Beauty in Looking Up.

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It’s been awhile, almost exactly a year since my last blog post. Maybe there is something about the holidays that gets me especially introspective. I’ve been writing a lot lately. I decided to participate in Nanowrimo this year, which has required me to sit down everyday for an hour (at the very least) and really hammer out some writing. Today the fiction wasn’t coming. Everyone has been sick off and on in our home, and something else poured out of my fingers (I wonder if I can count this toward my word goal, I mean technically I am writing today right? I have to update those word counts!). It’s too long for a Facebook post, definitely not fiction or even creative writing really, but here it is. A journal entry maybe? Regardless, it felt like it was something I needed to share. Except, Nanowrimo has made me a reclusive writer and I don’t feel like sharing anything. But I’ll be obedient, maybe my mind just needed a break from the dialogue and plotting and scenes. There have absolutely been some things on my mind lately, so here they are. Blogging isn’t a medium I am particularly attracted too, so I can’t say I will begin updating with any regularity, but I have created more space in my life for writing, and listening and maybe these sorts of things will start to come at least more than yearly.

Which is a very long-winded way of saying: I’ve been doing a Bible study by John Ortberg with the women at my church called Soul Keeping. It is this idea that you need to take care of your soul, that you are its keeper. The thing that has struck me the most, is this idea of ordering our days so that we can find contentment and peace within them, and that the key to this is often eliminating hurry so we can focus on God in the small moments throughout our days. Before I started this study though, the Holy Spirit convicted me about social media as a form of idolatry, a stand in, a numbing agent that I used in place of God. It was the first thing I reached for in almost every aspect of my life, and I was realizing this was a problem.

I deleted social media from my phone and all internet access and resolved to use it less, and in better ways. Social media can be a great tool, and I didn’t want to throw out the baby with the bath water so to speak, so I created limits and boundaries. Facebook often makes me feel hurried, especially around my kids. I was always vaguely aware of this. The effect logging off has had on my life in just a few short weeks has been profound. In the beginning, I found I was running an almost constant commentary in my head almost completely devoted to statues updates. Of course, I had no status to update because logging in to my ancient laptop with spotty wifi took way more effort than I cared to give. But still in my mind, I would update; as I did laundry, cleaned the house or did the dishes or played with the kids, my mind would still make up these silly status updates a part of my mind had been devoted at all times, to updating Facebook, even when I didn’t have access to it. Usually it was something I thought was clever, or was complainy or whatever. A compulsion to update. I didn’t realize this until I had been disconnected for a while; it was not an instant realization. It took time for my mind to adjust to the diminished noise and realize how much it had actually been completely plugged in.

And then the Holy Spirit stepped in. After years of hurry and distraction and the buzzing of my newsfeed on my phone, always in the palm of my hand, this access at my fingertips, those status updates dissipated. There was a quiet in my mind. The quiet was hard.

There was a moment when I was pulling my sons laundry from the drier. There was an overwhelming amount of clothes, and still so much left to do. We were potty training and going through several pairs of pants a day, and my whole house seemed to smell of pee. My youngest two kids were napping and my oldest was in school and I decided to try and play catch up a bit. My husband was sleeping after an exhausting change in work schedule once again and I was really alone. I remember, as I pulled out another pair of cars underwear and piled it into my hand, this realization came, that I was sad. I was just really sad. And I sat there, on my laundry room floor and I felt it wash over me. I didn’t have Facebook to numb me, I didn’t have a clever status in my head about hashtag-motherhood and hashtag-nightshift and hashtag-potty training, I just had space in my brain to be sad. My soul was breathing again after so long of being suffocated.

 

So I prayed. I asked God, Father why am I so sad?

           

A simple prayer. with profound implications.

 

I had been pushing it down and away so long, hiding it, that it had been escaping in other ways, usually bursts of anger towards my kids or my husband, an absolute lack of patience, and no grace for myself as a wife, mother, human being. I hadn’t even realized it had been sadness. On my laundry room floor, with a pile of warm laundry on my lap, I heard the Holy Spirit whisper to my heart,

 

You are sad because you miss your friends, and the home that you made in Arizona. Because you knew moving to Oregon wouldn’t bring your Dad back, but you were surprised by how many small things you remember now.

Will you let me hold it?

 

And it hit me like bricks. I was sad, I was missing my old life after a cross country move that happened in different ways than I imagined. A move that I had waited for, for ten years,  a move that did not fit with my preferred timing, why now God, why not then? God’s timing is so different sometimes, and I was numbing the pain, but not acknowledging it, and if I didn’t acknowledge it, and if I didn’t trust my God with it, or even myself, it would never get better. The sadness would turn to bitterness, and bitterness is a poison who’s spindly fingers creep into every other area of life. I would be stuck in this cycle of ignoring and lashing out at those I love most. It’s something I tell my kids so often, it’s okay to be sad, feel that, and then move on, let it go, but I hadn’t been practicing it on my own. I let myself feel that sadness. I trusted my God was big enough to hold it. He is the healer, and I could trust him to heal me. And there was an abiding and deep calm in the midst of that sadness. I just felt it, walked through it.

And God was there. While I did my dishes sad, while I vacuumed my floor sad, while I picked up my daughter and made dinner sad, and went through bed times sad. My heart was sad, but I wasn’t in a hurry anymore, I wasn’t afraid or confused by my feelings, because my God was walking beside me. My soul was breathing and even joyful, even if my heart felt sad. The Holy Spirit reminded me in that place, that we are eternal beings, and goodbyes are so unnatural to us. They were never meant to be, and so we struggle against distance and separation; distance from each other, and from God. And then He reminded me, in the middle of my day, in the middle of that space that I had made because my head was no longer full of status updates and cleverness and memes and politics and arguing, that He was doing a new thing in me, and that I must let go of the past and forget the former things and embrace the newness, because He is only good.

 

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:18-19

 

My soul, my inner life, had become a wasteland, and finally the streams had begun to flow again, once I removed the constant dam social media was creating, there was space for the new things. New life could sprout and take hold. I’m still walking in this place of opening myself up to the new, and unfurling my grip on the past and what I think should have been. I have great hope for the future, future friendships, future church family, future callings on my life, future opportunity, but it can be so hard when we miss what was familiar,even if it was destructive. Nostalgia gets us and it becomes so easy to choose distraction and hurry instead choosing solitude and space. It’s so easy to scroll through pictures and memories instead of dwell in the here and now, especially when the here and now didn’t happen as we expected or hoped. Social media can make it so easy to stay there, with the former things, instead of embrace what God is holding out to us if we only look up.

Solitude is scary, because we are alone with our hurts and pains. And after so long of not feeling, of pushing down, of plugging up, what begins to surface can be old things, things we thought were left far behind, but have been lurking around, weighing on our inner parts. Perhaps this is why Dallas Willard said hurry is the great spiritual enemy of our time. We have lost our ability to sense what is going on beneath the surface. Scrolling through newsfeeds keeps it all at bay, or so we think, as we unravel from the inside out. A gnawing pit grows inside of us that we cannot name.

We are a culture that loves feelings, that treats them as ultimate truth, and yet actively seeks to numb them when they arise, creating spiritual zombies. We are walking around consuming media, but inside we are hollow and dead. We no longer experience our lives in real time, we instead filter them through the lense of social media and in so doing, we lose touch with our deepest selves; the deepest part of us that longs for communion with God, the soul. We shut off the stream, stem the flow, and whither without realizing. Fine we yell! We are all fine! But we are the furthest thing from fine and the evidence is stacking up around us.

It makes sense then that Satan is called the enemy of our soul. He has us feeding ourselves with numbing distraction and hurry so that we don’t even realize we are no longer hearing God’s voice. It seems so benign on the surface, whatever it is we are choosing to fill our souls with, social media, the news, shopping, Netflix all of the above. None of those things are bad, until we use them to numb ourselves. One hit of Facebook to get me through the next fifteen minutes. Until I need another. We drown Gods voice out with screens and think we are staying connected. We also drown out the voices of those we love most, our spouses, our kids, our families and friends. We scroll through even as they are standing in front of us, asking us to see them, to love them, in the flesh. Or maybe they aren’t listening either, maybe they are plugged in too, maybe when you look up, vaguely aware of what you are doing, you see they weren’t really there anyways, but locked into their screens too. And it hurts, and you look down again at your hands, because it hurts too much to be so separate from real people in the same room, and your scroll through in the very name of connection, instead of looking up to the face of God, who wants to take that hurt away and build authenticity and deep connection in our life. God is waiting for us to look up to him, and I can’t help but wonder how it feels, when He sees us looking down instead.

Even now that my phone is often left plugged in upstairs, or in my purse, or even misplaced, I still notice when my kids ask me a question, their eyes look quickly to my hand first, to see if mommy is actually listening this time. My heart breaks. They have learned that mommy has a third appendage, connected to her hand, sucking her attention away, her ability to see and listen. They have learned that they must compete with the phone that hand so is tightly clenching for attention. May I embrace them instead.

 Lord, this is my prayer. I want to be a listener; I want to be a woman who listens to God’s voice, to her husband, to her precious children. I want to listen and see. I want to value what is before my eyes more than my newsfeed, and become able to discern the lies I tell myself. The fiery darts that the enemy has sent that I have willingly accepted.

I was driving in my car last week when I thought I really hate myself. I am a terrible person. I have no doubt I have said this to my self over and over. A terrible lie from the pit of hell, but I didn’t notice it. It was lost in the noise, the distraction, the hurry. I was never alone with my thoughts so they went by unnoticed, hazy. But there was always this sense of inadequacy in my life, of not being enough. And I stopped myself, I was awake now, looking up and shocked with what I heard, with what I realized I had been allowing myself to listen too. No wonder I felt inadequate.

And that is where this conviction comes from. This is why it is so important for the Church to wake up. Arise O’ sleepers, rise from the dead and Christ will give us light. Social media has lulled too many of us in the church into complacency and sleep, hypnotized by the magic little devices in out hands, but God wants us fully awake, fully engaged, fully alive and conscious. Christ died so that we might have life, not social media accounts.

Now when I log on, which I still do, maybe once a day during downtimes, or after bedtime, status updates seem less important, and my newsfeed is so much less satisfying. But I am so much more satisfied in life, in my every day small moments. I rarely bother to scroll through much anymore. I see the noise for what it is. I smile at the pictures of my beautiful friends and their babies. I weigh my posts much more carefully and maybe share a funny meme with people I love, but I get bored quickly and log off because I know this is not where deep connection is found. This will not heal me, this will not make me feel whole or included or enough. Only God can. There is so much more space now, so much less hurry, and so much more God, so many more small moments, tiny hours. Scripture and songs come into my head throughout my day, claiming that space for God, space that once had been laid at the altar of social media.

And my soul can breath again.

And I wonder Church, is your soul breathing or is it caught in the dam of social media? Is the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of the body of Christ? Or are we drowning Him out with the voices of our devices, allowing them to set us on a dangerous autopilot through out lives? Moments matter, and they are being stolen. May the church wake up, and use social media with mindfulness and thoughtfulness instead of holding it up as an idol. Because there is freedom when we give up control and give space to God. Our souls can wake up, and breathe again.

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