Connected but Alone #1

Hi all,
Our son Chris loves to ‘help’ at the store. I get a cart/buggy and pull it from the front, while Chris in his wheelchair holds onto the handle so that he is pulled along as I pull the cart. Though Chris is 32, having the umbilical cord around his neck during labor and delivery rendered him about a 4 year old mentally. Also, a stroke at age 17 took away the use of his left hand, so he hangs on to the cart and waits for me to stop, where he then helps put groceries into our cart.

Blessed with the blunt honesty of a child, he especially loves making turns because he swings wide as we turn, calling out ‘watch out old man’ or ‘watch out lady’, or for those with cowboy hats on, ‘watch out cowboy here I come’. (In our part of the world, cowboys are real, and it isn’t unusual to see a man or woman in hat, chaps, spurs, in a store) I always have to tell him to say ‘excuse me’ instead of ‘watch out’, which he does, but the lesson never sticks, so the next time we repeat the pattern – ‘watch out old man’…lol. Living in a small town, most of the cashiers and many customers know us, as I even get asked when going to the store alone, ‘Where is your helper today?’

Let me insert here for those who might email me about Chris’ healing, that Chris loves the Lord, and has had the Lord speak to him at least 2x that I know of. Chris’s faith is such: “When I get to heaven I won’t need my wheelchair, I’m going to run” and “Jesus told me (when I get to heaven) He is going to walk through the mountains with me!”

Due to his brain damage, time is a concept lost on Chris. Next week is the same as in 3 days, and 3 days as next week. As a result, we have been unsuccessful in teaching him that he can be healed now, so to him healing isn’t something to be desired. He knows Jesus is going to walk with him in the mountains one day, that the Lord loves trains, and that he won’t need a wheelchair when he gets to heaven, and that is enough. The rest is just what it is and he is happy.

Numerous visitations with the Lord have been in our living room with Chris asleep mere steps away. One visitation the Lord was standing on my left while Chris was seated in his wheelchair on my right, just a slight reach for the Lord to touch Chris, but He did not, choosing for whatever reason to meet Chris where Chris’ faith is; that when he gets to heaven he won’t need a wheelchair.

Check Out Line
And so it was one day, the day this photo was taken, that we were in the check out line with a woman in front of us who had a small child in the child’s seat of the cart.

Our practice is for Chris to be first in the line, then me, then the cart/buggy. I pull items from our cart/buggy and give them to Chris, who then helps by putting them on the belt for the cashier. He is always enthusiastic and the first item that day was a can that he threw onto the belt which then rolled like a cylindrical bowling ball towards the cashier with enough force to get a strike had it been in a bowling alley!

That’s when I noticed the lady in front of us, who was texting madly on her smart phone, completely ignoring her 2 year old in the seat and the actions of the cashier, who needed the woman to slide her card to complete the transaction. I looked at her, then to the cashier who was silently staring the customer down with the look of ‘Lady, there are people in line so please notice we are all waiting on you!’ Her ignored 2 year old was playing with the last couple plastic sacks of items which needed to be loaded into the cart/buggy, and the cashier was keeping an eye on the little girl as well, making sure she didn’t grab a sack and empty the contents onto the floor.

I looked behind us, and the 3 other people in line were also staring at the woman, still texting away, caught up in her world. Connected, but alone. Surrounded, but disconnected. Finally the cashier politely said ‘Just slide your card please’ and the woman returned to planet earth, slid her card and completed the sale, never looking around to connect with her surroundings, never seeing the line, never seeing the rolling eyes and shaking of the head of the cashier.

So this series is about the effects of being connected yet living in a world unconnected from real people, real relationships, real growth and personal development. Many studies have been done and much written about technology’s affect on society, but my interest here is Christians and growth in Christ, and how we believers are affected.

Christians, Fellowship, and False Friendships
Technology allows us to tweet, email, friend, text, instant message, Skype, and connect at will with people all over the world, yet I hear over and over that Christians are among the hardest to get actual face time with. From the business person to church person, actually sitting down together and getting to know one another is as difficult as catching a butterfly with bare hands; You think it has settled on the flower, but just as you get close it flies off to another flower, and you are left standing empty handed and discouraged.

You’ve probably experienced or observed that people say things via email they would never say if they were face to face with a person. I went to a Tulsa TV station web site recently because they have the best weather radar, and their lead news item was about local Union members wanting to switch Unions to represent them at work. The story included a photo of several men in a room at a meeting.

When I scrolled down to look at the comments, people had emailed in rude comments on the story about the big belly of one man, the rough and dirty look of another, how they looked lazy, and so on.

Shallow people, more shallow as Christians
I get the same type of comments just by the nature of these Weekly Thoughts and my e-newsletter. People who subscribe for a year or two will suddenly get offended at something I say, send off a rude and insulting email to me, and unsubscribe. They may have received 50 or 100 or 200 or more emails from me over the last couple of years, but if I write 1 thing they don’t agree with, or they have read something into what I wrote (that I never intended), or the article touches their ‘hot’ button of where they were hurt in the past, suddenly I get a nasty, hate filled, rude email from them.

Forget the fact their lives have been changed by the other 99 or 199 emails/teachings over the last couple of years – regular emails from me and even emailing back and forth in some cases has allowed a familiarity, yet the distance and anonymity of email allowed them to lob insults and hate without fear of repercussion. Like the people responding to the news story above, you just know if we were face to face they would never say what they wrote in email.

Some Christians are almost willing to do away with real friendships, because the machines seem to be listening to them. The machines never challenge them, make them think, or cause them to face their own heart. Machines are safe, and relationships through those machines are safe. They allow a distance between people lest someone get too close, which might cause me hurt.

Mankind has never been as connected as it is today, yet 25% of Americans have no close friends and the average number of friends for the remaining 75% has dropped from 4 to 2, corresponding with the rise of technology’s ability to connect us. (June 2006 American Sociological Review)

The Illusion of Friendship
Our machines give us the illusion of friendship without the demands of friendship. Our machines give us a false sense of connectivity, a false sense of intimacy. You may see a notice on Facebook, ‘I have a cold today’, and feel sorry for the person, even lifting a prayer for their quick recovery, and you feel connected to them. A person may tweet that they passed their test today, getting 96%, and you send a quick note of congratulations.

And while that is good as far as it goes, that usually IS as far as it goes. The person who writes a ‘Get well soon, praying for you’ on Facebook, and tweets ‘Congratulations, way to go!’, may be living all alone, maybe suicidal, without a church family, without a job or friends, but the connectivity our machines provide give people a false sense of friendship.

As a result in many cases, the more a person connects, the more alone they feel. Like eating a meal while you’re still half full from the previous meal, you don’t taste the food and don’t enjoy it for there is no inner fulfillment. That same emptiness happens when we have no true face to face friends but just a strong network of online friends. We are lonely but are afraid of intimacy.

Enter the Lord
Many Christians don’t know how to be alone with themselves, and therefore don’t know how to be alone with the Lord. They run to the prophet for a word because they don’t truly know the Lord because they’ve not learned how to be alone, and alone with Him. They run to meetings for answers, willingly forgetting and neglecting the fact Christ lives in them and is as close as an investment in time and effort to get to know Him.

Like the woman in the check out line, the moment there was a lull in life, the moment her attention wasn’t focused on her daughter or the process of paying for groceries, her mind went to ‘connecting’ with someone via a text conversation because it is easy, convenient, and non-threatening.

Yet we realize the great people of faith knew how to be alone: Abraham looking at the stars and receiving the revelation he would be the father of a people as numerous as they. Young shepherd David alone in the fields around Bethlehem, communing with the Lord in solitude. Jesus going off by himself into the wilderness or mountain or quiet place where He could be alone to be with the Father in prayer.

Your life counts! How do we develop our walk with the Lord while also being connected electronically to so many? How do we cultivate personal solitude as well as genuine friendships? How do we discover our purpose and what role do relationships have in that? What are other effects of technology on friendships?

That’s where I’ll pick up next week, until then, blessings,
John Fenn

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