I’ll be starting a multi-part series discussing the internet and today’s society, social media, being of this over-connected generation, and other related topics. (I say “multi-part series” because I have no idea how long I’ll be delighting you with my thoughts and observations on such subjects.) This morning, I will begin with talking about the messages we send and receive.
Everyone has a phone these days. Your teachers. Your little sister. Your grandparents. Most phones out there are smart phones. And they keep building them even better. And smarter.
The smart phone is loaded with all sorts of apps – games, news and information, helpful gadgets, and social media. You can download all sorts of apps – like PINTEREST! (I love Pinterest; can you tell???) These apps promise to help you live a better life. You’ll be more connected to your friends and family, be up on all the latest news, plan better parties, have robust photo albums, save money, live in a beautiful house and have an amazing wardrobe (thanks, Pinterest!), and overall be a better person.
These nifty little accessories are changing how our world interacts. How do you ask your mom what’s for dinner? You send her a text (even if she’s 20 feet away in the next room). How do you tell a celebrity you love their work? You post all of your gushing fandom @ them in 140 characters or less. Want to show and tell everyone how great your dinner was? Post a pic (with a filter, of course)! What do you do if you’re talking to someone and the conversation tapers off or gets awkward? You pull out your phone and check your messages!
But sadly, you young ladies are part of the most socially-awkward generation ever seen. What, you say? This can’t be right! Everyone is connected. All of the time. Yep…and this means we never have to develop our interpersonal skills. I leave you a message, you leave me a message, and we send emoticons and selfies if we can’t tap out what we want to communicate.
Can any of you remember life before the cell phone? (Think hard.) Or have you ever purposely gone without it? (Think really hard on this one. And by “purposely” I don’t mean you forgot it at home and then spent the rest of the day with the oh-dear-I-think-I-forgot-my-pants feeling.) There’s this weird rule that my church’s youth group has: phones are banned on most youth group trips. That means you either turn in your phone or leave it at home, and you have to spend your time talking to those around you and listening to music that the person in control of the community iPod picks. The purpose of “No phones Allowed” is to limit our personal distractions a bit and concentrate on growing our relationships with God and each other. And when we do this, we usually find that life moves at a little simpler pace.
This isn’t to say that phones are evil or that social media is eroding our society. You may judge that for yourself. (We really can’t; VIP is promoted on social media!) Much good communication can take place on social media. I like scrolling through your pics to keep up with your lives and leaving a VIP “Like” on your post. Even Pinterest, which I hold to be the most anti-social of the social medias, has allowed me to communicate in visual ways with my friends at all hours of the day and night. But I choose to get on social media and on whose posts I check up. I don’t hurt Twitter’s feelings if I get bored and mosey over to Instagram when a notification catches my eye.
It’s hard to concentrate with a constantly-buzzing phone. I think that if you are between 12 and 21 and have push notifications turned on for at least Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, your phone dings every 15 seconds. As I sit here writing this post, I keep checking my text messages for responses from friends. I’m in a group chat with big developments about a certain boy. (But alas, a group game broke out, and she couldn’t fill us in anymore.)
Now, I must confess that I know lots of students who have honed in on their multi-tasking skills. I’ve had many a conversation with a teen while driving at warped speeds through the galaxy. Not just anyone can defeat those aliens all while telling me about their geometry test and the fight this week with their brother. And as I speak, I know I’m still being heard because of the obligatory “Uh-huh” thrown in every few sentence and the ever-popular silence-filler: “I’m listening.”
No, dear. You’re not.
I want your full attention. I don’t like competing with social media for the privilege of seeing your beautiful eyes. I’m old and cranky like that. Or maybe I just want to have an honest-to-goodness conversation where we can get to know each other better and build community.
And God wants our full attention. He’s not going to pry the smart phone from our fingers; He is going to call us. Softly. (Oh, by the way, lest there be confusion: He’s not calling the number associated with said smart phone.) He calls in a way that requires our souls to be tuned in and listening.
Could He send a storm or fire of “An Act of God?” Yeah, I suppose so. But He doesn’t choose to do that. 1 Kings 19 is the story of Elijah running and hiding, hoping to die. God gives him rest (see post 1/23/16 on REST) for the journey. A very long journey. Then God says He is going to pass by where Elijah is. There’s a fire, earthquake, and windstorm, but God is not in any of those.
No, He is in the small whisper. And Elijah knows it.
God has Elijah on a 40-day journey where there was nothing and no one else. By this point, you would assumed God had Elijah’s attention. I imagine it gets lonely out there in the wilderness. But God doesn’t speak to Elijah until he arrives at a cave on Mt. Sinai, the mountain of God. Then He reveals Himself.
We allow certain things to grab our attention regularly. In a typical day, how often do you check social media? Would it take 40 days for God to get your attention? How long do you think it would have to be before you look up from your phone, block out the noise around you, and listen for God’s message for you?
I hear teens complain all the time that they just can’t experience God. He’s invisible to us, so it’s not like we can just one day bump in to Him. And He doesn’t speak to us audibly in a thundering voice every day. In the church, we talk about how God “spoke to us” or “we heard God’s voice the other night.” Was that creepy? Terrifying? How did God go about “speaking” to you? I believe God can speak in an audible voice if He wants to. But in my experience, most of the time He communicates in other ways. Some people have visions or dreams. Some people listen to a preacher or teacher proclaiming the Word when their mind gets caught on a word or phrase, and they have a stirring in their heart that this is a message that God wants them to hear.
Is it hard for you to believe that God can communicate in many different ways? How much of communication is your words – less than 20%? God isn’t going to speak the same way to everyone; He created every individual person uniquely. We all have different likes and dislikes. Different passions. Different attention spans. Different learning styles. Ears tuned to different things.
What is true for everyone is this: if you want to hear from God, you have to be listening. Can you hear God over the noise made by social media? You’ve got to seek Him out. You don’t win a game of Hide and Seek every time by sitting in one spot and expecting immediately to find the hider. Or by getting pulled in to another game on your phone where you defeat all the aliens and forgetting you’re supposed to be the seeker in a different game. Something shiny too often distracts us from what we need to be seeking.
So put down the phone and really seek after hearing God’s message for you. Ask Him. I believe that God has something special He wants each of us to know; we only need to be ready to hear and receive it.
(Or if you’re going to make the excuse that your Bible is on your phone…can you avoid the temptation of all of the other apps & wonderful stuff you’ve got on your phone? Won’t all of those notifications popping up & buzzing while you read distract you from Jesus? I’ve seen how you converse with me, and I don’t buy the multitasking. Here’s a radical solution: LOG OUT OF SOCIAL MEDIA. ALL OF IT. This may at least deter you from simply pressing the button to launch yet another 2-hour fest of stalking your classmates’ selfies. You can always LOG BACK IN later. Shocking, I know. I’m just trying to be a blessing here.)