My latest for the Longview News Journal
I’ll be the first to admit, I like my cellphone. I have it with me everywhere I go. I use it to connect to friends, respond to emails and even pay for my groceries. For good or ill, I am accessible nearly 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
There are times when I receive a call, a text or an e-mail that I choose not to respond to immediately because I am in the middle of family time, dinner or even a movie. But more often than not, I at least check it and usually respond.
This is the world we live in, a world of fast-paced interconnectedness. If something happens on the other side of the world, within minutes our 24/7 news channels are reporting it. The internet has been a hub of information, true and fake. Places such as Twitter and Facebook have become less about networking and reconnecting with old friends, but a personal platform to push agendas and have debates under the wall of protection that we feel the internet gives us.
Social media is not evil per se. Rather, many good conversations and campaigns have started or gained traction through the wide casting net found on these platforms. Millions of dollars have been raised, and issues once hidden from mass consumption have been brought to life through this new form of media.
However, this connected nature we find ourselves in has a downside. I have said many times that if you want to see humanity at its worst, read the comments section of a “hot topic” news article; it will make your stomach turn. Debates are not happening in a way that for the most part are constructive.
People are finding ways to summarize complex and multi-layered issues in 140 characters or less. It is easy to say something to someone who is just a picture on a screen without giving a second thought about them as another human being. Generalizations are made to make the “other” look bad and our position to be right. It can be exhausting just scrolling through social media in hopes of seeing a funny video or update about a friend’s baby.
It’s easy to place blame on an attention-seeking culture or the ever-present news media or even our success driven society, but that is a bit unfair.
I am not saying that technology is bad. On the contrary, technology is wonderful and in some cases downright essential. But as with all things, there are limits.
In Christianity, we are currently in a time of reflection, prayer and sacrifice known as Lent. Lent is the holy time leading up to Easter where we journey with Christ on the road to Jerusalem. It began this past Wednesday with the imposition of ashes as a reminder of our humanness and sinfulness. As a practice, Christians from all denominations and backgrounds try to find something to give up as a spiritual discipline during these 40 days until Easter.
I believe that one of the best things that we can do is disconnect. We may not have to disconnect from the internet or TV or even caffeine, but there is something that is robbing our time with the divine, there is something that is a barrier between humanity and deepening our relationship with God.
This is what Lent calls us to do, to disconnect from the world and return to a place where God dwells. We don’t have to give up our cellphone; rather, Lent calls us to examine our lives and see where our relationship is being replaced with something else.
When I worked for a hospice organization in Kentucky, I learned this lesson the hard way. I was constantly bringing work home, working past my contract that stated 5 p.m. as the end of the work day. It was affecting my marriage, my health and my important family time. I had to shift my priorities around for the betterment of my family and life. I had to be intentional about my boundaries and my time. Work could wait and deadlines could be extended. There was something freeing about being able to “leave work at work.” I was spending more time with my wife and kids, and as a result my relationship with God changed, as well.
Lent is about disconnecting in a connected world. Our priorities need to shift from things that take us away from what is truly important and back to the basics of faith, life and family.
Followers of Christ are called to disconnect from the world around them and focus their attention on Christ. Whether it is through prayer, daily devotion or giving up something, the fact remains that our attention shifts from the world outside to the world of Christ. This is the essence of Lent.