We like to think our world is incredibly complicated. We believe we have so much more to think about than any generation that has come before. Our grandparents had no need to navigate the treacherous waters of social media. Our great-grandparents had only a handful of cars to choose from. Our great-great-grandparents never gave a second thought to global warming or gluten-free diets or video game addiction.
If we follow the road all the way back to biblical times, the trend suggests that the world of the Apostles should be unfathomably simple. But, in reality, many aspects of existence are far simpler now than they were then. Today, very few of us worry about the threat of barbarian raids. Most of us go through life without ever considering the complexity of ancient religious rituals. Advanced agricultural technology inures us from the dangers of drought and famine. More than anything, the average modern American has access to a vast array of conveniences that assure us the basics of survival: grocery stores, indoor plumbing, modern medicine, central air-conditioning, laundry machines, and Amazon.com.
In the Book of Acts, the scriptural author introduces us to a woman in Philippi named Lydia. Although the description provided sheds only a few rays of light on this character, those few details indicate a very complicated life. First, we learn she is “a dealer in purple cloth.” In the patriarchal ancient world, it must have been challenging for any woman to maintain a successful career. The author then tells us that she comes “from the city of Thyatira.” A quick glance at a map of the Ancient Mediterranean region reveals that anyone traveling from Thyatira to Philippi would undertake a land-and-sea voyage of more than 200 miles. Whether Lydia’s stay in Philippi was short or long, she surely left family and familiarity behind in her relocation effort. Finally, we learn that she is “a worshiper of God.” Even this detail would have created enormous difficulty in the ancient Gentile world—a world in which freedom of religion was anything but guaranteed.
With all of these complicating factors in her life, Lydia had fair reason to be distracted when Paul and his companions came through town. She could have been selling cloth, writing letters, or seeking to secure the basics of her survival in any number of different ways. And yet, she stopped what she was doing and she listened. The scriptural author tells us that “the Lord opened her heart to pay attention.” As a result, she is baptized with the rest of her household, and she invites these missionaries to stay at her home. They accept her invitation for they see her as a true “believer in the Lord.”
How many times have we heard someone say that ours is the most attention-starved generation in history? How often do we tacitly concede our sense of distraction to the apparent complexity of modern life? And how many moments like the one Lydia experienced have passed us by?
Lydia’s life changed because she stopped and listened to Paul’s message. She blocked out all distractions and the Lord “opened her heart to pay attention.” Let us pray that He will do the same for us in our own complicated world.
—Andrew Fondell is an English teacher at St. John’s Prep. He is eagerly awaiting the simpler times of summer vacation.