For the love of God, put the screen down

For the love of God, put the screen down

I was safely ensconced in an easy chair by the fireplace, headphones blocking out most of the chatter around me. On Friday mornings I like to go to places like Panera to take care of tasks like writing, email and yes, blogging.

A different kind of sound that filtered through my headphones caught my attention.

At a nearby table a dad was reading a book to his preschool age boy. The kid’s face shone with the wonder of the story and the anticipation of what was going to happen next.

And maybe with the delight of a bagel and book with his dad.
Maybe such a thing shouldn’t be considered the stuff of heroes but don’t ask his son that. For myself, I’d like to nominate him just for the rarity of the sighting. Far too often  when I’m out and about I see parents and kids and sometimes entire families sitting at tables in silence, heads bowed before their individual screens.

What could be more important than the people you love?

For God’s sake, for the sake of the God who created us to be in community “(it was not good that man should be alone”) put down your phones and shut off your tablets.

Not all of the time. But when we’re with each other.

Because the cat video is probably going to be there later.

Because our time together, while seeming long while we’re living it, in truth passes as fast as a minute. Friends move away and family members die and the presence we took for granted becomes absence.

Because we cannot know each other if we do not tend to each other, and if we do not know each other our connections will always be stunted, falling short of the depth and richness they could bring.

Because that person on the other side of your screen is created in the image of God and may have something to teach you, something to give you, something that encourages you or something that surprises you.

For the love of God and the love of God’s children, put the screen down. There’s a little boy who needs you to read that puppy story again. There’s a spouse who needs you to see them, really see them. There’s a friend who has chosen to spend their precious time with you.

For the love of God, put the screen down.

 

 

 

 

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Miz Agnes and the Miracles

In the good southern way, children and youth alike called her Miz Agnes. In real life she was Mrs. Agnes Joyner, a fixture as a Sunday School teacher, an intimidator in a Bible study anyone else led (you best be prepared because Agnes was going to ask questions) and the keeper of the wearing hats to church tradition.

She also became the designed sitter in our church. When both parents were in the choir or divided between choir and preaching, Agnes was the person with whom parents could leave their children. They knew she’d welcome their wiggly presence with her in worship but had the gravitas to keep them from getting too wiggly. For a while she also came early to meet with children in the library and read to them. The children loved Miz Agnes.

As they also loved Miz Jane who taught generations of children in the preschool Sunday School class. Parents begged her not to retire before their children came through her class. When she died her body was carried from the church to the strains of Jesus Loves Me and a congregation filled with her now grown-up preschool children cried a bit for the deep hearted gift of having known her and the sadness of having to say goodbye to her. She told me once that in all of her years of working  with children she’d never met a bad child, only ones who needed a little more attention and care.

I thought about Agnes and Jane this week as I read an article about the impact of older adults in the lives of youth and young adults. A survey of college students found that the ones who had adults over fifty in their lives – regardless of the health of those adults – reported lower levels of illegal drug use.

It’s one of the best gifts we as the church have to offer and it’s a light we keep trying to hide under a bushel. Children used to have the benefit of lots of contact with grandparents, aunts and uncles. For many children these days such contact is infrequent.

But in a church, well it’s a different story. That’s the miracle of it. Here children can sit with Miz Agnes and be loved by Miz Jane. Here they can be friends with the volunteer helping with the youth. Here, unless we fall into the trap of segregating ourselves too rigidly by age, children and youth can find the extended family that we all desperately need. In a wonderful win-win, adults of any age can also find purpose and meaning in those connections.

Who has been Jane and Agnes for you? How might your church nurture those connections?

What a toddler taught me

What a toddler taught me

She was camped out on one side of the waiting room, an obvious grandmother charged with wrangling kids while other family members were having an appointment.

A boy sat in the chair on the other side of the table, all arms and legs thrown over the chair, lost in the world of a game on the grandmother’s phone. She was grateful that he was breaking through the levels that had long frustrated her.

She herself  sat surrounded by the sure signs of toddlerdom – an open bag with toys that weren’t working their magic today. The little girl was fine with a set of keys until she started trying to eat them, at which point the grandmother demanded them back. The little girl roamed her half of the waiting room, seeking and destroying.

The grandmother appealed to the boy. “You have a choice. You can let her use the phone or listen to her scream.” The older brother was unmoved and kept playing. I aspect eh’d learned long ago how to tune out the screams.

The grandmother appealed to the toddler, “Have some more biscuit.” The little girl obediently toddled over, even though her cheeks were bulging with uneaten biscuit.

I caught the girl’s eye and years of babysitting, children’s ministry and aunt-dom kicked in. I started playing peep-eye with the magazine I was reading. She stopped, giving me the side eye. I raised the magazine to cover my face and lowered it again. She stared, considering whether to join in this game until the grandmother offered biscuit again.

Let me be clear. I don’t stand in judgment over this overwhelmed grandmother. Sometimes we do what we can do and with small children, survival is always a noble goal.

But the encounter also made me sad. The only avenues of connection for this grandmother were food and electronics. Peep-eye. Itsy bits spider. So many ways to capture the attention of a toddler.

It made me think of the ways in which we interact with each other as adults. I’m not advocating for games of Itsy Bitsy Spider, although if you’ll start I’ll join in. I’m thinking about all the times that we miss the  simple ways of connecting with each other.  We distract each other with shiny objects when what we really want is just to be present with each other.

Some days I think it’s the most powerful thing that I offer in my therapy office: a space in which one human being is present with another human being.

This week today I dare you to connect with one other person. It doesn’t have to take more than a minute. Forgo the shiny objects. Set the electronics aside. If you and they are the hugging sort, give them a hug and allow yourself to feel how it feels to connect. Look them in the eyes and ask how they’re doing… and make a space for them to answer.

Sometimes we just want the simple things.

 

Put Down the Phone and Get Connected

As  I write this I’m at my neighborhood Starbucks, enjoying working in my secondary office (their patio.) Across the way is a scene I have seen repeatedly over the last week.

A parent or parents is/are out with a their child. In this case, both parents. The parents have their phones and the child has an iPad. They are all glued to their screens. At least these folks occasionally look up and share something from their electronic world. The other week I watched a mom and her son never say a word to each other as she returned phone calls and he played a game. Not a single word.

It is all  I can do not to snatch the devices out of their hands and scream at them, “Do you know how short this time is?”

Look, I’m not a Luddite. I have my laptop (on which I’m writing this.) I have my phone. I have for the moment lost my iPad and have had a difficult time weathering the change. (While hanging out watching TV with friends I’ve been known to pull the phone out. I’m trying not to do that, even thought the TV already serves as a third party in the room. It’s an easy distraction. If I’m alone, I’m working to change the habit of immediately pulling out my phone.)

I’ve been  known to give couples an assignment to text each other during day to express gratitude or appreciation. I am as beholden to Apple as anyone.

And yet what I’ m seeing more and more disturbs me more and more. Our electronics are becoming our primary relationship. We reach for it without thinking. We have become so used to being distracted we no longer realize that it is a distraction.

We are cheating each other of the gift of our attention.

And we need that gift. We all, every single one of us, need that gift. In Death of a Salesman Willy Loman’s wife declares, “Attention must be paid.” When we have one eye on a phone we cannot be fully present to another person. Being fully present creates a safe space, a space in which we can speak of our dreams and our fears, our triumphs and our stumbles.  Someone’s full attention tells us that we are valuable, that we matter more than whatever is on that little screen.

It makes a difference even when we are alone.  I want to weep when I see people out walking, hunched over their screen, completely missing all of the gifts creation is showering around them. One of the truths about paying attention is that the longer we look, the more we see. How much do we miss when we never look up?

Put down the screen.

Stop relying on Huffington Post or YouTube to give you something to talk about. Let your child’s imagination muscle be exercised even without the help of Disney.  Look to the stuff of your own day, listen to the silly story your child wants to tell. Just look around… the way the clouds are scattered across the sky, the kindness etched into the old woman’s wrinkled face, the way your coffee tastes in your mouth.

As a child  I frequently had my nose in a book, and I’ve wondered if what I did is any different from what I’m seeing now. Here’s the difference. When we went out on the porch to eat watermelon together, we were together. If I’d picked up a book I would have been told to put it down – it was rude to shut other people out that way.

Just this morning a radio show host told of going out to dinner with a group. Someone demanded that all phones be placed in the middle of the table. Anyone who picked up their phone before the evening was over had to buy a round of drinks. I can only hope they had a designated driver.

Put down the phone. Get connected.

With your family.

Your friends.

Your Self.

And they lived happily ever after

Today I’m pleased to shre with you a guest blog written by my colleague and friend, Ann Pultz Kramer. Ann is a gifted couples therapist who writes well about the true nature of love, commitment and loving commitment.

And they lived happily every after

Marriage therapists these days hear a whole lot of sentences that sound something like this:  “I’ve fallen out of love with her”,   “I love him, but I’m not in love with him”, “I fell in love with someone else”.    This sounds as though love is some kind of an accident, a trip on a curb when you weren’t watching where you were going!!!   And perhaps, when we think of it like this, it is exactly that, we are not paying attention to where we are going.   It’s as if once we have the feeling of love, all else will take care of itself.  Sort of like buying a plant and never watering it.  That works for a silk plant, but not a living growing one. And love is a dynamic, growing, energy.

A good friend recently said when she wrote her wedding vows, she included her thoughts about how love is an action. She said that her uncle used to peel peaches for his wife because the skins gave her a rash.  Love is like this; full of many little deeds and expressions that sustain it to remain vital as it once was.  Sometimes it seems we have forgotten about the intentionality of love, and the day to day little efforts we make on love’s behalf in order to keep it vital.

When you think about it, none of us would have had a second date with our partner if we hadn’t both participated in a multitude of behaviors in which we conveyed our interest and encouraged the other.  We talked, we listened, we smiled, we complimented, we laughed, we agreed, we accommodated, and we took an interest in the other.   Of course, we were enjoying ourselves so we didn’t realize we were making an effort.   But effort it was, and that effort may have taken us all the way to a wedding ceremony.

Somehow we have come to believe that once we have reached that brass ring, the work is over.   So we neglect to talk, or take time to listen, and stop seeing our partner in positive light, let alone letting them know we see anything positive about them.   We become disagreeable, and belligerent.   And then, one day, all of a sudden, we aren’t “in love” any longer.   What a surprise!!!!   Where did we get the idea that the feeling wouldn’t require action to sustain it?

What disturbs me, however, isn’t even how we have come to believe these myths about the nature of love.  I read the fairy tales, I watched Disney, I’ve seen enough Meg Ryan movies to be mythologized by the happily ever after illusion.  What frustrates me is how we have come to think that somehow, when that feeling ends,  that we cannot revive it by being willing to give the same kind of effort as we once did to the relationship in the beginning.  If we have a plant that is wilting in the corner of the room, and there is a little green left in the stem, all it takes is the desire to bring it back to life by, once again, watering, feeding and nourishing it.  Simple acts such as listening, talking, smiling, complimenting, laughing, agreeing and accommodating, as we did in the beginning, are water and food to a loving relationship.

Maybe we don’t want to give it that effort.   Perhaps we are eyeing a prettier plant in the store window.   Or possibly we have filled our head with so many negative thoughts about our partner so we are now incapable of saying or seeing something positive.  If we tried to talk, did we talk from the heart or merely yell our dissatisfaction to one another? Throwing out a revivable philodendron is one thing, but discarding a relationship has repercussions the rest of our lives.

My 5 year old niece was watching a Disney film.  Cinderella and the Prince were wrapping it up, and I heard the narrator say: “And they lived happily ever after”.  I told her, “Well, now the real work begins!  Tomorrow they will have to begin talking together and making decisions: where to go for the honeymoon, how much to spend, how much time to take off from work, who does the laundry!  Now the struggle really begins.”  It may have been a bit much for my 5 year old niece to grasp, but, you get my point!