didn’t say build a brand and a coaching practice.

I then had to spend another half hour today untangling this mess, canceling my hosting package, and getting my money back.

Scratch laughed at me.

Another boneheaded thing I did: I spent time fussing office politics. I try not to do office politics anymore. You’d think that being a freelancer, I wouldn’t encounter office politics, but I do.

Gone. Out. Focus.

Another thing I did: I said yes to everything. Everything. You need what when? Oh yeah, I can do that. Edit an 80-page paper in a day? Sure. Major presentation on Monday? Yeah, sure.

I swear I could smell sulfur.

Folks, when God puts a clear message on you to deliver on your talents, Old Scratch is going to step up his game. He doesn’t need much. In my case, all he had to do was appeal to my vanity and need for glory (“Build a coaching practice! Yes! Be famous!”) and greed (“Make more money! Say yes to the assignment!”) to scatter the sheep of my attention.

Thoughts and concentration are like sheep. They wander easily, very easily.

Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter. Then what do you have?

Not much, because you’ll have wasted hours fussing with web hosting and projects that do not provide any return on those talents.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for me to find my Good Shepherd again, and let him lead the flock of my thoughts in one direction because that’s where God wants them.

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