I believe I am the last human in America who does not own a cell phone. People ask me for my cell number all the time. You should see their faces when I tell them I don’t have one.
"What do you mean?" they’ll usually say, thinking they didn’t hear me correctly.
"I don’t own a cell phone." I say again, trying to sound as normal as possible.
"You don’t own a cell phone?" they repeat in utter disbelief.
"I don’t own a cell phone," I say a smidge slower, over-enunciating my words so that I’m extra clear.
"Wow. You don’t own a cell phone." They’ll undoubtedly repeat again, shaking their heads as if I just told them I was homeless. "Huh. That’s … wow. How do you do it?"
"Do what?" I ask, playing dumb to their dumb question.
"I mean, how do you survive?" they ask with total sincerity, as if living without a cell phone is like living in the desert without any water.
To be honest, I wonder if sometimes my life would be easier with a cell phone. But then I wonder what exactly an "easier" life means. People would be able to reach me at any time of the day or night. So really, life would be easier for other people if I had a cell phone. I think my life would just be busier.
As it is, my home phone rings off the hook. Have you ever tried having a serious conversation on the phone with two toddlers trying to climb your legs as if they were tree limbs? If you were a fly on my wall, you’d hear my side of a phone conversation go something like this:
"Oh, wow. I am so sorry to hear that. That must be—hang on a second—get off the table now and first take the scissors out of your mouth—I’m sorry you were saying? Hmmm. That’s rough, wait, one more sec—I am on the phone and yes, as soon as I’m off I’ll make you some popcorn—Boy, I’m sorry, you were saying? Oh yes, that’s just awful. What can I do to help—Wait. Absolutely not, you may not ride your tricycle nude. Put your clothes back on this minute—I’m sorry, I’m back. Yes, that must be so hard for you."
Needless to say, in this season in life, I don’t really enjoy talking on the phone. It actually makes life harder for me. Email—now that’s the best way to reach me. So my friends tell me I should get a hand held raspberry, blueberry—some sort of electronic berry thing that is portable that allows you to check your email. Initially, I thought this could be a good idea. But when I’m out and about, do I really want to be checking my email? Can’t my email wait?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about this in The Cost of Discipleship in the early part of the last century; clearly a prophetic warning: "Earthly possessions dazzle our eyes and delude us into thinking that they can provide security and freedom from anxiety. Yet all the time, they’re the very source of all anxiety." Of course, when he wrote that in 1937, he wasn’t thinking of cell phones or email or Blackberries. Yet how true his words are today in reference to technology. It’s amazing how these gadgets were created to enhance life, but often, people end up feeling oppressed by them.
In his book, Freedom of Simplicity, Richard Foster writes, "The pace of the modern world accentuates our sense of being fractured and fragmented. We feel strained, hurried, breathless. The complexity of rushing to achieve and accumulate more and more frequently threatens to overwhelm us."
I don’t know about you, but I can relate to feeling breathless. And sadly, what takes my breath away most of the time isn’t a sunset or the snow-covered Pike’s Peak or a beautiful painting, but the 15 new email messages or the eight new voicemails I have.
I remember a couple years ago feeling breathless one night because I was trying to get my girls into bed quick so I wouldn’t miss a show on TV. I was angry when I realized I missed half of it. But sitting there on the couch, I started to hear the whisperings of the Holy Spirit asking me if this was the best use of my time. How did this pull of TV’s mindless entertainment become stronger than my desire to read one more book to my little girls? I felt so ashamed.
Neil Postman in his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, writes about the dangerous distraction of television, saying:
In the age of technology, spiritual devastation is more likely to come from an enemy with a smiling face than from one whose countenance exudes suspicion or hate…. When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments … then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.
I decided to pull the plug on our television that night. The first few days felt like I was going off crack-cocaine. It was tough. But soon I didn’t miss it at all. I loved the extra time I had. Time to do so many things. Or nothing at all. Now there’s a concept that doesn’t come naturally for me: being still.
Charles Spurgeon was a mighty British minister in the late 1800s. I keep a copy of his book, Spurgeon’s Gems, on my desk. The following "gem" relates to this concept of being still:
Some persons say they cannot bear to be an hour in solitude; they have got nothing to do, nothing to think about…. Let me give him the word Jesus, and only let him try to think it over, and he shall find that an hours is naught, and that eternity is not half enough to utter our glorious Savior’s praise.
If Spurgeon thought that back then people couldn’t stand to be silent for an hour, I bet he’d think people today couldn’t handle being still for five minutes. I’m not even sure if I’m able to hold the same train of thought for five minutes. My prayers often sound like this: "Lord, teach me Your will. Help me to follow your plan. To really focus on You and I wonder if I actually did defrost the chicken."
But unlike those in Spurgeon’s time, solitude seems more difficult to grasp today, not because we have nothing to do, but because we have too much to do. Too much to think about. Too many technological tools and gadgets reminding us of things we ought to be thinking about.
Solitude is hard to come by. It must be intentionally sought after. It may require unplugging some things where you live. And even when you do, embracing solitude is a discipline that may take some getting used to. I keep Brother Lawrence’s book Practicing the Presence of God on my nightstand. It’s full of insights into praying without ceasing and learning to be silent before God. I must say, I’m still learning, because usually, I find myself practicing the presence God right into snoozeville. Note to self: do not attempt to be still before God while horizontal.
Finding a balance with technology is key. If it can enhance your life without overwhelming it, you’re good to go. But it can’t hurt to take a break from it now and then. I’ll try to send a letter instead of an email when I can. (Believe it or not, stationery is still sold in many stores). I want to talk less on the phone and more in person. Watch fewer movies and read more books. Spend less time on iTunes and more time singing to God. Take a sabbatical from surfing the Net and try being silent before the Lord of Lords. Maybe I’ll be still and call upon Him now. I’m signed up for unlimited minutes on that. It’s actually a really good plan.