By Randy Kosloski
Denny had a strong propensity to wander. He originally sought counseling due to the discord he experienced with his father, which was an issue so severe that it caused a disconnect with his entire family. Like many of us, Denny had taken for granted that a healthy relationship with his father would happen naturally with little effort, but it did not. After some initial exploration into this broken relationship, it was clear that Denny harbored monumental resentments from his childhood because his father consistently chose activities, such as golf or work, over parenting.
Not unlike most sons, this bitterness did not wipe out his drive to please his father, and consequently, this internal ambivalence led him to some harmful distractions, including isolation from his family, excessive drinking and destructive romantic relationships. When the bonds he made with women became uncomfortable for him, he simply broke those connections and fled. He had no problem with this. He continued to ignore the harm this caused, and quickly moved on to any new relationship or activity which provided him with an adequate distraction—just as his father had previously done to him.
Despite the lack of devotion he showed when Denny was young, Denny’s father held high standards for him as an adult in both work and religion. Denny responded by replacing his father’s values with his own in much the same way he felt his father did to him as a child. Withdrawal as a defense mechanism eventually caused Denny the most anguish.
Ironically, as Denny pulled away, his father wanted to increase his presence in Denny’s life. He became more a part of Denny’s adult life than he was when living with him under the same roof. And every bit of unwanted advice his father provided—advice on spiritual growth, career, family—became highly irksome.
When I first met Denny, he appeared to be executing his daily responsibilities quite well, and had a good job, although it was one about which he wasn’t very passionate. He had recently developed several positive romantic relationships, and although he exhibited the potential to develop a drinking problem, he was not considered to be an alcoholic. His success in everyday life seemed to beg the question even more profoundly: why did he need all the distractions?
After a while, it became apparent that Denny needed the distractions in his life to keep from facing the fear of losing what meant most to him: a deep, intimate relationship with his family. There was little peace between himself and his family, but he didn’t want to accept this fact. Since he could find no way to resolve it, he had to distract himself, in order to distance himself from it.
If we give it some thought, we might find that Denny isn’t that much unlike most of us. We all, at times, look for the easy way out. Men seem to be especially prone to look for the escape hatch when a quick resolution isn’t in sight. This hatch can take many forms, depending on our personality. Perhaps we would benefit by taking more seriously our many daily choices, keeping in mind that even routine tasks can either create meaning in our lives, or they can be used as distractions to keep us from facing serious issues. If we discover we are distracting ourselves a significant amount of the time, we should look for the reason we do this. In the end, we want to be using our time to create meaning in our lives, rather than creating only distractions.
Author Donald Miller, known for his work, Blue Like Jazz, illustrates this point very well in his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I learned While Editing My Life. As the title suggests, after Miller began to understand how much of his daily life actually served as a distraction, he discusses the changes that we can undertake to create a life of meaning, instead. Through his “stream of consciousness” style of writing, Miller takes the reader along an introspective journey—reminiscent of Holden Caufield’s life and times. The reader is also given permission for open self-reflection through the honest transparency the author uses in his own reflections. Through this helpful work, we learn that with a genuine desire for change, it is indeed possible.
Proverbs 4:22 may be warning against our propensity to give into distractions when it says, “Fix your eyes directly before you.” One translation actually advises us to avoid the sideshow and distractions. Stating it this way can help illuminate the essential issue for us. Maybe we create distractions because they are attractive, so inviting and readily available. We just fall right into them.
On the other hand, putting meaning in our lives requires hard work and focus. To create lives of meaning we need to carefully scrutinize all our activities and try to choose only the meaningful ones. If we find that changes are required in our lives, we often find them to be fundamental changes and those can be very intimidating.
In Denny’s case, he had to confront his father with his genuine feelings regarding their past relationship. This was necessary so they could have a meaningful relationship going forward. He also had to resolve some past issue so that the family could grow closer, no longer hindered by the choking weeds of resentment.
Making such difficult changes in our lives can be frightening, but it is sometimes necessary in order to construct lives of meaning, or as Miller might say, “to write a story of our life that is worth reading.”