In my younger days, while pursuing what was commonly known as a "career," I was a consummate resume writer. It was a way of life, my ticket to prosperity and the C-suite. (Of course, nowadays there’s no such thing as a career – we have "jobs.")
Every week or so, I would revise my resume and customize it for the kind of work I was looking for. You need an editor? I can do that and do it well. You want a writer? I’m your man and I come cheap. How about a grammar instructor? Misplaced modifiers and faulty parallelism are my specialties, so bad grammarians better run for cover because there’s a new man in town.
One thing I learned from reading books about job-hunting was that you had to be a "self-starter" who could "multitask." (Those are two inane words that, sad to say, have become part of our vocabulary.)
Even though I was never much of a self-starter, I sure could multitask, juggling two or three or 40 tasks with the dexterity of a circus performer. I could multitask day and night, on the job and off the job.
In the morning when I was getting ready for work, my multitasking abilities were at their peak. I brushed my teeth, gave the dog fresh water, put on a pot of coffee and listened to the traffic report, all at the same time.
My performance got even better when I arrived at work. I could prepare an evaluation, edit a story, write a story, scarf down a stale bagel with cream cheese and watch CNN, Fox and CNBC news, using the clicker to change from channel to channel with the dexterity of a Vegas card dealer.
Yes, real men and women – really productive men and women – know how to multitask because it’s an absolute necessity in the 21st century household and workplace. Anyone who engages in one activity at a time cannot succeed in our modern, fast-paced, technologically obsessed world, where quantity trumps quality every time.
I was so committed to multitasking that I applied the practice to my prayer life. Every morning, I’d go downstairs and jump on the exercise bike and start pedaling furiously at a perspiration-producing rate that gave me a good cardio-vascular workout while I listened to Gregorian chant or George Winston piano solos on my headphones, downloaded The New York Times, the New York Post and USA Today on my iPad, and prayed the rosary. Prayer became just another thing I had to do – one more task among many.
Well, this frantic and frustrating ordeal, which I mistakenly thought was the pinnacle of productivity, went on for some time until a little voice whispered in my ear – that still, small voice they talk about in the Bible, a voice I like to think was the Holy Spirit. And that voice asked a simple question: "Shouldn’t you be giving God all your attention?" Uhh-ohh.
It raised an important question for me: How could I pray to God and how could I listen to what God wanted to tell me when I was burdening myself with all those distractions?
We live in a world overwhelmed by countless distractions and sometimes, oftentimes, God can’t break through the nonsense, especially the electronic and digital nonsense of smartphones, video games, iPads and television, which is the ultimate source of mindless chatter.
All my "productive" multitasking was robbing God of time that should have been set aside for God, alone.
The office secretary might get a hefty bonus for multitasking, and the city editor might be praised for skill at fielding a reader complaint, assigning a story and revising a story while eating a chili dog, but when it comes to God, the best course of action is to devote your full and undivided attention. Multitasking doesn’t work when it comes to our spiritual life and prayer.
The other day at Grand Central Terminal, I saw a young woman racing up the escalator while talking on her phone, listening to something through her earphones and sipping coffee ... until she fell flat on her face. Too much multitasking. There’s a lesson there for all of us.
Prayer and distractions don’t go together because God wants us to concentrate on him. I think God would also like to get a word in edgewise, so the best thing to do is sit in silence in front of the tabernacle or, even better, go to eucharistic adoration. Be calm and attentive and wait for that still, small voice.
When you come down to it, God’s ideas are better than ours, so the smart thing to do is listen. As my father, who was a recovering alcoholic, always said, "Take the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth." It’s a much better approach and far more productive.
In the end, I discovered that multitasking isn’t all it’s cut out to be. If you’re going to do something well, you should take the time to do it right, and give it your full attention – especially when it comes to prayer.
J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.