It is cold and damp outside, but not cold enough to snow. I pull
a fleece jacket in close around myself, as if to ward off the chill. But I am
inside. It’s comfortably warm as I sit, laptop open, and scroll through
screens. It’s the news on the screen that chills me.
There is an exodus happening, a turning away of a magnitude I’ve
never seen since social media evolved. And maybe it’s not just social media.
Even in the world of real people and real faces, the conversations are shutting
down. We don’t want to hear any more. Too much contention. Too much anger. Too
much fear where there once was friendship, or at least neighborliness. It’s as
if the running thread has been pulled, and the fabric of community is falling
away into tatters. It’s the era of “unfriending.”
How do we survive in this new climate? Beyond survival, how do we
thrive? How do we recognize our neighbors in order to love them well? How do we
respond as Christ to one another?
We begin by caring about the story — not the story in our heads,
the one we’re formulating to make our points — but the story that each person
we meet has to tell, the story that God is writing for us to read in each
individual life. Stop talking into the fray. Start listening to the unique
voices in order to hear a single person’s story. Don’t try to win the
conversation; try to lean into the story and learn the life it holds.
Endeavor to have as many of these listening conversations as you
possibly can away from the screen. Look into people’s eyes as you hear their
words. You’ll find it’s much easier to understand their hearts. Create parameters
so that instead of perusing your phone, you can occupy a few of those “reading”
moments with a good book. Engage your brain for fuller and longer periods of
sustained, careful attention.
Then, push away from all of it and get outside, no matter the
weather. Note how the bulbs are forcing up through the February ground. See and
feel how damp the earth is beneath your feet. Watch the sun rise, or watch it
set. Breathe deeply and exhale for a long, long time. Nothing in this natural
world is here by accident. There is a God behind it all; He’s behind you, too.
Remind yourself again and again how small you are and how big He is, by
stepping away from a screen and out into His big world.
When you do engage online, remember that we are salt and light.
We are the peacemakers. Rare is the person whose opinion was changed by the
slam-dunk quote or the snarky meme. You are both a consumer and a producer of
information online. When consuming opinions and arguments, be prudent. Don’t
waste time on nonsense and foolishness. Fill yourself with genuine wisdom.
You’ll be able to discern wisdom because, “the
wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of
mercy and good fruits, without favoritism and hypocrisy. And the fruit of
righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace” (Jas 3:17-18). Chances
are good that you’ll have to sift through a lot of online garbage to get to the
rare wise insight. True wisdom is scarce out there. Unfriend, unfollow, hide or
click away. Do what it takes to ensure that you consume more of what is life giving
than what sucks you dry.
And when you produce, when you
speak up or speak out, remember that we all need to know how to forgive more
than we need to be right. Remember that life is complicated and you don’t have
to agree with someone entirely in order to love him completely.
You can change the world. Not the
whole world, of course, chances are not even a big swath of the world. But you
can change some meaningful component in your sphere of influence. Listen to all
the stories and care deeply about them. Don’t ever lose your capacity to care.
Then choose just one place in need and dig deeply there. Care with all your
heart in just that one place.
It seems as if new fires are
ignited almost every day — new worries, new fears, new burdens of responsibility.
They are not all ours to extinguish. The news of the world quickens pulses and
causes knots to clench in our stomachs. Create wide buffers against the news at
the beginning and end of each day. Begin your day in peace. Touch your Bible
before your phone. Engage with God before Google. In the evening, turn off the
television. Talk quietly with the people in your home. Lose yourself in a
novel. Go to bed earlier and sleep more soundly because you cared about
yourself enough to switch off the screens.
The world is a little crazy right
now, but we are not of the world. We’re merely transient sojourners on our way
to the Kingdom. Stay the course.
Foss, whose website is elizabethfoss.com, is a freelance
writer from Northern Virginia.