Dealing with Distractions


Thunderstorm clouds[1]I have tinnitus. The more common term for it is “ringing in the ears.” It’s not a disease but rather a symptom of many, many things.

There’s no easy way for me to trace what it is that is causing the persistent, high-pitched sound inside my head. It could be my depression and anxiety; it could be the anti-depressant drugs I take to fight those things. It could be because of my caffeine intake, though an absence of caffeine is on the list of possible causes as well.

It could be from nasal allergies or ear infections. The noise could be a result of listening to a lot of loud rock-n-roll at all those concerts I attended in the ’70s. Or it could simply be a sign of natural hearing impairment as a result of being older than I used to be. Apparently about 20 percent of people ages 55-65 say they experience some ringing in their ears; I’m not in that age group yet, but I’m close enough to smell it.

I still can hear most things without difficulty. The biggest effect of the constant noise is that it’s just plain annoying.

I’m not looking for an antidote that will rid me of the tinnitus. I have accepted that it’s part of my life. But I have to consciously adjust to it sometimes.

It’s a major distraction.

There are times when I’m watching TV or talking with someone and I lose my concentration on what they are saying because the ringing knocked my mind off track. It interrupts listening to music. It can keep me from falling asleep or sidetrack my time at Mass or in prayer. Even though I don’t want to, I notice the sound to the exclusion of everything else.

I have tinnitus. I have to make an extra effort to focus on things that are important so I don’t lose my concentration.

And I am a sinner.

True that one has nothing to do with the other. I don’t have tinnitus because I am a sinner. It’s not a punishment. But there is a clear similarity.

The fact that I am a sinner is a major distraction in my life.

Scripture says, “Be holy, for I am holy.” And that is what I try to do, what I hope to do. I try to make the right choices, to spend time regularly in prayer. I ask God, “Lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil.” I know He wants to do just that for me.

I crave holiness. I aim to pursue it. And because I feel forgiven for past sins and because I feel loved by Jesus, I feel like it might actually happen. I believe that it can happen.

Yet there is constant background noise. I am a sinner — a forgiven sinner, but a sinner nonetheless — and there is nothing I can do to change that reality. Eventually, I fall again. I make a mistake. I choose the wrong path. And suddenly, I am distracted from all the good and warm feelings I had.

I can’t hear what God is saying to me because all I can hear is the devil talking about my mistake. The guilt ringing in my head overwhelms the love in my heart. Like my tinnitus, the reminder that I am a sinner is constantly in the background and eventually becomes my focus instead of God’s love.

I try talking to the Lord, but the words get drowned out by the emotional experience of my fall.

I read Scripture, but the message is overcome by the remorse I feel from disobeying God.

And then, I recall the words of the 25th Psalm: “Remember no more the sins of my youth; remember me according to your mercy, because of your goodness, Lord.”

Each time, I attempt to fight the good fight. I pray, “God, please clean up my messes. Lord, get rid of the nonsense inside my head.”

There’s a lot of nonsense always sounding off in my head. But it doesn’t have to distract me from what is most important.


About Author

Mike Eisenbath has been married to Donna for 30 years; they have four adult children and two grandsons. He was an award-winning sportswriter for 23 years, including 18 at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch with duties that included covering the St. Louis Cardinals and Major League Baseball. Severe depression forced him out of that career. He continues to write, with a monthly column in the St. Louis Review and his website featuring reflections on topics such as his Catholic faith and mental illness. Mike is a frequent speaker and radio guest involving those subjects. Among his three books is Hence My Eyes Are Turned Toward You: Confronting Depression With Faith and the Prayer of Jehoshaphat.