I tried something different today. I’m not a soup guy, but my throat has been sore…so I ordered the creamy tomato soup, hoping its warmth would provide some relief as it went down. And as I sat down to enjoy my lunch at Panera Bread, I jumped right into my normal routine of checking emails and browsing the web as I ate…ya’ know, the monotonous, time-consuming activities to keep my self-diagnosed ADHD mind constantly moving. Because simply enjoying a meal while doing three other things simultaneously just isn’t normal for me…it ain’t right. And then a fleeting thought popped into that over-tasked head of mine. Am I alone in my constant need to be multi-tasking? Are there others like me…people who just find it difficult to sit and do nothing but eat? What do those “simple-minded” folk do when they eat? Just eat?
So I tried something else different today. I put my phone down. Now if you know me…or are anything like me…you know that me doing that is like asking a bird to not fly south in the winter. It just ain’t normal. But I did it anyway. After the initial shock to my system, I began to notice something. Something I rarely see most days. I saw people. I saw the people all around me. I saw:
- coworkers on a lunch break,
- a businessman eating by himself,
- a mom on a lunch date with her two young daughters,
- a college student studying while he ate,
- an older gentleman leisurely reading the newspaper with a cup of coffee,
- friends meeting up for their weekly get-together,
- a pregnant woman picking up lunch to take back to her coworkers at the office,
- a business meeting between two coworkers and a prospective client,
- a husband and wife enjoying their lunch break together…what may well be their only hour together as husband and wife between work today and their kids tonight.
And as I watched, I began to have a heart for complete strangers that I’ve never had before now. You see, I go through my day, completely immersed in what I need (or want) to do at any given moment. Me. Me. Egocentric me. At any one time, a perpetual to-do list is running through my head as I’m running through my day. I go from task to task, focused on what I need to do to accomplish my goals for the day, and I rarely take time to just stop and notice what (and who) is around me. Yes, I’m that guy that’s got his head buried in his phone as he’s walking down the street…or through the store…or pretty much everywhere I go.
I’m connected in so many ways, that I’m actually very disconnected. We’re living in a fast-paced, non-stop society where the pressures and demands for our time are constantly vying for our attention. The tools we have at our disposal now to keep us more connected than ever before are actually creating a disconnect that, I believe, is contributing to the moral decline of our country and the disconnected state of our communities. We’re emailing, texting, IM-ing, Facebooking, tweeting, and pinning like never before. And although it allows us to connect in ways we’ve never been able to connect before, all that virtual contact with others is breeding up a generation that doesn’t know how to connect with people. And even my generation is losing its ability to really connect with others on a personal level. I am losing that ability. I’m losing it because, like any skill that’s not used, you lose what you don’t use.
Connecting relationally is crucial to our survival, and I fear that I’ve unknowingly been sucked into a world where it’s become all too easy to be connected without connecting. Every single person in that restaurant with me at lunch today has similar goals to mine. I have to admit, though with some hesitation, that it was kinda fun to just sit and watch, wondering what their story is. I found myself really studying each person, asking what brought him here today? Where is she going? What’s going on behind the scenes in their lives? Do they have school-aged children like me? What health concerns is he facing? Will they make that sale to the prospective customer? What’s he hope to do once he’s out of college? What’s his passion and how is he going to change his part of the world?
And as I began pondering those questions, allowing the warm tomato soup to soothe my sore throat with each bite, I was able to better see the hurt. The pain. The despair. The joy. The loss. With each bite, God revealed to me that it’s not enough to sit behind a phone or computer and expect that our communities and country will miraculously turn toward God and be restored. If we want change, we need to go out and be that change…and that might just call for something as drastic as ordering the tomato soup and disconnecting so that we can connect.
So…what will you do to connect with the people you encounter today?
“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” – Matthew 22:37-39