Not long ago, I drove my teenage brother and one of his basketball teammates to an away game. I expected them to talk all the way there, but I soon realized my brother’s friend had brought a portable radio. He popped in his earbuds and listened to music most of the way to the game.
I feel old saying this, but when I was growing up, even adults rarely carried cell phones. If they owned a cell phone, they could only call people when they were within a service area. And no one was texting.
During that car ride, I thought about what it means today to be “present.”. Are we truly present with each other when we’re on our phones? Even if we put our phones in our pockets, the buzzing and dinging and vibrating alerts us — and our friends — to the fact that we’re not entirely focused on the person or persons we’re with.
How can we be more present in this age of technology?
I recently listened to one of my favorite Christmas songs (I know, I know) and noticed something for the first time. In Andrew Peterson’s “Behold the Lamb of God,” he sings:
“Behold the Lamb of God, who died and rose again.
Behold the Lamb of God, who comes to take away our sin.”
Jesus came to us.
We already know this, of course. Even young children in Sunday School can tell you that Jesus came to save us from our sins. In Sally Lloyd-Jones’ “The Jesus Storybook Bible,” she writes that “Mary and Joseph named him Jesus, ‘Emmanuel’—which means ‘God has come to live with us.’ Because, of course, he had.”
But it seems so significant that Jesus came. He didn’t merely send greetings or a list of rules or even a way to save us from afar while holding us at arm’s length. He came to us, literally meeting us where we were.
Technology provides so many benefits, including allowing us to be semi-present in others’ lives when we can’t be fully present. I’m grateful to be able to text or Facebook message friends living in other states or countries.
But as people made in the image of a God who came, and saved by His coming in person to sacrifice himself, we should also be fully present in the truest sense whenever possible. We should aim for that.
So how do we do that?
Worship in person at church. This is hands-down the most important way to be fully present. Again, if our God took the trouble to come to us in person, shouldn’t we take the trouble to gather in person to worship Him? There will be times — maybe even seasons — when attending church in person isn’t possible for you due to health or other circumstances. But don’t let a legitimate reason become an excuse. As much as you can, as quickly as you can, get back to church. It might be hard. It might be awkward if you’re new to the area or need to find a church. But do it. Scripture is so clear on this.
Seek ways to gather with others. Next time you text a friend to see how they’re doing, take it a step further: Suggest you meet up somewhere and talk in person. Try setting aside a weekly time for this. Every Sunday afternoon or Tuesday evening, or whatever day and time works for you, set aside a block of time to get together with someone. You can vary the people you meet with and the places you meet: a restaurant, event, museum, even the zoo. I live about 15 minutes away from a botanical garden that offers memberships, allowing me to take a guest with me every time I go. We get to talk and exercise at the same time.
Be willing to change your schedule. Maybe you’re planning to get your to-do list done this weekend. But if a friend texts or calls — or even if you’re just thinking about them — be ready to change your plans or drop them to be with a friend. “The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life,” C.S. Lewis wrote a friend. “The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life — the life God is sending one day by day.”
I wish I were better at being fully present with my friends. But I can aim to grow in this, often by mirroring how my friends have been present with me. My friends have invited me to go with them to events or even on vacations. They’ve met me for coffee breaks when I need to talk through something.
God’s coming again
Our God came to us in our greatest need. And daily, still, He comes to us again and again, walking with us where we are and never leaving our side no matter what we face. Our God is still with us.
“Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,” the writer of Hebrews encouraged the early Christians. “Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
He wasn’t just writing for first-century Christians. We are even closer to that final day, when our God will come to us again, fully and completely present.
Copyright 2023 Lauren Dunn. All rights reserved.