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.