In the past couple of months, our world has experienced tragedy to a vast degree. Seeing the many faces of pain and sorrow scattered across the news and our social media feeds, it is easy to fall into despair and wonder what we could possibly do to help. So many of our neighbors are hurting – not only across the country, but right in our own cities, our own workplaces, and even in our own homes. How are we supposed to bring the light of Christ into a world immersed in such darkness?
I believe a simple answer to that question starts with the gift of your presence.
The gift of presence? What does that mean and how much time will it take? Can I pay for it with a credit card? Because the Lord knows we all are busy, overcommitted, and struggling to fit everything into our calendars. The gift of presence is not complicated. And it cannot be bought. It simply means that we look up from our phones, put down our work, and actually see the person in front of us.
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” Mother Teresa
As great as our devices are for connecting us and as much as I cherish the gift that while my brother lives in Rome, I can see his face on a screen and feel like he is in my living room, it is clear to me how much these little devices can actually diminish human connection. In a recent study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, young adults who used social media for more than 2 hours a day reported much higher perceived social isolation than those young adults who used social media for 30 minutes or less per day.
Oh, the irony of platforms meant to increase social activity actually leading to isolation when overused.
I think we all know how it goes: you’re standing in line at the grocery store, you take out your phone and check Instagram. You have a few minutes before class starts, that’s a few minutes to send an email. You settle into your seat on a plane and you’re excited to have the next few hours to fit in some Netflix episodes. Your family member or roommate comes home from the day and you’re glued to Snapchat.
But what if we put down our phones in these moments? It’s uncomfortable, I know. It’s much easier to interact with a screen than to open yourself to another human. The screen does not require vulnerability, attentive listening, patience, or compassion. Our interactions with our phone allow us to control and limit our interactions according to what we want. When we’re tired or cranky, we just hit the lock screen button. But yet, we all know it’s not enough. We all know that we long for that real, authentic human connection.
“For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather of power and love and self-control.” – 2 Timothy 1:7
My friends, it can be scary to offer others the gift of our presence. But I do believe that it is one of the most basic ways to truly imitate the heart of Christ in a world that is overwhelmed with the darkness of isolation.
As Mother Teresa said, I think we too often forget that we belong to each other. That the similarities between us can far outweigh the differences.
So what do we do? Do we all throw our devices out of a second story window and call it a day? Sometimes that is tempting, but it’s more a matter of moderation. To think about those moments in your life where you could step out of your comfort zone and give someone the gift of your presence. To put down your phone when you’re sharing a meal with your family or friends. To look the person in the eye at the store and really want to know how their day has been. To see each other, to know that you belong to me as much as I belong to you. There is so much pain in the world right now, but sometimes the greatest gift is just knowing you’re not alone in the hurt. And when we take those moments to truly see and know those around us, the world gets a little smaller and a little brighter. Thanks for your wisdom, Mother Teresa…you’re the real MVP.
Katie Smith, NET Alumna