She follows me upstairs, after we return from some festive errand, and we drop our bags on the floor. She touches my shoulder, gripping me lightly, catching my gaze.
“Will you do something for me?” She asks, as though the possibility exists that I will say “no,” though we both know I never would.
“Sure,” I say, waiting, smiling into her eyes, deep brown and ageless, like her soul.
“While I have the kids, turn off your phone. Please? Will you do that for me?”
God opened a cavernous place in her, years ago, to knit me together. She knows the tones in my voice, the angles of my smile. She knows the things that weigh me, the things that rip, the things that simmer. All this, she carries with me, silently, without criticism or question. She knows why I live and not just how, and so she entrusts me daily to the One. It isn’t often that she asks me to do something for her. I’m not surprised that when she does, it’s something like this, a request that immediately feels like a relief.
“Yes.” Children, obey your parents, and I am wise enough now to listen to her, even if she makes a request of it and not an imperative. I smile, nodding.
“Yes.” I don’t know if she had expected an argument from me, but she seems surprised that I have agreed so quickly. The truth is that I have been thinking of this for a while, that all our quick, easy access to each other has it’s disadvantages. Impulsivity and urgency have begun to replace thoughtfulness and preparation. As a society, we rapidly lose respect for time coming, for waiting, for the marination of thought. We forget how precious a thing it is to be invited. Interruptions and distraction slowly deteriorate our peace and meditation, our focus on meaningful interactions. It’s becoming offensive to focus on just one thing at a time, and on the whole, we have less patience.
Mom and I sat in a restaurant with a sister-friend just before Christmas, and after the hostess explained that we could pay to play games on digital consoles at our table, the three of us entered into a long discourse about the way that electronic devices have begun to interrupt our relationships. Directly across from us, a man and woman sit together in a booth for two, both thumbing screens with one hand, lifting their forks over steaming plates. Noticing them, we scan the restaurant and see the same scene repeated over and over again, people together but living online. I think of the way it happens with me sometimes in the afternoon, how I will be open and available to my children, how they spin around me like held planets, and I misread a moment and check my phone and then suddenly realize they’re standing waiting for my attention, needing me, feeling as though I am more absorbed in cyber things. I want to be more present for the skin and bone in front of me, for the warm and breathing need I can see and touch.
Sometimes, it’s shocking to me that we’re losing the feel of books in our hands, the way heavy paper sits in the fingers. The curl of handwriting fades in our digital age, and more and more we fail to see the treasure in way the hand rests, pressing pen into paper with variety of pressure and pace. Slowly, we forget how to look at each other, how to infuse spoken words with warmth, how to savor the way something tastes. So she asks, and my answer is yes, without hesitation.
And still, part of me wonders if I can do this, because oddly the ready responding, the way I can allow urgency to sweep across our lives, deceives me. The very situation that overwhelms me also convinces me that I am in control, that I could be. I begin to believe that I am more essential digitally than I am tangibly, that the things here can wait secondarily to the even more transient mobile network. So, my efficiency, my resourcefulness, my online productivity become idols that thieve away lasting influence.
So, I agree. Yes, I will turn my phone off for the week, and for the week I will live and breathe offline.
And on Saturday, they pack the car and drive away, and I listen. I leave my device on the table beside the bed, silent. My husband and I talk, and I gather up the sound of his voice, the color of his eyes. I rest. Unplugging offers me the space to take emotionally uncluttered breaths. Living offline reminds me that I am a vessel, lifted, that necessity rests in the hand of God. It is a Sabbath trust, a Sabbath living, the modern equivalent of an ancient pause commanded. And I realize, resting my eyes on the whispered Word that will anchor our new year—family—that this choice will be the discipline to carry it. Every so often, I will choose to live offline. I will write with a pen and read books and listen to voices and savor the way things taste. And I will breathe in the Spirit, and He will remind me of the order of things.
Time to just lay fallow. Purposeful sabbaticals from the telephone—quiet days letting the answer machine route all calls. Routine computer sabbaticals—days of time alone, offline. Weekly work sabbaticals—sabbaths to rest, pray, write and meditate.
When we stop, when we create quiet and fallow space, when we take a leave, He comes.
For He is the Lord of the Sabbath.
~Sabbaticals, Ann Voskamp