Flying back from a conference at Notre Dame, I sat in my airplane seat trying to condense 50 pages of handwritten notes down to the most crucial points. I was able to consolidate into about 5 pages, which was a success, although still not very concise. Truth be told, this conference was as sobering as it was interesting.
The conference was about creating cultures in which it is easier for young people to be Catholic. If you are a Catholic paying attention to the times, you may know that about 3,500 people leave the Church each day, and 40% of folks under 40 who were born Catholic have left the Church.
Over the course of three days, the conference looked at the greatest cultural challenges that young people face today, and proposed responses.
Thinking about your own life or the life of any young person you know, you might guess that technology poses a particular challenge. Technology as a tool used prudently, great. Technology as that which dictates the way we live and move and have our being, not so great.
This time that is marked by hyperconnectedness (the average person touches their iPhone over 2,000 times per day, and has their face in a screen for 10 hours per day) is also ironically marked by disconnectedness (people report lack of authentic relationship, and an increased sense of isolation). Given the fact that for the first time in history, there is a generation (Millennials) with a higher rate of suicide than homicide (not that either is great, for the record), it seems that we have some serious conversing and acting to do.
If you are starting to feel depressed or disheartened, I’ve got some good news for you. The good news is that enough people are noticing there is an issue here for a conference to have taken place. The good news is that we know at least some of the answers already.
Allow me to illustrate.
When I got back from the conference at Notre Dame, it was rainy. So, we decided to get a library card. I have no idea what took us so long because the library is a magical place. When Thomas held that card for the first time, looked at all of the books, and saw Thomas sized tables for reading, he was in heaven.
During our last trip, Thomas found a wooden toy affixed to the wall with lots of colored cogs to move around. He grabbed my hand, and pulled me down to the ground to play with him.
After a few minutes of moving pieces of wood around in a board, Thomas looked at me and said, “Mama, I love to play with you.”
There is something that happens when we are truly present to another person. There is something that happens when we talk with someone, gaze at someone, eat with someone, enjoy who someone is and what they love. Even when it is just moving wood around in a board.
When someone gives us their undivided attention, we feel valued. We feel loved. We feel important. Something of our worth is affirmed and restored when another is deeply present to us.
Our Smartphones are often in our hands, on our bodies, or beckoning us from the other room, distracting us from who we love most. And if not that, distracting us from our surroundings and the present moment at the least.
It seems that being truly present to another or truly present to our surroundings has become more vulnerable than ever. What would we do if there was a moment of silence? What would we do if there was a moment without distraction?
I’ll propose an answer.
Lean in to quiet. Lean in to boredom. Lean in to being attentive to only one thing.
Let’s begin to restore what’s good in each other and what’s good in our world. And let’s begin by putting down our phones so that we can see what that good is.