The word is idleness. That’s the word that flew out from my lips as I meandered through the rows of chairs in the church auditorium, placing my hand on each seat.
I joined a prayer team last month at my church. The prayer team is basically the people who come in before and after the events and cover the whole thing in prayer. I like this job. I like being able to talk to God and listen as I say prayers over every seat. It keeps me optimistic and open. I want people to have whatever encounter with God they feel they need to have.
The word that I kept hearing as I prayed is that one mentioned above: idleness. I go to a dictionary the next day to read the definition. Idleness is basically the sister of laziness. Idleness is taking precious time and not using it for good or productive things.
As I am thinking about this word, I think about social media. I think about all the time I am prone to wasting when I pick up my phone and begin scrolling.
I’m fearful sometimes. I don’t want to give fear a big role in this story but I am scared sometimes of who we are becoming when we focus so much on watching other people live their lives. We have our own lives to live but we would rather be spectators. Assuming the role of a spectator is easier than going out and living. Watching and interpreting from behind a screen is easier than reaching out to have the hard conversation.
We do it more habitually now. We consume Facebook statuses, tweets, stories, and snaps. We peek into the lives of other people and, whether we admire or envy them, we allow their daily routines to seep into us and take space in our hearts.
I think there is a fine line between consuming content because we adore it and it inspires us and then consuming because we feel bored or we think we feel entitled to the pieces of someone else’s life. I say all of this because I have struggled firsthand with it. I have gone from watching stories innocently to suddenly being unable to control my emotions of envy, jealousy, or comparison with another person. I watch to stay in the loop. I watch to keep an eye on the person.
For a long time, I allowed social media to dictate my emotions and I floundered because of it. This does not help me. It only hurts me. I stopped watching these stories eventually. I turned a new leaf for myself.
I’m a believer that we either give people life or we give them death. That sounds pretty serious. I try to remind myself of this death/life dichotomy when I am going online to post something. I try to ask myself the necessary questions: Is this important? Do people need this? Am I posting because I feel full or because I feel empty? If I am not giving something to the world then maybe I am taking something way from it.
If I cannot find a reason in myself– or if I am posting out of a need for validation– then I try to step back and reevaluate. I think the more followers you have, the more weight you carry as an influencer. I want to take that influence seriously. I want to be able to say, when all is said and done, I steered people in a direction that made them feel safe, seen, valuable and able. I don’t want to say I used social media only to puff myself up and give myself false feelings of being safe, seen, valuable and able.
In my senior year of college, the administrators of our clubs on campus made all the student leaders participate in a service day. We scattered all over Worcester sweeping sidewalks and reading to the elderly. I ended up playing cards at a nursing home with a group of women were around age 80 and upwards.
Maggie was the queen bee of the card game that day. She was the most outspoken of the bunch. I made the mistake of checking my phone while waiting for Maggie to make her next move. I was probably waiting on a text from a guy, fishing for some sort of approval. I don’t remember.
“I don’t understand all you young people,” Maggie said, directing her comment at me without a tinge of hesitation. “You are always talking to one another on a screen. My grand-daughter talks to all her best friends on a screen. That is not a best friend, I want to tell her! You need to be able to see your best friend, touch your best friend, smellllll your best friend.”
That conversation was 7 years ago. I still remember it. It still sticks in my brain as I recall Maggie playing gin. I didn’t know, and Maggie didn’t know, that social media was just beginning back then. We’d yet to see an era where business happened on a screen, friendships blossomed and broke on a screen, and texts became the way to reach out and ask: are you okay? The year is 2017 and, still, nothing can replace the feeling of someone sitting beside you and learning to cradle your pain like their own.
I think we can either participate in each other’s lives relentlessly or we can watch from the sidelines. Life never called us to the sidelines. It never asked us to watch people go through life from behind a screen. So when did we bench ourselves? When did we accept 2-d versions of ourselves as being enough for other people?
One day I’ll be the new Maggie. I’ll be playing gin and hoping people remember to feed me. I don’t know what the world will look like when that happens. All I have in my possession is this meager time in between. I want to fill it with real stuff. Tangibility. People meeting up. Friends showing up at my door with food. I want meal trains and conversations where the wine runs out. I want a collection of those thick moments you have when you sit with someone and you don’t say anything. The pain is thick but you stay. You stay and you wait for the resolution to arrive. You quit waiting for the lightbulb to go off in the room and you wake up long enough to see: you are the lightbulb. You are the carrier of that necessary light.
I want the richest life and I am making my steps towards it. I want to say I am making progress. With each moment where the phone stays face down on the table and I pull my husband in for a kiss, I stay and make progress. In order to make progress, I think you have to stay in moments long enough to feel them wash over you. Feel the pain. The love. The lack. The weight of being human. It’s rich. Really, it’s the opposite of idle.