Life Undistracted

“So, yeah, I was thinking maybe we could (BING!) head down to get some frozen (CHIRP!)…umm, yogurt, you know, what’s the name of that (CLINK!)…shop…or whatever…the one we went to when (BONG!)…I forget, but you know we’ve been there before, you and me…”

These days, I have become painfully aware of my frequent inability to put together a single, coherent thought…let alone articulate that thought uninterrupted by using the thousands of words available to me via the English language. Granted, much of my inability to communicate effectively can be traced to the fact that I just passed up my 55th birthday and, under the best of conditions, am prone to calling my dog by my nine-year-old son’s name, and (sadly) vice versa.

Psalm 103:20Still, what remains of my shredded ego wants to place at least some portion of blame on the various devices that have pretty much become my Robot Overlords. Because my job is that of a technologist/developer, I am saddled with perhaps more tech than the average consumer. iPhone? Check. iPad? Check. Laptop computer? Check. Each of these devices makes its own unique noise, of course, so just one email sent to my account can result in three distinct sounds. Now, add in the noises my wife’s phone makes – she downloaded unique tones to help readily identify who is calling, Tweeting, texting, or rolling over in their sleep – and a normal day at our home can begin to sound like the exotic bird enclosure at the St. Louis Zoo.

As a Christian, of course, I am well aware that Jesus often withdrew from His disciples and everyone else to share quiet times of solitude with His Heavenly Father (Matthew 14:23; Mark 1:35; Luke 6:12; Luke 22:41-44). In addition to being the second Person of the eternal Trinity, I’m sorely tempted to think that Jesus also had the advantage of being born long before Twitter, email and Instagram. How blessed to be able to withdraw for time alone with God…and not return to 37 new emails, seven texts and 15 alerts from The Associated Press.

While you will never hear me complain about the amazing level of instantaneous connectedness we all enjoy through these newer channels of communication – I make my living in this realm, after all – there has definitely been a price paid, and not all of it healthy.

Several years ago, I researched, wrote and taught a class on telephone etiquette. (Remember when we used to talk to each other on the phone?) Anyway, my job required me to check with reliable sources as to what was proper, what was not, and how to best manage conflicting priorities without being rude, pushy or conveying a sense of being burdened to the other party. In a nutshell, the experts on politeness all pretty much agreed that priority should be given in the following order of descent:

1. A person “in the flesh,” i.e. breathing the same air.
2. A person calling on the phone to carry on a conversation real-time.
3. Everyone and everything else.

The main idea here is doing your best to honor the individual “most heavily invested” in the process of communication. Someone who walks over to your home or your desk is exerting more effort than if he or she had simply called you on the phone; the caller, in turn, is exerting more effort than the texter or emailer, and so on. (Don’t get upset with me for sharing this little piece of news; I never pretended to be an expert in etiquette…probably a good thing!)

By now it’s become a cliche to sputter and rant about how truly disconnected we have become from each other, but it seems to me that giving oneself over to such ranting is really a cop-out, an effort to project our own failures to rightly prioritize onto a piece of technology, rather than own the heart that would rather respond to a text from a friend than actually engage with that friend in real time. (When I keep you at a distance, I can better “manage” your opinion of me and not worry about whether or not I have a piece of broccoli stuck between my teeth.)

The better confession, I think, might go something like this:

“Lord God, I wasn’t much interested in making time for You before my world became so crowded and my head began to spin from my own self-indulgence and Fear of Missing Out. Now that I have fortified my heart with the false sense of worldly importance that comes hand-in-hand with others perceiving me as ‘too busy,’ I am even less interested in stepping away from the temple of self-exultation. Where I really ought to fear You, I find instead a fear that disconnecting to spend time with You will only force me to ‘shovel through a deeper pile’ when I return to what I laughably call ‘the real world.’ Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Luke 9:57-62 (ESV)
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

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