Connected but Alone #3

Hi all,

Chris and I were at the store picking up a few items, and though we were headed to the food department, we always stop by the toys to look at the cars and trucks. He loves all things car and truck, from the characters of the ‘Cars’ movies – Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater – to Herbie the Love Bug to whatever strikes his fancy that day. Easiest to handle and therefore his favorite are the ‘Matchbox’ cars – those little metal cars of all makes and models – some modeled after real cars, some imaginary.

Normally Chris’ attention is focused on whatever is within arm’s reach, but on this day he saw the display of ‘Matchbox’ cars from way off; “Look dad, look! Look at the cars!” As you can see from the picture, if you count the rows there are 72 cars on display, with more cars behind each of the ones in the front.

He quickly and forcefully rolled up to the display and started putting cars in the basket so fast that I started laughing at his pure glee, and took the picture. He would grab one, carefully examine it, then say ‘I want this one’ as he dropped it in the basket and returned his attention to the next car on display.

He loves those moments when he is totally in charge such as these, so we allow some freedom in the store, and that’s how he ended up with 2 new cars that he picked out that day!

Though he lived at home for his first 24 years and had say in what he wanted to do and when, the move to the group home 8 years ago meant giving up a lot of control in his life. With 7 other people living in the home and 2 aides, life for him has become a matter of doing what the group is doing, and much of that is unchangeable routine.

The bus to the workshop leaves at 8:30am, someone wheels him onto the bus lift, he does what is set before him at workshop, returns to the home about 3:30pm, has a snack, dinner about 5:30, bed around 8pm, medicine is given at 8am, 12, 8pm/20:00 every day, and so on, all at the direction of others.

By contrast, when I pick him up to come home for the 2 days and 1 night each week when we are in town, my first question to him is ‘What do you want to do?’ Because I get him at 8:30am when the others are headed to workshop, his normal reply varies:
“Hmmm, donuts I think” or “Let’s go to McDonalds” as he loves the #9 breakfast burritos with a carton of milk.

Then we may park near an intersection or by the train tracks as the Lord nearly always seems to arrange for a train to come because “Jesus just loves trains”, and then we begin our ‘errands with dad’. Our errands usually take until about 3pm, some at his direction, and that’s why we were at the store the day this picture was taken.

Instant control, instant communication

Our lives are not unlike Chris’ in that most of the time we live according to what the group is doing. From the time we awaken the expectations of others are upon us. We rise, eat, and go to work or school to be somewhere at a set time, with tasks set before us by day, week, and month.

But when the end of the day comes we have many choices before us like the display of 72 cars at the store: What shall I choose?

For many, the first thought is to ‘connect’ online in one or more social groups. This age of instant communication allows us to be fully in control of our lives, or at least provide the illusion it is so. We can put our attention wherever we want it to be: Let me see who is on Facebook Messenger right now. What are people saying on the groups I’m in? Maybe I need to check the farm in Farmville. Let me open Skype to see who is online I can call or instant message…

Of all the choices to make, rarely do we choose ‘nothing’. ‘Nothing’ isn’t on display grabbing our attention. Today, being alone is often a result of not connecting rather than a choice we make to be alone.

A problem to be solved

Being alone feels like a problem to be solved not something to be desired. We have so many choices we don’t know what to do with ourselves.

If you don’t learn how to be alone, you will be lonely.

Having people around you, electronically or real, isn’t a cure for loneliness. Loneliness is defined as: An unpleasant feeling in which a person feels a strong sense of emptiness.

But that emptiness can’t be totally filled by ‘net friends because though righteousness comes through knowing Christ, it is unproven all by itself. God designed that righteousness is proven within personal and close relationships. Cyber-only relationships therefore don’t by themselves, allow us to prove and walk out our righteousness.

Here is the difficulty: Technology appeals to us where we are most vulnerable. Picking up from last week, living vicariously through those in our online social network means if our weakness is genuine friendships or loneliness, we can become over balanced towards ‘connecting’ as soon as our time is our own.

When I was growing up ‘electronics’ meant a radio or the 4 channels on the TV. We had to spend time with ourselves, it wasn’t a discipline, it wasn’t something we had to schedule. We were the entertainment so we knew ourselves. We knew what it was like to be alone and play by ourselves.

The first clue for many that things were changing was a popular 1970′s TV commercial whose line was: ‘Calgon take me away’ as the viewer saw a woman taking a leisurely bubble bath as the troubles of the day melted away. ‘Me time’ now had to be scheduled. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MVLzkTuVmrw for you youngsters :)

When we choose to be constantly (electronically) connected we think we aren’t alone – the social networks provide the illusion of meaningful relationships, but are in fact ‘inadequate’, and that’s why the more some connect to social networks the more alone they feel. It is counter-intuitive; the more we are connected in social media the more we feel lonely.

Feel like yourself?

If we don’t know how to be alone we don’t feel like ourselves if we aren’t connected. We feel like something is wrong, out of sorts. We turn to others to feel less anxious or to feel alive, which means we are using them for our gratification, for our own selfish ego and purposes to support our fragile selves.

We must learn to be alone, to use social networks to bless others rather than a means of self-gratification to support our fragile ego. But how do you learn to be alone?

Finding the wavelength

What were you doing the last time you felt the Lord’s presence? What were you doing the last time you know for sure He showed you something or spoke to you? Was it while studying the Word? Were you taking a walk, riding a bike, driving aimlessly, riding the bus, taking a long bubble bath?

Now look for patterns through the years, connect the dots to those times you received revelation or felt His presence or know that He spoke to you – do you see that during those times you were in a certain frame of mind, a sort of ‘wavelength’. Like the old radios where you’d have to move the dial back and forth to tune in to the strongest signal, look for the patterns of where and how He has communicated to you in the past and return to that ‘wavelength’.

Set aside ‘me’ time and don’t feel guilty about it. Separate yourself from your devices – off or silent and in another room – and get yourself into the mental place where you’ve had the Lord communicate/reveal to you in the past…and know yourself…which is where we’ll pick it up next week. Until then, blessings,

John Fenn

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