Written by Laura Dingman.
Panic set in. The kind that makes my heart pound and skip beats. The kind that makes me sweat a little (ok, well a lot) and makes me have to work to catch my breath. I dig through the depths of the gigantic purse that really looks more like a suitcase and could hold enough to pull it off as well. “Did I check the pockets?” I think. “Did I leave it somewhere? Surely, I didn’t leave it at home? I’ll have to go back. I can’t possibly make it through the day without it.”
And then the heavens open. I can hear the angels singing as I spot my phone in the mess that is the bottom of my handbag. The panic subsides and all is right with the world. Or so it seems.
This scenario has happened to me too many times. Just when I think that I’m not really tied to my phone, I find that, in reality, I am. I’m actually functioning more like an addict. I am bound to technology.
Several weeks ago I received a spiritual blow with a two by four to the side of the head. I had just returned home from an overnight “spiritual retreat” where I met with my mentor and spent a great deal of time listening to the Holy Spirit and reading God’s Word. It was beautiful, peaceful, and everything that I imagine heaven to be. I had been there for 24 hours and had not checked e-mail, voicemail, texts, Facebook, twitter, or any of their equivalents. Mostly because there is no internet at the The Springs retreat center. There is only one very obscure spot in one cabin where I had cell phone service and it seemed to only work when I was standing on one foot with my shoulders to the east and my head tilted at a 30 degree angle.
Needless to say, everything was turned off. My contact with the outside world was limited. I didn’t have a problem with that while I was there. I had a reason to be “unplugged” and I felt no obligation to be otherwise. But as I re-entered the area where my phone had full coverage, it seemed to explode right before my eyes. The text message number kept growing and the voicemails were dinging. Without warning I was thrust back into the world of constant communication and incessant availability.
When I got home, I was sitting on my bed with my six-year-old daughter and we were laughing and giggling. It was refreshing. Then my phone lit up. A new message appeared. Without thinking, I picked it up and took a look. I started to type a reply when Abigail looked at me and boldly said, “Mommy, don’t pay attention to that. Pay attention to me.”
It stopped me in my tracks. Cold. What was I doing? I realized that my incessant availability had caused me to be unavailable to her. I was not seeing her. I was distracted and she knew it. She was screaming for me to look at her first and to hold her gaze so that I could really see what was going on with her. I set my phone on silent and laid it down. I looked at Abigail in the eyes and apologized for giving my phone the attention that should have been hers. I asked for forgiveness and the tickling and giggling ensued.
I would love to say that since that time I have completely been present for everyone I’ve been around especially with my daughter, but that would be a boldface lie. I’ve checked Facebook during meetings. I’ve looked at my email during lunch conversations. I’ve crushed candy when I should have been wrestling with Abigail. I’ve been distracted and the enemy loves it. In his Christianity Today article, “Leading Distracted People,” Adam Stadtmiller states, “One of the Devil’s greatest tools is distraction. It’s a devastating weapon that often flies under a shepherd’s radar. It can alter your course and hinder your purpose. The Devil may smile every time we disobey God blatantly, but he’s just as pleased when he lures us into meaningless distraction. Distraction is the enemy of focus and clarity, two components necessary to lead a spiritual life… These minor distractions—constant tweeting, text messages, calendar reminders, anxiety-laced news-take away from our stillness needed to seek God.” Distraction hurts us and hinders the work of the Holy Spirit. The noise of the technological clutter drowns out the voice that brings healing and hope. The constant drone mesmerizes us drawing our eyes away from those who are real and right in front of us.
What would happen if we all valued face to face (or even voice to voice) conversations instead of finding out information from a Facebook status or a tweet or an Instagram photo? How would the love of Jesus shine through if we really saw people? What if we put our phones on silent more often and looked into the eyes of those right in front of us (Matthew 22:3-40)? What if we were fully present in the moment right before us and were completely aware of the people living that moment? I don’t think we can fully grasp it, but my own limited projection seems to look pretty good. Jesus said the greatest two commandments were to love God and love people. Slowing down and unplugging is hard, but it’s so worth the pain.
 Adam Stadtmiller, “Leading Distracted People: 5 Ways to De-Clutter Ministry without losing impact.”