I was happily driving along a straight, smooth freeway with only light traffic. My car was on cruise, and I was listening to some smooth jazz on an FM station when I felt myself getting irritated. What was wrong? My train of thought was positive and still on its tracks. I wasn’t hungry or thirsty. No change in traffic, weather or road conditions. Suddenly it hit me. My jazz station was fading out, and a hissing static was distracting me from enjoying the music.
“Eliminate Distraction” is the first commandment of all communication. During my training to become a professional speaker, this was pounded into us every day.
— Don’t detract from your message.
— Wear appropriate clothing.
— Never let on that you are nervous, even if you are.
— Don’t go off on interesting side tracks.
— People will be distracted by these things, and they will miss your message.
Author C.S. Lewis taught the same lesson, using the metaphor of a shepherd leading sheep along a road. He told authors to close all the gates along the path, or the sheep will go through the open gate and wander in a field. No distracting ideas allowed. Stay focused on the message.
My wife, Jo, and I were taught the same thing in our cultural anthropology studies before we started living and working with the Canela people of Brazil.
Before we could even speak a word of their language, we wanted to get this message across. “We are followers of God whose Spirit lives in us and helps us to live daily showing: ‘love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness,’ (Gal. 5:22).”
We prayed, and really tried, to live in such a way that they would see that Jo and I loved each other and the Canelas. We hoped they would see that we tended to be more joyful and happy than they were, that we were calm and peaceful even under difficult circumstances, and that we were (usually) patient with them. If only they could sense that we were kind, good people on which they could depend.
The Potential Distraction
Insofar that our positive attitudes and contented lives were evident to them, we did not want them to attribute this to our living an easy lifestyle, with all sorts of luxuries that no one else in the village had. We didn’t want them to be distracted by our being white foreigners and hence very rich, crediting those as reasons for our happy lives.
We, therefore, lived in the same kind of dried mud walls and palm thatch-roofed house like everyone else in the village. We cooked over a wood fire, we dressed the same way as the Canelas, although Jo wore a blouse. We ate their food, spoke their language, sang their songs, and joined in their festivities and ceremonies.
We could have used a propane refrigerator but did without this convenience. We laid a piece of foam on plank and pole bed. A couple of hammocks were our living room furniture. We didn’t get a propane burner hot plate until some Canelas families got one—fifteen years later. We suffered the same kinds of diarrhea, eye infections, and insect bites they had, but we were noticeably different in our attitudes and other aspects of our lifestyle.
In the subsequent years, as the Canelas got to know us, and heard us talking about “the Great Father in the Sky” who loved us, and them, they began to realize that He was the reason for our happy lives. There was no distraction. Then, when they read about Jesus and His Spirit filling His followers to totally change their lives, they were ready to follow Him too.
The Message was transmitted without irritating static interference. It was received, understood and the Canelas responded positively. Thank You, Lord!
And all that “doing without?” It was worth it all.