Experts now agree: Multitasking is a myth.
It can’t be done.
Even though we’ve grown accustomed to emailing, while calendaring, while texting, while sipping coffee—we haven’t actually become multitaskers. We’ve become switchtaskers. We’ve gotten better at squandering our energy, attention, and focus by switching between unrelated activities with increasing speed.
The science is simple. Trying to do two cognitive things at the same time is impossible. The mind just doesn’t work that way.
The impossibility of multitasking is why productivity at some offices has decreased, even as hours have increased. It’s why today’s students perform more poorly on memory-based exams. It’s why car insurance rates have increased. Because individuals who think they’re great at so-called “multitasking” keep getting into accidents.
Did you know the National Transportation Safety Board reports that texting while driving results in impairment equivalent to driving with a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit? Our brains simply can’t handle all the disconnected information speeding toward us at once.
Multitasking while driving has very real consequences.
Cell phone use at the wheel causes 1.6 million crashes each year, and leads to nearly 330,000 injuries. One out of every four car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving.
Now, I imagine I’m not the first person to tell you that texting and driving puts you at risk. Our culture has woken up to that reality.
You know the dangers of distracted driving. But what about the dangers of distracted living?
What does distracted living—living with too many priorities, obligations, and inputs—do to your relationships, your happiness, and your spiritual growth?
I’m convinced that distracted living is the greatest threat to robust faith.
“Why?” you ask. Let me explain it to you this way:
I haven’t met too many folks who say, “I’m not interested in faith. I’m not interested in Jesus. I’m not interested in what’s true, beautiful, and worthwhile.”
But I have met many who are too distracted to search out real answers to their sincere questions. I’ve met many who don’t have time or attention to give to what matters most. I’ve met many who never make space to pause and think and listen to God.
And, admittedly, I’m one of them. I often find myself short on focus, unable to concentrate in times of prayer or reflection.
Multitasking our way through life is having a severe impact on our spiritual well-being.
It’s costing us dearly.
In Luke 12:35, Jesus says:
“Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks.”
Jesus says, Stay vigilant. Stay alert. Stay sharp.
Now, Jesus knew what we know: Being attentive is hard work. It doesn’t come naturally.
That’s why Jesus compares attentiveness to staying up late. Because staying up late—when you’re a grown-up—takes work.
I don’t know about you, but I used to be able to stay up until 1:00 or 2:00 a.m. Every morning. No problem. But that was back in college. I can’t do it anymore. Sure, maybe a special occasion will cause me to extend my normal business hours. But burning the midnight oil is no longer my standard operating procedure. It takes effort to stay up.
And Jesus used that human reality to illustrate a deeper, spiritual truth. He told his disciples what we already know: Attention takes effort. It took effort in the first century, and it takes effort today.
In our smartphone age, where the entire internet can fit in the palms of our hands, focus feels impossible. In our world of never-ceasing media, where we can walk into a restaurant and find TVs covering every wall, distractions abound. In the era of Netflix, where one show plays right after another, entertainment lures us away from deep, meaningful engagement.
Being attentive takes effort.
It’s hard work.
And Jesus knew this. So He instructed His disciples to stay alert.
But He didn’t stop there. He also offered them motivation for the difficult work of attentiveness.
He continued teaching, saying, “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants!”
Jesus makes an astonishing claim. He insists something truly remarkable awaits those who put in the effort to be attentive.
Allow me to explain.
In the first-century world, hierarchy meant everything. Masters were masters. And servants were servants. Any kind of inversion of roles, or subversion of the social status quo, would have been perceived as absolutely jaw-dropping. It would’ve turned heads.
And Jesus says, those servants who wait attentively for their master will experience something special. They’ll be able to say they were there when the absolutely unexpected occurred. They’ll tell their grandkids: “We were there when the Master served the servants.”
Because their attention is focused in the right direction, Jesus insists, they’ll get a front row seat to the surprise of the century. They’ll be ready and waiting when the Master decides to spice things up a bit and extend totally unexpected love upon His workers.
Do you see now why I believe that distracted living is the greatest threat to robust faith? Do you see now why I think that we all need to reconsider those habits and responsibilities and devices that so easily distract us?
It’s because our distraction causes us to miss the Master.
Our distraction keeps us from appreciating or recognizing the ways in which God is trying to get our attention, surprising us and delighting us with acts of care, and kindness and love.
Our divided focus shifts the direction of our attention—and it causes us to engage so many things and tasks, that we often miss what’s most important. We look right past God’s extravagant acts of love and care for us while we are multitasking our way through life.
We miss the person whom God has placed into our day to encourage us, or the idea that God has placed in our head to inspire us, or the small prompting God has placed on our heart to do something for another person that will bless them and bless us.
We miss all those things and more because we’re so distracted.
Distracted living, like distracted driving, is incredibly dangerous.
So, it’s time we take practical steps away from our switchtasking lives and instead focus our attention on the One who wants to surprise us in the most unexpected ways.