Lateral Distraction occurs whenever our exercise of judgment or control interferes with another person’s ability to hear God speak to them. God typically speaks in quiet, still places in our soul. Yet for many, the clarity of what He is saying seems elusive. Others may spot God’s lesson for us well before we do. Likewise, we may spot the lesson others need to learn before they do. No wonder we can feel so tempted to fix or offer unsolicited advice to others. Our intention to be helpful can too easily turn hurtful.
Do you know how it feels when others try to fix you? No doubt: it can be frustrating – and distracting.
When we fall into this trap, we infuse control or judgment that questions one’s journey; even their value or goodness. We generate a firestorm of emotional, mental and spiritual energy that shifts their focus away from God as they seek to prove – to us – that they are worthy or right. This imagery helps explain why Jesus was so graphic in describing the danger of judgment in Matthew 7. He does not want us to distract others from hearing God’s voice. They might miss not only the assurance of His love, but also a call to repentance.
I would like to say I’ve never done this to others. The truth is: I have. I will give you an example, though, of how I was once spared this lateral distraction. When I came out, my parents could have given in to the temptation to try to discredit my faith – or my decision to pursue same-gender romance – in order to convince me to repent. This approach rarely works, but often is attempted. Instead – amid hugs and assurances of love – my father said, “Billy, there is one thing I want you to know: for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him will never perish but have eternal life.”
My father was nourishing the roots of my faith; not squashing them. Yet many parents – along with pastors and other good people of faith – call into question a LGBT+ young person’s entire faith on the basis of their sexuality. I have met many young people who are largely living to prove to their family or church that they are valuable and good. Against the backdrop of self-hatred and suicidal thoughts – along with teasing and bullying – they are tired of being targeted and excluded based on their sexuality. Many shut down.
In the worst scenario, young people commit suicide or withdraw from family or get lost in a life of drugs or sexual promiscuity. They come to believe they are God-forsaken and give in to the most dangerous elements this world offers. More common, however, are the LGBT+ young adults who possess confidence that they are valuable yet they still shift their attention away from God in order to prove their value to family, friends or church people. We distract them from a vertical focus on God; we laterally distract them; and they often get stuck for years in this pattern of proving their worth all the while missing out on an authentic pursuit of God.
The key to preventing lateral distraction is easy: get out of the way. This NEVER means pulling away. To the contrary, invest your loving presence into the lives of gay loved ones. When I say get out of the way, I mean that we should stop pressuring young adults to perform for us. In my father’s words to me years ago was a strong belief that all of us are mere sinners: only God is good. My parents set me free to live my life – in vertical relationship with God – by nourishing my faith rather than distracting me. To this day, I am grateful for the latitude of grace (or reasonable self-determination) they afforded to me at my most vulnerable point.
In the next few posts, I will offer one thing that every church leader can do – right now – to unplug the lateral distraction so that LGBT+ loved ones in our midst can tap directly into the still, small voice of our Heavenly Father. I hope you will join me. God bless you, my friend.