I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be disconnected. Or more accurately, what it means to be present. What life would look like if we were 100% invested in every moment of our ordinary days. This may be uncharacteristically optimistic of me, but I think as we move into the future, we are going to look back on our gimmicky, “connected” generation and laugh. Perhaps in the same way we mock the TV dinners of the 1950’s. Bless their souls.
In some ways, I have it easy. I don’t have Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Periscope, or any of the other numerous platforms to help us to “escape”. But that doesn’t mean I don’t try. I find the iPad plagues me much more than I would like. I bury it in my sock drawer and see how long I can wait before I get it back out again. But when I do, I never feel blessed, or like my life was somehow made better by it’s presence. Maybe I need to find a better place to hide it. All I know, is that whatever my life needs in order to be richer and more fulfilled, it is not going to be found there.
But where is it going to be found and what is it? What do I want to do with the time that I might have spent scrolling? What is better? What does it look like? I was listening to a podcast by a former mommy blogger who recently unplugged. The turning moment for her was when she was in the hospital after the birth of her child with Down Syndrome. She was suffering unforeseen complications and thought it was strange how the person who came to visit her was not one of her numerous “followers,” but a lady from church she barely knew. All of the sudden she knew that the “life” she had been cultivating was a hoax. And even while it might have had benefits, they were not the best ones. And that is what I want. I want what is best. Or maybe a better way to rephrase that would be, I want what is harder.
As I was feeling a little left out and drained a few months ago, I started to feel jealous of the moms who could just hop on Instagram for a little instant self-validation. And then I thought, I can do better. I spontaneously opened my email and wrote a friend I had been playing tag with for years. Two days later we got together for sushi. I thought it was hilarious, because when I got there, I wasn’t sure if I would recognize her. It had been that long. It turned out to be a lovely evening with wonderful conversation. I wondered why I didn’t do it more often? Since then, I’ve tried to be more a more aggressive friend. I have started inviting people with me on my yard sale adventures on Friday. I still keep a running list of friends to have for dinner. I recklessly throw out invitations to tea. I make the point to bring meals or pies to friends with babies, or who are struggling with health issues. And I don’t wait for the Facebook group to remind me. I offer to clean out closets for organizing dates. If I have to drop by for some reason, odds are, I’ll bring you a coffee.
This Saturday, when I was loading my dishwasher when it was 100 degrees out, I thought, “I should be on the river.” And that was the end of that, I emailed my besties, we dropped everything, including our children, and made a mom date. Two days later we drove 40 miles up the Payette River where we had a Trader Joe’s picnic on the beach, went swimming in the perfect water, and spent the whole time talking about Jesus. It was a blessing. When I am tempted to entertain a crazy idea or start some wild project, I have to forcibly remind myself that it’s okay to say yes. To just do it. A while ago I was listening to a podcast on book clubs and I secretly thought, I would never start a book club. And then I noticed what I did. I whipped around, grabbed that thought, laid it over my knee and said, “I can too start a book club!” I promptly emailed one of my friends, we sent out invitations, and this is our first month. I almost feel like I have been conditioned to think that I’m a mom and I don’t have time to do anything. But every time I make the effort to go out of my way, it turns out to not be as hard as I thought. Sometimes, I think of it this way, if I have time to be online, then I have time to do fill-in-the-blank. Now, I try to keep my eyes open for whatever comes in my path. And I try not to sell myself short. I watch for ways I can be out in the world and involved with people. Real people. I want to see your face, I want to sit down with you, I want to know you a little better.
I’m not saying I say “yes” all the time. I’m not always up to no good. But I do notice that I do these kind of fun things more when I am actually trying. And not trying is not, in fact, an excuse for not doing. I think it is easy to use our online friends as a substitute for real ones. When we feel lonely, or bored, or not challenged, it’s easy to find a quick fix online. But I think when we rely on technology to fulfill our need for community, we are going to come up short. We are going to be less satisfied. We end up trying to feed an important need in ourselves with something that was never meant to fill it. And often we do so at the sacrifice of our real lives. Somehow it seems that both start to suffer. Our friendships become superficial and all encompassing, while our unplugged lives become less satisfying. Because our unplugged lives are actually hard. They take work. And when I get hungry for friendships, I want to know that I am hungry. I want that hunger to remind me to do something. Even if it’s hard. Even if it’s a little crazy.
As a side note (and it shouldn’t be a side note at all), I discovered that a collateral benefit of taking the time to be with people, is suddenly knowing how to pray for them. I keep finding this to be overwhelmingly true. And I’ll admit, it’s not sheer genius and I should have noticed sooner. But when I am around someone, my heart becomes for them. All of a sudden they are real people, with real problems. When I am by myself, I only noticed my own problems. We know we are to be lifting up the saints in prayer, but so often it seems like a vague enterprise. If that is the case, maybe it’s because we haven’t actually been spending as much time with people as we thought. Perhaps it is only ourselves we have been spending time with. We are called to lift each other up. But lifting requires work. It goes against our nature. Because in the end, “lifting” isn’t about meeting our needs, it’s about meeting someone else’s. For some reason, I don’t think that’s what we do on Facebook. Maybe, social media can be capable of helping us connect with people, to better enable us to minister to the saints. But this has not been my experience. I think if you want to question how profitable social media is to you, then I would use this as a test. Do you come away from your computer with a heart for someone else, does it increase your capacity for love, and does it prompt you to action? Or, does it eat up the free time you might have had, bring out the worst in people, distract you, prompt envy or disdain, and leave your mind fogged, all at the expense of the real people around you? Because, while social media may be easier and more convenient, it is still no replacement for the people in front of you. For the job in front of you. The children in your care, the husband working to provide for you, the friends God places in your path, the saints you fellowship with every week…are you faithful to these people? Do you extend yourself for them? Or does cheap phone fellowship atrophy our desire for community and the effort it requires? If so, get off. And learn to say yes.
When I really stop and think about it, I don’t have time to be distracted. My desire is to be entirely invested in my ordinary day, in my ordinary life, with my ordinary people. I want to live my real life and I want to live it well. I don’t want to miss mornings and being in the Word of God, because I was distracted by my news feed. I don’t want to miss scooping my children out of bed with bizarre, overly enthusiastic greetings, because I stayed up too late. I don’t want to be frantic and rushed because I frittered away time. I do not want to fall into despondency, because I was not diligent to feed my mind with what is true, good, and beautiful. I don’t want to not have relationships with the people God has put around me, because I didn’t take the time to build them. I want to be faithful in the life I have been given, because it is a good life. I want to work hard and be cheerful. I want to have eyes that see and ears that hear. I want to love and enjoy my children. I want my husband to be blessed by my work here on his behalf. I want to see my friends’ needs before they have to ask. I want to be here.
For me, this means no social media, at all. When I have time for my friends, I know where to find them. And if you know me well enough, I’m kind of hard to shake. “Oh no, it’s the Bucket Woman. Drive, drive!” And after I thought about it, I realized I don’t actually need the internet as much as I thought. In fact, I think we can be done here. When I actually *need* Google, I write it down on a sticky note. When I have three things on the note then I take care of it. Otherwise I am likely to forget whatever I picked the iPad up for in the first place. I notice that I have the tendency to go to the internet whenever I need a mental break. When I need to check out for two seconds before I try to pull it all back together. But I would not be very clever at all if I couldn’t find a substitute for what amounts to mental flatuation. I am excited to have a book club and always have a book on hand that I need to be reading. I also want to spend more time in the Word of God. Yesterday I printed/laminated the bookmarks for Dr. Grant Horner’s Bible Reading Plan. Which takes you through 10 chapters of scripture every day at a fast pace. With Proverbs and Acts on a monthly cycle. The idea is that it is supposed to wash us in the Word. There are morning and evening readings, but there is also the opportunity/necessity to pick up your Bible in the middle of day to read a chapter just because. With the assumption that if you have time to be on Facebook, then you probably have time to read your Bible. I want to try it. But I think my end game is that during the day, I want to be here for my children. All the way here. I notice that it is when I am distracted, that I am sharp with them. But when I am available, I am more likely to take train wrecks in stride. I want to laugh with them, correct them, enjoy them, be here with them, because they won’t always be here. But I also want to know when I need a break, and then I want to get up and take it. Work hard, play hard. Because heaven forbid we should settle for easy.