Do you ever feel like people aren't really listening to you? It's rare that I find myself in a conversation with anyone who is not also in a conversation with someone else; even though we are the only ones who are actually present. I suppose one could have an unlimited amount of conversations going on at the same time, through any number of means in our digital world. But is this healthy?
I can remember life before call-waiting, which in and of itself seems antiquated now. Those were simpler times, weren't they?
Of course, I am often guilty of the same thing. Trying to keep up with the pace of our culture is getting harder every day. The increasing speed and delineation of communications was really cool at first, and I am as enamored with new gadgets as any other typical guy.
Even the devices we use to multi-task are now multi-tasking themselves. It's not enough to be able to read an email, while talking to someone on speaker phone simultaneously. Now, at the same time, we can also be listening to our favorite music, while downloading podcasts, apps and updates. Amazing, isn't it?
To be honest, I am getting tired of this way of communicating. I want to relearn the joy of having a face-to-face conversation with generally undivided attention. I would like to have just one week where I receive no emails, no texts, no voicemails, and I won't log on to any social networking. If someone wants to talk with me during that week, let's sit down and talk. We can even stand up if the person is in a hurry.
The sad part of this idea is that I would probably worry that I was missing something. I have a number of significant personal and business relationships with people that I haven't spoken to in person for some time, or maybe even ever. In fact the majority of my communication with others is artificial, and most of you could probably attest to the same thing.
Don't get me wrong, the written (or typed) word has been an important form of communication for a millennia. It is no substitute, however, for real human contact. My life seems to be forcing that substitution on me more everyday, and I am planning on bucking the system.
If you were to print all of the "tweets" that have been "tweeted" since "tweeting" became popular in 2008, you would have enough text to fill close to 150,000 copies of a large dictionary.
If each page were laid end-to-end, they would wrap around the earth nearly three times. Considering the fact that tweets are only 140 characters max -- that's a lot of tweeting.
Sadly, the vast majority of tweets that have been posted amount to nothing more than pointless babble and have not resulted in developing strong relationships whatsoever.
But tweeting is so easy. Just like all of our other 21st Century modes of communication. Convenience is one excuse we use. Most of us, however, relate all of this superficiality back to our busy schedules. I don't know about you, but I don't anticipate life slowing down any time soon. I expect quite the opposite in fact. So how can I develop healthy relationships with others that are not limited to some form of digital screen?
The New Testament tells a story about Jesus when he visited the home of two sisters named Mary and Martha in the ancient town of Bethany. The younger sister, Mary, chose to sit at Jesus' feet, enthralled in a conversation and a teaching moment.
Martha, on the other hand, was busy running around the kitchen and the dining area making sure everything was perfect for the meal. As the time for the meal continued to draw near, Martha's irritation with Mary's failure to help grew stronger. Eventually, she decided to speak her mind.
Seeming to have a legitimate grievance, Martha came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"
But Jesus replied, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:38-42, TNIV).
I've been there. But Mary chose to put aside the to-do list, the last minute preparations, and the ultimately meaningless details in order to give her full attention to Jesus. She realized that there was a real conversation of value there and then, without the formality of the dinner table. She was willing to pay attention for the opportunity to strengthen her relationship with Jesus, and He took notice. Not only did He take notice, but He praised her for it.
My advice is to look for these opportunities because they will come your way on a regular basis. We live in a culture that is constantly coaxing us to ignore real human contact in favor of the ease of a digital screen. In all likelihood you will have to be the one to initiate this change, but it will be worth it.
The author Joanna Weaver puts it like this: Let's learn how to have A Mary Heart in a Martha World.
Eric Costanzo is Minister of Community Ministries and a teaching pastor at First Baptist Church in downtown Tulsa.
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