Sunday, April 10, 2011

I want your presence

No, that's not a typo.  I don't mean presents.  I want presence.

This weekend I decided that I needed a break.  So, on Friday at 4:30 I turned my phone off.  I left it off until this morning.  I had no internet, no texts, no emails, no facebook, no calls.  It was awesome.  I have realized that I have become pretty addicted to my phone.  It makes a noise and I instinctively reach for it.  In fact, the other week while I was sitting out a layover in Newark, someone near me had the same notification sound that my phone has for a text.  This person was somewhere on the other side of the room, but still, every time his phone went off I reached for mine.  I almost wonder what Ian Pavlov would say about that...Seriously, you might as well just put a collar on me and call me Sparky.

So, geting away from my leash of a phone was great.  I camped out Saturday night at camp.  I pitched my tent on the upper end of the airstrip, built a fire and spent some much needed time alone with the Lord.  A few times I wanted to reach to my pocket for my phone to check the time (though I left it in my car at another section of camp).  Eventually, I just decided that I would go to bed when I felt like it and get up when I felt like it, no matter the time.

But there's more.  I said I want presence.  First, I want this from myself too.  I am by no means directing this at anyone or writing out of malicious thought - especially because I am just as guilty, if not more guilty.  But have you ever been with someone and been happy to spend time with them.  And they spend most of the time on their phone, or texting someone else?  I think that the worst can be in the car.  The other person's phone rings and they take a lengthy phone call.  The radio gets turned off or really low so that they can hear the phone and an awkward silence follows as you try not to listen to half of the conversation.  Of course, I understand that sometimes important things do come up.  But, how does it make you feel?  It's like the other isn't even there.  About a month ago I was meeting with an area pastor.  we had only met briefly a couple of times but I knew of some work that he is doing and wanted his input on a few things.  We agreed to meet at a local diner.  I felt so very honored as at one point his phone rang - it was his wife.  He silenced his phone and continued his conversation with me.  I know, some of you may think that this is wrong.  A man should answer his wife's phone call.  But I think that this couple has an understanding about this.  She called again a little while later and we did wrap up our conversation.  I think that this was part of the understanding.  It's like they didn't even need words for him to know that he needed to start heading back home.

But how many times do we do the exact opposite?  How many times do we sit with each other and barely exchange words because we are so focused on talking to the next person?  There is a phenomenon that happens at camp and in Kenya that I have actually grown to appreciate:  power outages.  Crazy, huh?  They can definitely be an inconvenience, but they can be so awesome!  At both places, the power goes out and people light candles and carry on.  I remember a trip to Kenya where we were in the living room one night and the power went out while we were worshipping and praying.  We just kept going.  I love when the power goes out, the computers are down with the internet.  Decks of cards come out.  Candlelit board games begin.  At camp, there are often times of eating cold canned goods together.  And we talk.  We communicate.

Funny how in the age of communication so many of us don't know how to actually communicate.  It's sad how facebook has so often become a popularity contest to see how many friends you can have.  I wonder though, out of your 600 facebook friends, how many can you call on in the middle of the night when you just need to talk?  How many of them do you really know?  How many could you carry an actual conversation with?  I love what happens on facebook as new friends are added.  It happens more with old friends (maybe even just "acquaintances" from high school).  Not sure what I'm referring to?  Here, does this conversation look somewhat familiar?

Person A:  Oh my gosh!  It's been so long!  How are you!
Person B:  I know!  It's been forever!  I'm doing good.  How about you?
Person A:  I'm great.  Hey, we should get together soon.  Maybe get <insert names> together for a reunion
Person B:  yeah!  That would be awesome.  Let's do it soon!
And that's it.  Goes no where.  Of course, this isn't always the case, but so often I think it is.  I love social media.  I really do.  It's great for keeping up with people.  facebook is a great tool for staying in touch with friends across the country and the world.  But do we abuse it sometimes?  Do we use it as an excuse to stop communicating all together?  I can begin to see signs of this already.  I know of people in my own life who are so immersed in the social media that they don't even leave their homes.  The majority of their friends are people that they have never even met face-to-face.  I have seen so many who don't even know how to make a professional phone call.  Others who don't know how to be around people.  And I'm not talking about not being comfortable sharing your feelings kind of people.  I'm talking about people who are terrified of being in community.  A recent study shows that nearly 3.7% (about 5.3 million) Americans suffer from social anxiety disorder!  By no means do I wish to belittle this disorder in any way.  But I do wonder how much of it can be solved by getting out there, suffering through it and meeting people.

What else is alarming is that based on a Duke University research study between 1985 and 2004 the amount of Americans that "had no one around to discuss important matters" has tripled up to 25%.  Sounds pretty lonely to me.  Other studies have shown that the largest number facing this loneliness is not the elderly.  And the gap is closing in with my generation facing this loneliness.  In a sea of people on facebook and twitter and whatever the next new thing will be, we're lonely.  Is it any wonder why there are so many TV commercials in the middle of the night for phone sex operators?  I'm not trying to be funny here.  I used to stay up late when I was younger and I have quite honestly seen a great increase in these commercials.  Has our nation become so desperate for companionship that need to call strangers that will pretend to love us?

I guess what I'm getting at here, is I desire to be with people when I'm with them.  And I desire the same in return.  Some time ago someone told me of how he and his wife spent the evening together.  I will add that he was upset as he shared this with me.  He said that they put the kids to sleep.  Then they each got out their laptops, turned the TV on and sat on the couch on their own computers.  Not even talking to each other.  I'm not married.  Not even close.  But I would like to think that when I am married, I won't be spending my evenings with my wife on separate laptops.  I want to believe that we will be able to talk to each other every day.  I want to believe that we'll be present with one another.  I'm not suggesting that we all get rid of facebook accounts or stop texting people or anything.  But I am suggesting that when we're with a friend, let's learn to put the phone down.  Let's learn that phone's have a voicemail feature - and to use it sometimes.  Let's learn to be present with people.


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