The very first thing I purchased when I arrived home nine days ago was a hands-free wireless device for my cell phone. Seeing as I would now be spending absurd hours in a car instead of on a bike, I figured I’d be wise to do it safely. After all, I drive a stick shift. It’s hard to drive, shift, brake, accelerate, steer, and hold a phone to my ear. Since this purchase, that hands free thing has been crammed in my ear every time I’m in the car. I find it helpful, allowing me to safely catch up with buddies all over the place. Better than just listening to the radio or something – maybe.
There are others, however, that take this convenience beyond its intended use. Society as a whole pays the price.
I’d estimate that as many as 10% of the shoppers I've seen over the past few days have ear-things stuck in their ears. Some were engaged in conversations, while the rest were waiting for a call (why else would they wear them?). A sizeable percentage also had phones to their heads. I always leave my hands-free thing in the car, since I can’t get over how ridiculous I look when I wear it. Besides, I’m more inclined to forget why I even came into a store if I’m caught up on a deep conversation.
While communicating with family and friends is certainly great (regardless of the medium), statistics have proven that our society is more lonely now than ever before. Socially isolated is the term researchers use. (See this article) Despite all the means available to us to remain in contact with folks, we really aren’t. Several studies have proven this.
Earlier this week I had the opportunity to catch up with my little sister for coffee, crammed against the wall in a coffee shop bustling with customers. An hour later, I was back there with another friend. Today I caught up with my other little sister for a similar soiree. Our conversations ranged from crude to incredibly serious, with each of us confiding in the other, being brutally honest, and relying on the grace of the other. I enjoyed catching up with them, and hope to continue this in the future.
During our chats, I caught myself several times peeking at my cell phone, either looking for text messages or incoming calls, checking the time, or even a couple of times checking my e-mail. In hindsight, I feel badly about this. I was distracted. If I am socially isolated, it’s because I don’t “show up.”
With communications being what they are these days, it’s entirely too easy to only bring part of myself to a conversation. The rest is torn between internal monologues, creating shopping lists, thinking about writing, people I need to call, what time am I supposed to be where, and a host of other matters that all compete with the friend or family member speaking to me. Best put, I’m not all there.
Asking how somebody is doing and truly sticking around the answer, however, requires my full presence and undivided attention to the speaker. I frequently fail to offer this, which is convicting. It begs the question which matter I deem the most important: the time, my errands, my other responsibilities, or the friend or family member sitting before me. When I honestly consider this, I don’t much like my answer.
I am fairly certain that Christ, when speaking to friends, or more likely listening to friends, did not let other things distract Him. He offered His full presence to the speaker. I think I rarely do this.
Friendship, more often than not, means listening more than anything else. Not gabbing. I cannot fully listen if I am not fully present. Nor am I offering myself in friendship. Yet that is what I believe to be the greatest gift I can offer to another – myself.
Quite obviously, we are all busy. I don’t even work and I’m booked. I can’t imagine how others must feel. Things, I presume, routinely fall by the wayside. But I don’t want people to be sacrificed. If it means I have three great friends and confidants rather than 100 acquaintances, I believe those will be three superb relationships. At times I wrongly feel duty-bound to keep up with more people than I can reasonably manage. Everybody gets a portion of my presence, but nobody gets all of it.
Truth is, I am not obligated to keep up with people. If I am, then I have missed the point of friendship. I’m supposed to keep up with them because I delight in their presence. If I delight in their presence, I will offer myself in entirety when we are together. If I believe myself obligated, I will meet with them joylessly, only “show up” in part, and be eager to leave at the nearest opportunity. My purpose as a friend will have completely missed its mark.
Just as God does not pursue perfection and obeisance from me, nor am I to approach friendships in the same manner. I don’t keep up with people because I have to or should, but because I want to. I should pursue others for the same reason that God pursues me. Because He loves me and wants a relationship – not because it’s “the right thing to do.”
In many ways, it suggests a misunderstanding of grace. Grace tells me to do what I think is appropriate, and hand the rest to God. Help people as I am able, and trust God will do the rest. Witness as is appropriate, and then permit God to do the rest. Obligation to friends is descent into a trap of servitude. A supposition that I have to do the work. It suggests I don’t trust that God is actually doing the work and I’m just along for the ride.
If I say that God is in me, then when I bring myself in full to a conversation, I bring God with me. Just as much as I offer my presence, I offer God’s presence, for He is IN me. If I act out of obligation, I have forgotten God’s love, and therefore haven’t invited Him. In consequence, I offer a weak and broken shell of a man, not a man redeemed by God in me. God, I think, is the first one to be omitted when I’m pulled in multiple directions.
Grace tells me that it is God IN me that actually fosters the real friendship, not me. I offer very little, but He, with me, offers much more. Frankly, His presence is probably what forms the primary bond in the friendship anyway. If I’m not bringing Him, however, I’m bringing very little. I guess I might as well not show up at all.
As near as I can tell, Jesus didn’t know too many people, but those He did know, He knew well. His preference was sincerity and quality over quantity.
I cannot know everybody, and nor can I do a thing to fix or change them. Nor should I even try such a thing. How arrogant. But I can love them, care about them, pray for them, and present to them the one thing I can freely offer: myself. Jesus modeled this perfectly for us. And while I will never have it perfect, I can begin by turning off the cell phone, inviting God into my presence. When this is done, the two of us will sit down and have a chat with a friend. I will, by grace, hand the rest to God.
Copyright © 2008, Ben Shaw
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