My 20-month-old son is already familiar with a variety of Apple devices. He knows (roughly) how they work and what they are used for.
It’s not because he regularly uses them. It’s because he sees me on them, all of the time. The other night, I was on my laptop, doing something unimportant, while he played on the floor with his non-digital toys (remember building blocks?). He can’t say much yet, but he does know how to say “Dada,” over and over again until I give him my attention. But instead of glancing over, I was trying to do too many things at once, looking at something online that didn’t need my attention at that moment, while something in the room did.
A moment later, he stopped calling my name, calmly stood up, walked over and closed my laptop while I was still typing. He had my attention.
A kid who isn’t even two yet understood more about being present than I did.
The 1980 comedy The Gods Must Be Crazy explored what happened when the modern world collided with a previously uncontacted tribe in Botswana. The film serves as a metaphor to show how by attempting to use technology to make our lives easier, we’ve made them so complicated that we’ve lost touch with what it means to actually enjoy life. The first two minutes of the movie explains:
The film was made in 1980, long before things as complex as the Internet, social media or smartphones could even be conceived of. Now, along with changing the way we work, travel, eat and entertain ourselves, technology as changed the way we actually relate to one another.
But, most concerningly, the communication revolution ushered in by the Internet has not only changed digital communication, but it has also altered face-to-face relationships.
Everyone that owns a smartphone now carries with them an escape hatch for uncomfortable situations or awkward conversations. Instead of dealing with social circumstances that used to be the norm, we can distract ourselves with a device that instantly pulls up a feed of more interesting—or comfortable—conversations.
And, even beyond how technology has changed real-world social settings, it has also transformed solitude. How can you ever be alone if thousands of “friends” are also in your pocket? We’ve traded silence and reflection for a “feed” of endless noise, custom filtered to our preferences.
Beyond anything, it has made us forget how to actually be present. The digital revolution has empowered constant distraction that allows us to forget about what we are doing at the moment, and instead see images of what we have done, look at what others are doing or plan what we are going to do next.
This is a spiritual crisis. One of the underlying things we learn about the nature of God in the Bible is that He does not mind waiting. He seeks stillness. After creating the universe, God Himself simply remained still and reflected on His work for an entire day. He loves being present so much so that the essence of His Holy Spirit, is presence.
God commands us to “Be still, and know that I am God.” He speaks through a “still, small voice,” which we hear after we “wait upon the Lord.”
When we fill our lives with so many things that distract us from actually being present and lose our ability to be still, we disconnect ourselves from God’s design.
The Bible is full of stories of involuntary waiting: Noah and his family waiting 40 days and 40 nights before being able to exit the arc; Abraham and Sarah being forced to wait until they were very old to have a son; the Israelites wandering in the wilderness for 40 years before entering into the Promise Land; humanity waiting for the birth of Christ as a savior; the Church awaiting the Second Coming; Even Jesus spent 40 days in wilderness before His ministry began.
The story God has written is filled with pregnant pauses that are used to make people be present, reflect and become more reliant on Him. When we fill every still moment in our lives with digital distraction, we edit the way God has penned the story for our lives.
Throughout the Psalms, verses are separated with Selahs—pauses in the music that aren’t meant to be filled with words or sounds. It’s a metaphor that still applies to our lives: There are times that we need to put down our phones or the things that can fill natural moments of quietness, and embrace moments of stillness or intimacy with people we care about.
Being present forces us to deal with things we don’t want to have to deal with. It forces us to reflect. It forces us to be engaged. And, sometimes, it forces us outside of our comfort zone.
All of these are good things. This is how life was designed to be lived.
In Psalms, we are commanded to “Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, And put your trust in the Lord.” Those can be hard things for us to do when we’re on our phones playing a game.
Thankfully, God is patient. He will wait for us to wait for Him. “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, He is patient with you …” (2 Peter 3:9).
Sometimes, experiencing His presence in our lives is just a matter of being present. Even if it means closing our laptop for a few minutes.
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.