When the sun was setting, all those who had anyone sick with various diseases brought them to Him. As He laid His hands on each one of them, He would heal them. —Luke 4:40 NIV
For Lent, I decided to go beyond jumpstarting my diet or breaking a habit. This year I vowed to stop looking at my phone in public. No more answering texts, posting pictures, or checking email while standing in lines. No more reading the news while waiting in the carpool pickup line. Less distraction, more connection.
I also determined to add more eye contact, smile at more people, and initiate conversations. I wanted to observe my surroundings and heighten my sensitivity to the Spirit’s promptings.
I have noticed something.
Everyone is on their phone. Okay, mom, not literally everyone, but the majority of people, when not actively engaged in something else, are on their phones.
We are missing out.
This trend is expanding: see also, the new fascination with online grocery shopping.
Don’t get me wrong. Selecting your groceries from the comfort of home is a sweet mercy for people like my mother-in-law, who lives in constant hip pain. She struggles to make it across the parking lot, let alone a cruise up and down the aisles. For those like her, it’s a God-send.
But what about the rest of us? We are running out of opportunities to connect. I can now, thanks to an app, order and pay for my coffee from my phone, cruise past the line and grab my drink without ever saying a word to anyone. We’ve no need to step foot inside a mall because Amazon Prime has replaced it. And now online grocery shopping: we open an app, select our items, set a pick-up time, and voila! We do our weekly run without ever getting out of our car.
Even more disturbing is the way it’s trickling down to our children.
Not long ago my kids and I were at a school function, and I noticed my son engaged in a passionate discussion with two little boys I’d never met. As we left, Nick called out, “See you tonight on Minecraft!”
It turns out that these boys were in another grade, but the kids “knew” each other because they all played an online video game together. Cool, right? Except that you can’t truly get to know someone on a game. That requires face-to-face and heart-to-heart conversations and walking through life together.
We had yet another tearful discussion with my daughter because her friends don’t play outside after school anymore—they Facetime or group text. Caitlyn, one of the few without a smartphone, feels like the odd man out.
In Matthew 5:13, Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” One commentator states, “. . . it would be easy to assume that Jesus was calling his followers to a separatistic or quasi monastic lifestyle. Here Jesus proclaims precisely the opposite. Christians must permeate society as agents of redemption.”
How can we do that if we never enter society? How can we be agents of redemption without actively engaging the people around us and teaching our children to do the same?
You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. —Matthew 5:14–16
We must not allow the glow of our smartphones to soften the light of Christ.
During this Lenten season, I have made friends with several of my grocery store clerks. One of them is terribly concerned about Medicare and losing health coverage. My son and daughter were standing right there when I took her hands and promised to pray. Later Nick asked, “Mom, did you know her?”
“No, honey, why?”
“Because you talked to her like you did.”
“Well, I just wanted to get to know her a little bit. That’s how we show people the love of the Jesus. We ask questions. We show them they matter. If they’re worried about something, we pray for them.”
In an ever-increasing age of connected disconnect, we must remember what we’re called to do and train our children to do. The Great Commission is crystal clear and leaves no room for debate. We are to go where the people are, permeate society as agents of redemption, and show them the love of Christ. You can’t do that online, and there’s not “an app for that.”
Jesus made eye contact. He used the original Facetime, the kind that requires an actual face instead of a screen with wifi. He laid hands on people and listened to them.
The next time you’re stuck in line, look around. Whom do you see? What are they doing? What are their facial expressions? What does their body language say? Reach out, engage, and see what happens. Let your children see you do it and talk about it on the way home.
Let’s not trade connection for convenience. Not when there’s a lost and hurting world to reach. Not when we must train our children to reach them.