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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

Staying in Touch

A while back I wrote about digital addiction, the increasing engagement we seem to have with digital devices, smartphones, tablets, fitness trackers and voice assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant. But lest you think I am off on a rant about technology or I have turned into a modern-day luddite, I own and use most of these devices. My concern in an earlier post and one I want to take up today is the degree to which these tools that are so undeniably useful have become a focus for our attention, often to the exclusion of other people and things.

So maybe you have done this or had it happen, I know I have. You are sitting at a restaurant with your friends, spouse or partner and someone pulls out their phone and thumbs through their texts or emails, maybe it’s you. Perhaps you are with another person –at home, at a party, in a social setting and they proceed to ignore you while they consult their device. I am embarrassed to say I have done this too. Is this really so bad? In a word, yes.

It isn’t just that we are treating those around us as if they are less important and deserving of our attention as these inanimate objects. That alone, when you spell it out, as I just did, should cause us to question what we are doing. The greater betrayal is that we have become dependent on these tools to feel connected, when all along the people we want to connect with may be right in front of us. I know that there have been times when I have felt a bit like I am in competition with a device for the attention of someone I want to be with. Have you?

Let me expand the frame a bit. In Life, Love and Internet Dating, I wrote about a short story by Tolstoy called the Three Questions. In brief, it is about a young prince who desires to know how he can tell who the most important people are, what the most important time is, and what is the most important thing to do. Wise men from all over the kingdom offer their views but it is clear none of their answers ring true with the Prince. Finally, he summons a poor peasant known to be very old and very wise and he learns the answers to his questions: The most important person he is told, is the one you are with at the moment; the most important time is now, this instant. Tomorrow has not come yet, and the past cannot be reclaimed. Finally, the most important thing to do, he learns, is to give your undivided attention to the one you are with.

Think about it, wouldn’t all our relationships, as couples, in our life and our work, be improved if we were truly dialed in, so to speak, with those we are with? I plead mea culpa, I am guilty as charged of having forgotten this lesson. But there is an even greater lesson in Tolstoy’s story and that has to do with our relationship with that higher being, God.

For those of us who claim to have a relationship with this being, how can we be in the moment with him? I have written before that I often talk with God in the car while on my way someplace. Other times I am working in the yard, walking on the beach or in the park, or doing nothing. Well not exactly nothing. I am doing something tremendously important but it may not look that way to an observer. God does not require a designated place such as church, or a designated moment in time, such as before meals, for us to talk with him. I had a friend who used to have a beer with God. Yes, he did precisely that; sat on his deck with a long neck and had a nice chat with his maker. It seemed perfectly reasonable to him, and it does to me to talk with God anytime and anywhere. He doesn’t need an invitation, he is dialed in to us all of the time. This staying in touch is about more than honoring him, it is about placing our trust and confidence in him to listen to our cares and concerns, and to respond—in his way and in his time to what is on our hearts. Sometimes he responds immediately, other times when it is ripe, but I always feel better after we have had our talk.

If you are reading this post you probably have some faith or you would have given up on me a long time ago. But perhaps it isn’t as fulfilling as you’d like or maybe you question if God really does listen. You are not alone in asking that question. This relationship stuff isn’t easy. It takes time, good listening skills as well as honest expression. But sometimes we treat God as if he were a stage magician, and expect instant responses and miracles delivered with a flourish. We are after all only human and conditioned by our experience to want what we want and to want it now. Patience is not our long suit.

Maybe that is why we feel the need to be in touch all of the time through our phones and devices. We are waiting impatiently for something to happen, hopefully something good. At the least we want to know what is happening to others, friends, loved ones, or even random strangers. Our need to be in the moment with all of them –our need to be connected in the now, is filling a void that only quiet contemplation and a nice long conversation can truly satisfy. So, the next time you are tempted to pick up that digital device just because there is an unfilled moment—try something else. Talk and listen to the one you are with, and if you aren’t with someone, think about talking to God, he is a good listener.

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