Saturday, March 10, 2012

Pondering on a Spring Day About Something Precious Lost

I love spring, don’t you? Though we’ve had a rather mild winter here compared to last year, I still get cabin fever after many cold, gray days when we’re cooped up in the house because it’s too cold to do much outside, and this year we didn’t even get much snow to make going outside in the cold a little fun. But then comes spring, when the flowers start blooming - my daffodils are just starting to bloom and I love it - and the weather starts warming up, and everything feels new and fresh and hopeful again, and people start emerging from their winter dens and neighbors who haven’t seen each other all winter become sociable again as we all come out to enjoy the long-awaited warmth and fresh air and sunshine and watch the kids play outside. And the spring allergies kick in, at least, they sure do around here in the notorious Ohio River Valley area. Ahem.
So, enjoying this sparkling spring-like Saturday, I took a walk with my daughter and our dog this morning. My son was going to go with us on roller-blades, but he realized when we reached the steep hill at the top of our street that he couldn’t skate up it, so he opted to return home.  Anyway, my daughter was so much fun as a walking companion as she took delight in marveling over the singing birds we got the joy of hearing as we walked along, dragging my dog who insisted on stopping every two inches to smell some dog-delight or other. And then it occurred to me, if my daughter had not been with me, I probably would not have even noticed the singing birds because most likely I would have had my ears plugged up with my iPod, which I do any chance I get to walk alone. So many podcasts, so little time, you know.
Later, when I was trying to escape the lingering smell of bacon several hours after having cooked and consumed it (have you ever wondered why that smell seems to just STAY in the house?), I opened the windows and thankfully settled on the back porch in my comfy black chair with a book and took a nap in the warm puddle of sunlight I found due to my strep and antibiotic induced fatigue today. Day two of recuperating from a nasty strep infection, that is. I was sitting out there feeling so thankful for the peaceful quiet of a sunny Saturday on the porch and thinking my kids needed to turn off the TV and computer and get out here and enjoy this lovely day, when the thought hit me.
My generation to a degree, and my children’s to an even larger degree, have lost something precious. This is not a new or unique observation, but the thought struck me and has stayed with me all day that we have lost the ability to appreciate quiet. I don’t mean silence in a weird, mystical, search within, contemplative sort of way. I just mean quiet. In our society, we are uncomfortable with quiet. We are always filling it up with music or noise or TV or distraction. We are not comfortable with gentle quiet moments. Think about many people do you know who turn the TV on the minute they enter a house and have TVs in most every room? How many kids/adults do you see around during any given day with ears stuffed with earbuds the moment they are free to do so? Have you ever had a pleasant afternoon outdoors spoiled by a neighbor who had to have a radio going in their garage/backyard/etc. the entire afternoon?
How many times a day are you drawn to check Facebook, Twitter, etc.? There is something dangerously addictive about Facebook, I find. At least, for me there is. Now that I have it on my iPhone, too, I find that I’m on there checking it before I even realize I’m doing it. Just, there it is in my hand and I’m looking at it again. I’ve never been real convinced about the four (five?) love languages, and like any personality type test, I never seem to be able to figure out where I fall on the scale, but if I had to give an idea, I’d probably say words of affirmation do a lot to motivate me. Comments and ‘likes’ on a Facebook post feel pretty good, though it’s a fleeting high. 
And I don’t like that about me. I don’t like that it’s hard to turn off the computer and stop picking up the iPhone and stay away from the social media stuff for any serious period of time. Because, bottom line, it isn’t really REAL, not in the way engaging in real life is REAL. It bothers me how difficult I think it would be to completely unplug.
But here’s the’s a distraction from the real, everyday things of life. It just is. There’s no rationalizing that away. All our electronic stuff is addictive. At the risk of embarrassing my son, not my intention, I share a small example from his life. My son is the rule-keeper of rule-keepers. For this story to make any impact you have to know this about him. He’s all about following rules. Anyway, he’s at a church youth event this weekend, one in which we have all been praying will be a time for the kids to be encouraged to grow in their walk with the Lord and to develop better relationships with each other. The “What to Bring” instruction sheet very emphatically said not to bring iPods, phones, etc. Very emphatically said that they were only asking the kids to do without them for 48 hours so they could focus on the weekend’s emphasis. My son, my very rule-keeping son, asked me at least three times if I was sure he couldn’t take his iPod this weekend. After reading the list and the very emphatic reasoning for why such things were not to be brought. I told him, “No. The whole point is to not be plugged away in your own private little world.” I’m quite sure he’ll tell me some did bring them, though, when he comes home.
Point being, we are a culture where we are saturated with noise. We have to have music going all the time. We need the visual stimulation of a computer game or TV show all the time. We’d rather be in our cave of a house on a sunny day, checking Facebook or watching TV instead of outside enjoying the beauty of a spring day. I said something about kids playing outside at the top of this post, but I have to admit that’s becoming more of a rarity anymore. Most of the time we hide away in our houses. No wonder we’re all addicted to social media - we aren’t out mingling with the people who live right here around us. We're addicted to the distraction of our plugged-in private little worlds. We tend to know more about the current controversy lighting up our chosen corners of the blogosphere or in pop culture than we do about our real, flesh-and-blood-across-the-street neighbors. And I’m right there guilty as well. 
But one thing we lose in all that is that we aren’t able to think clearly and deeply anymore. Any quiet moment we have, we plug up our ears with our tunes, and we don’t know how to sit and ponder for any extended period of time. We jump from this stimulation to that in quick soundbite size status updates. Case in point, even this blog post is way longer than the conventional wisdom says a post should be to ensure maximum readership to the end, so if you're still here, thanks for reading. I can tell you I’ve seen a lessening in the ability to sit and think out things unless I really put my mind to it. I see it in my writing when I try to sit and work on it. It is all but impossible to sit still and not answer all the other distractions I feel pulling on me, and most days, I lose. 

Another thing I think we’ve lost is that we are less likely to ponder how awesome God is when we see the wonder of Creation. Because we aren’t out seeing Creation, for the most part. The heavens declare the glory of God, but we’re in our homes, twittering and facebooking away, plugged up with our iPods and tunes and podcasts, but unheeding to the beauty of the sunset right outside our window. Or we’re walking along with our earbuds in, missing the birdcalls that so fascinated my daughter today. I wonder if one reason people are so willing to accept the unsatisfying theories that ‘science’ offers about the origin of life just might be that we never really spend any time outside pondering the very bigness of Creation and how immense a Creator God must be. We’re so easily distracted, and I’m convinced all this screen time and filling up the quiet with tunes and such really does make it much harder for us to think and ponder and contemplate big thoughts with any real depth.
Something else I’ve noticed, too, is that when I’ve spent a lot of time on the computer or listening to podcasts, I tend to be much more irritable with the people I love and share my life with. I’m not exactly sure why that is, but I suspect it has a lot to do with how non-social those activities really are. It’s easy to get lost in your own little bubble and sometimes it’s hard to draw yourself back out and interact with the people who need you most. And I notice it in my kids, too. The days when I’ve been least on top of monitoring the time limits I really, really mean to have in place for myself and for them regarding all the screen time, etc. are the days when everyone is more irritable with each other. I was one of those naive new moms who always pridefully said I’d never let the TV be a babysitter for my precious kids. Then life happened. Somehow I turned around and they are on the computer or TV way more than I know is good for any of us. Not that they’re watching bad things. Just too much of anything. And recently I made the decision that things needed to change, for the kids and for me, so we’ve put time limits in place, and I’m really trying to cut down on the time I spend on social media. And it’s not always easy to remember to stay consistent in keeping everyone to the time limits. Just being honest. 
I am not so sure social media is really all that good a thing, not if it causes me to be less social with the people who are here in the space where I live day in and day out. Certainly not then. And I know I get really irritated with music being on all the time. I like music, don’t get me wrong, but I climb the walls when it’s on all the time. And that even translates into how we think about and ‘do’ church. It’s almost like we have to have ‘cool’ music or a concert kind of atmosphere with emotional ramp up that makes us feel something that we think we need to feel so we can say we worshiped. Sometimes I wonder if we even know how to worship without ‘cool’ music. Dangerous thinking, I know. And I’m not saying I don’t like music. I do. Some music is very helpful to turn my mind to worship, but I am learning to be very careful to make sure I am worshiping God and not just seeking a certain feeling. I don't know about you but I find the temptation huge to fall into the trap of mistaking an emotional feeling for worship but not completely seeking the One we came to worship. But a certain feeling isn't so much what I need to be seeking. Because sometimes real worship happens even when my feelings don’t follow along. But that wasn’t really where I meant to be going and not something I can explore fully in this particular and much too long post. 
And in life, sometimes I like to just sit and listen to the quiet. Sometimes it’s so comforting to sit in the house or on the back porch with no noise on, no computer in front of me, no phone in my hand, and just be quiet. And it concerns me that my kids don’t seem to even be able to comprehend why that would be enjoyable.
I didn't intend this to be a long post, but apparently the 'just something I’ve been pondering today' needed more than a short and pithy expression. Of course, it could be that since I'm blogging so seldom these days, I just have a lot to say when I finally get something written. :-)


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