Rising above the immediacy of today's technological world during Advent
But my brother, the IT administrator in the family, made a commendable effort to convince me to get an iPhone, so I finally gave in. And of course, I love it. So much for being different.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting in a café with my friend and telling him that I distracted myself before falling asleep the previous night with thinking about how I might build an igloo if I was ever trapped in a snowstorm in the wilderness. We chatted about it for a few minutes before he said, “I’m surprised you haven’t developed the urge to look things up on your phone yet,” pulling out his own phone and Googling: “How to build an igloo.” We found three excellent answers. He decided he would go with making and stacking ice blocks. I decided I would burrow myself in a snowdrift. We both agreed that people who build igloos survive because the body heat generated while making one keeps them alive.
Later that night, his mindful observation stuck with me. In the five months I’ve owned my phone, I haven’t Googled many answers. Why? I finally came to this conclusion: I like to wonder (and, full disclosure, my scanty data allowance contributes to my restraint, too).
During the season of Advent, we often emphasize waiting for Christ to come at Christmas. During the rest of the Church year, we’re still waiting for Christ to come again, the Second Coming at the end of time. (Jesus says only God knows the day or the hour. And yes, even when asking Siri, she responds, “I can’t find anything about ‘When is Christ coming again?’”) Much of our time we are left waiting… and wondering, too.
However, there’s something about technology that can really erode our ability to wait. One AT&T survey about texting, asking teen drivers, reports that 90% of teens expect a reply to a text or e-mail within five minutes or less. I, too, have felt the nagging urge to reply.
The question becomes: How can we wait well? Practicing these three habits might help:
Wonder: Wondering is becoming an antiquated practice. It places us in the uncomfortable place of not knowing in a world where knowledge is so readily available. Why wonder when you can easily get an answer to most questions? This isn’t to say that gaining more knowledge isn’t commendable. However, perhaps while we are quenching our craving for knowledge we lose some of our innovation. We gravitate toward finding existing answers and less toward dreaming up new ones. When the uncomfortable situation of not knowing arises, try to make it a positive experience and daydream or wonder. Look out the window while riding along in the car, bus or train, or daydream while waiting in line at a store or coffee shop. When lost in our thoughts, we never know what we might find.
Wait with hope, not frustration: Waiting has a negative connotation in our world today. I often struggle with what’s at the heart of my frustration. Fear that my time is being wasted? An obsession with being on time? The frenetic energy of the city which threatens to pull me in? I’m still searching for that answer. Christianity calls us not only to wait but also to wait well. Take some time this Advent to think about what that looks like for you. What is driving the negative feelings you experience when you wait? How might you practice patience with yourself and others?
Unplug: A simple exercise in waiting is to be fully present. A friend of mine recently told me the story of sitting at a restaurant catching up with friends when the waitress came over and said, “You all must really be enjoying each other. Not one of you has pulled out your phone this entire time.” A poignant observation. It is now socially acceptable to pull out our mobile phones at nearly any moment. We must re-learn how to be present, and part of that is setting boundaries. Put the temptation out of sight, out of mind. Some examples include: enjoying the present moment while you wait, instead of checking e-mail; committing to not check texts or voicemails during meals; or choosing a day like Sunday or even Christmas to “unplug” and enjoy time with family.
When Jesus was on Earth, things like email and texting were foreign to the experience of his contemporaries. He actually walked around to deliver his message in person; he didn’t email it. People sat at his feet, and they listened intently. No one was told to silence their cell phone before the Sermon on the Mount. Although that’s not to say that Jesus’ followers didn’t have distractions of their own. In fact, Jesus called them to rise above their own preoccupations with jobs or families and follow him. Jesus calls all of us to overcome the things that inhibit us from hearing or living out his message. Though the distractions are different now, Jesus’ call is just as relevant today as it was then.
This Advent, let us be more like a contemporary of Jesus. Let us sit in full presence of his message. Let us quiet whatever nags at our ability to wonder. Most importantly, let us wait well. So that when Christ comes at Christmas, he will find us ready, not distracted.