I wrote the following eighteen years ago. The technology has changed. Some of the challenges we face are new. But the truth remains. Even in the midst of Covid-19, busyness still plagues us. May we learn to truly listen to the Spirit of God.
If I were to choose an icon to represent our modern culture I think it would be “Instant Messenger.” I can think of nothing that so encapsulates the essence of the early 21st Century United States as well as IM. First, it is “instant.” We live in a time where “fast food” is considered slow, where three minutes at a traffic light is an eternity, where a 333 megahertz computer is considered outdated, where waiting is equivalent to the unforgivable sin, where we can’t live without a cell phone because it is unthinkable to have to wait until we get to a phone to make a call, where busy signals are anathema and yesterday is too late. How difficult it has become for our instant society to learn to wait on the Lord, to trust Him when we don’t see the answers immediately. We are an “instant” society.
Second, Instant Messenger is busy. How many young people do you know that only chat with one person at a time when they are on IM? I caught my son online awhile back and began chatting with him. It didn’t take me long to realize that he was also in a chat with someone else. Even I have ended up chatting with two or three people at once. It is busy, almost dizzying, to try to keep track of three separate, unrelated conversations going on at once. Even when you are chatting with only one person the chat can take on the semblance of two unrelated conversations as one person shoots off a second question or statement before the first is answered. Busyness characterizes our culture. We have a generation of children who are audio-visually over stimulated with no real physical release. We have a generation of adults who are over committed, under rested, wearing several hats at once and juggling multiple responsibilities. How difficult it has become to “come apart a rest awhile” in the presence of the Lord.
Third, Instant Messenger is often quantity rich and quality poor. I have “listened in” on several online forums, followed the threads of online “conversations” and IM’ed enough to realize that most of them have very little depth or quality. Most theological discussions I have followed online get mired in misunderstandings and petty differences before they ever get to the real issues. In my experience, most Instant Messages deal with trivia: “How are you?” “How’s the weather there?” Did you hear what Johnny did?” “Have you seen my Internet pet?” Lots of “conversation” goes on, but precious little rich depth of communication. How like our world, where we are too busy and overwhelmed to really listen, we are too scared to open up and share our hearts, and we are too isolated in the midst of the crowd to really connect. How difficult it is to practice the community God has called us to in the church.
We are an “Instant Messenger” society. It works against everything we say we believe as Christians. Yet, perhaps the very things we find so difficult are the things that will provide us relief from our IM world. We need to turn off the TV, shut down the computer, power down the cell phone, and come apart, learning again to wait on the Lord, listening and pouring out our heart to Him. Perhaps the solution to an “Instant Messenger” lifestyle is Psalm 46:10 "Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." (NAS)
Let us refuse to be squeezed into the mold of an “Instant Messenger” society. Rather, let us pray that we will learn what it means to cease striving and know that He is God, or as Jesus said to his disciples in Mark 6:31, "Come away by yourselves to a lonely place and rest a while." (NAS)