No one is afraid of the dark. No one is afraid of silence. What we fear when the lights are out or the room is quiet is that there is an unknown threat. At least when the lights are on and the noise is deafening, we are aware of our surroundings and know the threats. Don’t believe me? Consider the last text message you sent. Were you comforted or disturbed by how long it took to get a response? How old were you when shadows stopped being monsters?
The truth of the matter is that I am afraid of boredom. I am afraid of Sabbath, I am afraid of rest. But I am not really afraid of being bored, or of being at rest. I am afraid of irrelevance. I am afraid that the silence means that I lack value. If my phone is not blowing up with retweets and texts and comments, if my calendar is not full of social engagements, if my workday is not slammed with meetings, appointments and projects, then I am losing relevance and purpose. And thus, I am losing value. My phone is never off, nor is it off my person, and I have gotten to the point where I can’t even watch TV anymore because I get bored at the commercials and reach for the next Facebook update or round of Words with Friends. And I am not alone. I am almost 30, and much of my generation (virtually all of the younger generations) deals with the same problem.
I think the problem isn’t so much an attention deficit, at least not at the core. I think the problem is an identity deficit. The problem isn’t that I find it hard to give someone my full attention with my phone vibrating on my hip, it’s that I find it hard to want to give my full attention. After all, that notification could be an invitation to the next thing or a question from a friend- proof of value.
So today I left my devices behind and took a half hour walk in a nearby neighborhood. I did nothing but pay attention. I saw the Michigan fall colors, felt the crisp air, and talked to God about some of my stuff… I should say “thought really hard with God about some of my stuff,” as I didn’t want to be offputting to my neighbors. And then I listened and kept walking. I had no great revelations, no audible voice, just the very real impression that “we should do that again some time.” The world did not fall apart. In fact, I did not miss a single e-mail, Facebook message, tweet, text or phone call during that time. Despite not having my phone’s clock on me, I was not late for my next appointment. I simply had thirty minutes of attentiveness. And peace. I had lots of peace, even when wrestling with God a little. Thirty minutes may not seem like much, but it meant a lot to me.
I wonder about the life-giving power of paying attention. I wonder how different my sense of mission would be if I spent more time paying attention to the people around me than the notifications on my phone. I wonder if I would stop trying to prove myself and instead would just be myself if I paid more attention. I wonder if I would stop trying to get God figured out and simply enjoy God more if I paid more attention. Part of Reformed spirituality is the notion that we do not act on our own, but that we participate in what Christ is already doing, and I wonder how paying attention might impact my participation with God. What do you think?