So we sat down at the weekend to play a family game. We’ve been taking it in turns to choose each weekend and it was my turn, so we played Rummy. After explaining the rules, we began playing. I take a card and lay one down, then my husband, my daughter, and my son. I take another card, taking a moment to decide what I’m going to do and then when I look up I see that my children are both on their phones. My husband takes his turn and I see that the children are still not looking at the game at all. I sit back and wait. We go round the table again and the same thing happens. And again. When we take our turns they turn to their phones. They only look up when it’s their turn.
Rude, methinks. Right?
I (wish I could say calmly) insist that the phones are placed at the other end of the table. And the game continues. And it actually is so much more fun with us all present.
Does that scenario ring any bells?
How about this?
You are meeting with friends on Zoom and your phone buzzes with a message from another friend and as you know you can answer it below the eyeline of the camera you do, looking like you’re listening but actually reading and responding to a message from someone else, somewhere else.
Or how about this?
You are out walking with your partner, and their phone pings and in the middle of what you’re talking about with them they pull their phone out of their pocket and engage with the message, zoning you and what you are saying out.
It happens doesn’t it? And not just to us, but by us too.
Over these lockdown months, gadget driven communication has become really important. The way many of us have kept in touch has been through a combination of the chat platforms on offer out there. I wonder what these months would have been like for me without FaceBook, WhatsApp, Zoom.
My children have created an online role playing game. I am very proud of them. They have 68 young people from across the world playing with them – Singapore, India, America, Denmark, Thailand, Canada, UK. It has been so good for them to have a focus, to find a pool of like-minded friends to share this strange time with.
But there has been a downside. This online world that has provided such a good sense of friendship has also meant that their phones have been buzzing and pinging at all hours of the day and night (literally) as people are playing and chatting from their different time zones.
And this has made me think.
In real time, face to face, we don’t expect to be able to keep several meaningful conversations with several different people going at the same time. We don’t, in real time face to face, expect to be able to give more than one person our full attention at a time do we? We wouldn’t have a family group, craft group, Bible study group, friendship group all in the same room all at the same time expecting we could give everyone the same care and attention. And yet, if we’re not careful, our gadget driven relationships can ask this of us every single second of every single day. And we can be so busy trying to be present in so many places to so many people that we end up never being fully present anywhere.
We can be so busy trying to be present in so many places to so many people that we end up never being fully present anywhere.
At the start of this week in my Lent study I was given 2 readings to explore. The readings were Luke 8:40-53 (the feeding of the 5000) and Mark 6:30-44 (Jesus heals a leper). And something struck me. It was the phrase ‘desolate place’.
But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray – Lk 8:16
Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while – Mk 6:31
The word desolate is striking, isn’t it? Because it is usually a negative word. And yet here it seemingly isn’t. A quick look at the dictionary and we find this definition – uninhabited and giving an impression of bleak emptiness. Other words we could use are barren, empty, stark, bare, uninhabited or vacant.
It doesn’t sound too nice, does it? Too comfortable. Too appealing? And yet it is to these places that Jesus went and where he urged his disciples to go.
Jesus sought desolate places. To nourish his soul. To meet with His Father. He sought emptiness.
And this idea stands in such contrast to the ever noisy, phone pinging, buzzing, beeping intrusion so many of us live alongside in our culture.
Jesus urged his disciples to seek desolate places, empty places, barren places, uninhabited places, vacant places.
Is it because the places that looked empty or barren or bleak to human eyes Jesus knew were actually rich and full. Full of His Father’s voice, full of His Father’s love and heart. Full of the things we need.
Could it be that Jesus knew then, as now, we live in a world that is forever trying to distract us away from His Father, deafen us to His Father’s voice? And we need to get away from all the noise, to rest, to pray?
Jesus urged his disciples to go to an empty place. In our culture we are urged to fill our lives up with as much stuff as we can. The mantra that ‘we can never have enough’ powerfully and persuasively drives our consumerist culture and it is no longer just physical possessions we crave. The pressure to consume entertainment is just as powerful. The fact that over lockdown we as a nation have Box set binged, on mass it would seem, is notable. TV channels and viewing platforms have told us ‘we are here for you’ during the lockdown, and will ‘help you get through this’. A touching sentiment. And I know so many of us have been grateful for a good dose of escapism and distraction. But if all we have turned to over this lockdown is our society’s desire to soothe our souls by filling us up with more stuff, then Jesus’s words are here for us to heed today.
Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while
Dare we do something so very counter-cultural? To turn away from all the human noise and human input and seek a desolate place. A place where He can nourish our souls in a way that cannot happen anywhere else. Can we turn for a short while, not just from our phones and our TVs, but our devotional books, journals and our worship CDs, to come starkly into an empty place so we can meet fully with Him.
To be wholly present with His presence.
These lockdown months have been strange. And hard. Some of our homes have been fuller of noise and activity than they have ever been. Some of our homes have been emptier than usual. But whether crowded or empty, desolate places can be hard to find for all of us. And seeking them requires some thought, some creativity perhaps, but also determination and a choice. So …
Where could yours be?
When could you go?
Could you go soon?
Do you need to go soon?
Could you seek a desolate place to rest a while?
Is this something that you really need for yourself just now?
Jesus knows that something quiet, gentle, deep, life-giving, essential awaits us there.
Shall we trust him?
Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
and he who has no money, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live.
Isaiah 55: 1-3a
Come away by yourselves to a desolate place Jesus says and rest a while.