The Practice of Looking Up

IMG_1224I’m disturbed by the thought that if Jesus were standing in front of me today, I might miss Him.

I traveled to my hometown in Michigan over the holidays with my husband and our 3 month-old. This was our first time on a plane with a baby, and within seconds of stepping foot on the aircraft I frantically repented of years of scoffing at parents with crying babies and begged Jesus to have mercy on my soul and surround us with gracious and compassionate human beings. A friend told us they brought earplugs for everyone on the plane the first time they had their baby in tow. At the time, I laughed. But as I boarded the plane and the reality of being in an inescapable closed space set in, I prayed for earplugs to rain down from heaven like sweet manna.

Luckily, our flights were short and our baby did pretty well, all things considered.

But between wiping spit up off my black shirt and digging toys out of the diaper bag, I noticed something about everyone on the flight. And, as I reflected more, everyone in the airport. A large majority of people were looking down the entire time. Whether their attention was captured by a phone, a laptop, an iPad, or a book, I saw very few people looking up.

And as I picture that setting now—hundreds of people gathered together who have yet to see each others’ eyes—I wonder what would happen if Jesus walked down the hallway of an airport. Or even the center aisle of a plane. Would our eyes even shift? Would he get any attention from us whatsoever?

If Jesus was right in front us, would we miss Him?

Even though it seems we’re more available than ever because of all the different avenues at which we can be reached—phone call, text, Facebook message, Instagram message, Snapchat—I’d say, as a people, we’re less available than we’ve ever been. Just yesterday I was talking to Brenin when my phone “ding”ed. I better I check it quick, I think. I do—it’s an email from my boss. I’ll just read it quick to make sure it’s not urgent. Meanwhile, I hear Brenin, “Hello?” I snap out of it. “I asked who gave us this toy for Eleanor,” he says. Really? I straight up didn’t even hear him speak. I’m not even sure I realized we were still in the same room.

Oops.

We’re becoming a green light, online, “typically answers messages within seconds” society. We’re willing to be interrupted by what lights up and makes noise, but because we’ve gotten so distracted by the flashy, we’re missing the quiet, inconspicuous, fleshy moments. Real abundant life doesn’t demand our attention. We’re not going to get a notification when our marriage needs tending to or the Spirit is leading us to pray for a friend. Nothing is going to pop up on our phone to tell us, “Stop! Look into your child’s eyes right now and notice how blue they’ve gotten” or “You’ve got a few friends who are feeling lonely lately, why don’t you invite them for dinner?” or “You seem a bit frazzled, what have you done for your soul lately?”

No one is teaching me this more than my own infant daughter. When she started recognizing me and smiling at me, it was all over. She had my heart. She was finally a real human, not just an alien-like poop machine! Her smile was so precious, of course I wanted to take pictures of it. But it seemed like each time I’d pull out my phone for a picture, she’d wipe the smile off her face and replace it with a blank stare. I put down the phone and out comes the smile again. Why? Proverbial smack in the forehead. Because she liked looking at my face, not a rectangle! And who better than a baby—the most vulnerable of human life, and the most honest about its basic needs—to remind us what’s really important? What brings us feelings of true joy, safety, comfort, connection? Real human relationships. That’s where abundant life lives—in us. In each other.

Jesus said the kingdom is like buried treasure, so it’s not just going to jump out at us. Are we willing to look for it? Do we even know how to find anything without GPS? Do we know how to search for something without Google?

Who do we ask about our lives most often, the Spirit or Siri?

I’m asking myself these questions not because I’m anti-technology or because I don’t think God and wifi can occupy the same space, but because I don’t want to become a slave to screens. I’m pretty sure most of us know, at least to some degree, that too much technology is detrimental to our souls. And yet, we really don’t have the option to go without it.

So what do we do?

How do we create healthy boundaries for ourselves? How do we remember—and live like—our identity comes from the love Jesus has for us, not from the amount of likes we get? Where do we draw the line between taking thousands of pictures of our lives or setting the phone down and being content with just a memory (more specifically, a memory that Facebook won’t remind us of later)?

I don’t know a lot of these answers. I’m still asking the questions. And I think that’s okay. In fact, I think asking these questions and working them out day by day is more beneficial than renouncing technology altogether. If this is the way the world is moving, as they say, then we’d be wise to find ways to engage the world without completely forfeiting our souls.

In a world where people are shouting over each other and all the voices are overwhelming, Holy Spirit, teach us to listen to You. In a culture where our memories are measured by the amount of likes they get, Jesus help us to recognize our unseen, unfiltered, ordinary moments as sacred ones. In a climate where it’s easy to share thoughts and opinions with the click of a button, Lord grant us the humility to be quick to listen and slow to speak. In a space where we’re tempted to post what we think will impress others, help us consider what would best serve others. In a time when it’s easier to look down at a screen, teach us the practice of looking up: at the sky, at our own reflection, at the living, breathing person across from us. In a world where it’s easy to follow just about anything, show us how to follow You.

Even if we have no idea where to start and the idea of finding the perfect balance between true presence and online presence feels impossible, there’s a simple step we can start with: look up. It sounds elementary, like it should be instinctual, but soon it may not be. Practice the discipline of looking up, because when we’re looking up, we’re available to see Jesus.

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