A recent article in the New York Times business section tracked the growing use of cell phone technology by younger people. That wasn’t the news. The angle of the story was how young people are using the technology to create new ways of relating that are reshaping the relationships between parents and their children.
The story opens with an encounter between Russell Hampton, president of Walt Disney’s children’s book and magazine publishing division, and his daughter, Katie. He was taking Katie and two friends to a play in Los Angeles.
“Katie and her friends were sitting in the back seat talking to each other about some movie star; I think it was Orlando Bloom,” recalled Mr. Hampton, whose company produced the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, in which the actor starred. “I made some comment about him, I don’t remember exactly what, but I got the typical teenager guttural sigh and Katie rolled her eyes at me as if to say, ‘Oh Dad, you are so out of it.’ “After that, the back-seat chattering stopped. When Mr. Hampton looked into his rearview mirror he saw his daughter sending a text message on her cellphone. “Katie, you shouldn’t be texting all the time,” Mr. Hampton recalled telling her. “Your friends are there. It’s rude.” Katie rolled her eyes again. “But, Dad, we’re texting each other,” she replied with a harrumph. “I don’t want you to hear what I’m saying.”
Cell phones and text messaging, with its unique language (including parent-watch signals like POS – “parent over shoulder’) are a primary force increasingly enabling children “to define themselves and create social circles apart from their families, changing the way they communicate with their parents.” It places children in control of if –and how– they might communicate with their parents. One researcher noticed, “Just because you can reach them doesn’t mean they have to answer… Cellphones give teens more of a private life. Their parents aren’t privy to all of their conversations.” That means some parents set limits, like no cell phones at the dinner table or while the family watches television together. That dad said, “They become unaware of your presence.”
It was at that point that I began to wonder: are there “technologies” of soul that we use in an attempt to keep our heavenly Father from hearing what we’re saying? Or, to put it another way, are there things we do that make us unaware of His presence?
In general terms, a technology is something external to us that we use. So, it seems that many of us use busy-ness as a means of creating a new circle of being and relating. We spin endlessly from morning ‘til night, moving from work to stuff with the kids to church activities to ballgames to…. It just never ends. Such busy-ness means there are no spaces for nothing. No spaces for nothing means no time to dream, create, ponder, reflect, muse, consider or…pray. Busy-ness means the only channel I play is me.
And then there’s noise, or lack of silence. The clock radio kicks you into gear first thing in the morning. You watch the news while you get ready, listen to the radio (music or talk) as you zip around during the day. Maybe you have an I-pod with ear buds plugged in at times. The tv plays in the background through the night until you fall into bed at night. There’s a soundtrack that just never hits pause, so I tend to miss the ‘still, small voice” whispering on the edges of my soul.
What about just being consumed with now? Our minds are filled with bills, work, school, tests, gas prices, the stock market, ‘Dancing with the Stars”, what’s going on with Brad and Angelina, school projects, basketball, what’s on sale at Kohl’s, the price of milk, asking for a date, ordering a latte at Starbucks, going to the dentist, dealing with a sticky gearshift, double cheeseburgers, planting tulip bulbs, watching old movies, collectible bobbleheads, surfing on-line, running a mile, playing peek-a-boo, college applications (or tuition), politics, global warming, walking the dog and on and on and on…. When thoughts never stretch beyond the borders of the world I can see with my eyes, I may be unaware of the expansiveness of a world beyond ours – or the Presence that is in both.
In all of these ways ( and a dozen more like worry or planning), we can arrange our lives so that we never really engage our dad, our Abba-even when He is right next to us. In all of these ways, we can miss His presence, which means we may miss His wisdom, hope, joy, peace, love and guidance as well.
Maybe we just need to stop talking
and simply hear our Father say, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
Maybe, like Elijah, we need to step outside the cave of our little world and stand in the huge space where God is. “And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire, the sound of a still, small voice (some translators say “a thin silence”). And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak…and there came a voice to him….” (1 Kings 19:11-13)
The silence invited Elijah to hear the voice of His Father. He stopped talking around dad, and was able to hear His Abba. And that makes all the difference.