It was 1AM and I was starving. Priscilla was too but she never ate after 9PM since she’s a nutrition major and literally knows all the chemical processes to staying healthy. So, she advised we just drink water to fill up. As we sat in the living room sipping on water, I let her proofread one of my unpublished blog posts as I turn on an episode of “That 70’s Show.” I also began to explain how all my blogs have been written around 3AM because it’s like my creative juices decide to activate as I’m trying to fall asleep. The late-night thoughts start and good ideas, old memories, and phrases pop into my head. Knowing that if I don’t write them down right then, I won’t remember them in the morning. I can’t tell you the amount of business ideas and product designs I’ve had right before falling asleep or saw in dreams that I didn’t write down. [Probable] million dollar ideas, gone forever.
Anyways, she said:
“You know, it’s probably because you never have time to think. Like even right now we are watching tv but you’re not thinking beyond that.”
Like Michael Kelso from That 70’s Show would say, “Oooh BURNNNN.”
But in the best way. Priscilla was very right, as always. Whenever I’m driving, showering, or working, I’m listening to music. Whenever I’m relaxing at my house, I’m watching Netflix or Hulu, occasionally writing, playing my guitar, on my phone, or cleaning (while listening to music). Whenever I’m on the bus, I’m either on my phone, listening to music, or hardcore people watching. Besides a short quiet time, I never spend any time in my own thoughts because we live in a time of digital distractions and instant satisfaction.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been convicted of being too caught up in social media, iPhones, and anything else that is a distraction.
A couple of semesters ago, I had been convicted of being on social media too much at my church’s fall retreat. A major theme had been to “say yes” to whatever you were being called to do, even if it was uncomfortable. Well, I felt a conviction to get rid of distractions so in order to “say yes,” I deleted Facebook and Twitter which were my top social media distractions. To carry my conviction out in my everyday life, I also made it a point not be on my phone whenever I got on the bus so I could invest time into people rather than my phone.
I’d gotten a job that semester on campus since naturally, my parents decided college was the time for me to learn money management. All my personal shopping/gas/food funds were cut, which I deemed fair since they paid my tuition. However, all I had in my bank account was money from graduation cards – man I wish I would relive that time of getting daily checks in the mail. To avoid eating ramen in college, a vow I made freshmen year, I got a job on campus at the vet school in the Physiology and Pharmacology department.
I woke up at 7AM like normal for my 8AM shift with the sun shining through our cheap dorm blinds and it was going to be a good day, I felt it. As I got ready, I simply told God that he could use me today because I would say yes to whatever it was.
I went down to the bus stop, got on route 9 to the vet school, and sat down on the near empty bus. I responded to some texts and put my phone in my pocket. That’s when I realized I heard sobbing. A couple seats down from me on my left, a ~24 y/o looking girl with blonde hair was holding her phone and crying. My stomach dropped a little bit because I knew this is what I’d just asked God for and He didn’t hesitate to dish it out. Guiltily, I was kinda hoping God wasn’t going to use me. Especially like this because I’m not usually bold enough to have deep conversations with strangers on the bus. Part of me fought the calling to talk to her but the other part of me knew this wasn’t a coincidence either. Before I could talk myself out of it and miss my chance, I moved by her, tapped on her arm and asked if she was alright. She looked up at me and without hesitation, with her British accent, started spilling all the details about her boyfriend just breaking up with her. He was supposed to come visit her soon but instead he ended things and now she just wanted to go home to be with her family. Turns out she was a British employee at the vet school, her name was Penny (I think).
I guess this is when God takes over because I don’t remember being scared to talk to her. I remembered how to be human (I had been freaking myself out for nothing) and I just had a normal conversation with her, asking about her family and where she was from. By the time she stopped crying, we had about 30 seconds until we had to get off. I quickly took my opportunity to ask her if I could pray for her. I could see the look in her eyes that I’d just asked a weird question but she nodded with approval anyways. I said a really quick prayer, we got to our stop, exchanged the typical, “nice to meet you’s” and I never saw her again.
Saying that quick prayer may not have done anything for her. Or it might’ve. I don’t know. But the fact that God instantly gave me an opportunity like that, literally 3 seats down, was eye-opening. Usually I would’ve been listening to music or on my phone if it wouldn’t have been for the conviction of being on my phone too much. It kind of disgusts me to think about how many opportunities I’ve missed to just be kind to someone because I was not paying attention…
During the summers, I volunteer at a week long leadership camp for high schoolers called RYLA (it’s sponsored by Rotary — an international service organization). One of the first things that the campers do when they arrive is turn their phones in. You can see the pain in their eyes as they slip their life into the baggie and hand it over. I’ve been a counselor the last couple of years and I’ve noticed that it gets harder with each generation that comes through. It’s almost like rehab with 3 stages of rehabilitation:
- Shock: They’ll reach for their pockets to realize their phone is gone and be a little annoyed but move on.
- Withdraw: A day or two later when something fun is happening, they reach again to get it on Snapchat but get mad that they don’t have it. It’s also when I overhear loud and snarky, “IF ONLY I had my phone…” comments that are indirectly directed to me. I even get commanded by several of them to take pictures so I can send them out after camp.
- Acceptance: it kicks in and they realize it’s nice not having to keep up with a phone, messages, social media, etc. There is always a unexplainable pressure to stay plugged in all the time that even I feel.
I love this camp because when they first get there, it physically hurts me to see how socially awkward these kids are. Just getting them to hold a conversation with me is like pulling teeth. But after icebreakers and team events, they quickly learn how to talk and bond with each other. By the end of the week, there’s not a dry eye when everyone has to go home. If phones were allowed, the purpose of camp would be ruined by campers filling every free moment on their phone rather than talking. Or taking pictures instead of enjoying the moment.
I’ve had my own similar experiences outside of RYLA where I go without a phone for a while and love it. Like my Big Bend trip (ref. shooting stars & the korean exchange students) or being in another country with no cell phone usage. It is so refreshing because it’s not polluted with distractions of technology.
*Side note: I heard a Breakway podcast a couple years ago that talks about how we are too afraid to be alone with our own thoughts. And personally, I think that explains a lot. With mental illnesses becoming more common and everyone with instant access to the internet, I get it. Phones give comfort and escape from boredom and loneliness. It makes us not look as awkward in social settings when we don’t have anyone to talk to but as a consequence, it’s made us all socially awkward.*
Fast forward to now, I’ll admit I’ve fallen into old habits of getting on my phone when I was on the bus. I considered it my time to “chill” before the next chaotic chunk of my day. Well, recently we did a campus outreach where my partner and I decided to hop on a bus route and ride the route a couple of times. We’d strategically chosen seats close to the front of the bus so eventually we could talk to the bus driver when everyone had gotten off. I met a couple people and had good, friendly conversations. Turns out most people do like to talk when given the opportunity. One guy (that we talked to for maybe 10 minutes) even invited us to come say hi at his on-campus job if we were ever in the area.
Eventually everyone had gotten off at their stops so I went ahead and struck up conversation with the bus driver. I started with the basic, “What’s your major and what year are you?” She answered and was even able to recite what my major and classification was because she’d been listening to me talk to the guy across from me. I laughed as she explained that as a bus driver, you can always people watch with your ears. Then she said something that convicted me so hard.
“I like to listen when people are talking because it’s nice to hear people actually being human.”
Oooh burn. Again.
Because I’ve gotten bad at “being human” again. God never fails to find creative ways to convict me, which keeps life interesting. By the time we’d ridden the routes all the way back to my house, we’d talked about her beliefs verses my beliefs since she was not a Christian. Right before we got off, I decided to be bold and ask for her number with the reasoning that if she ever had any questions, specifically about Christianity, she could reach me. I may never get a text from her but I’m really hoping our conversation stirred her heart up a little bit. If she never texts me, I’ll probably see her on the bus anyways. Jesus always wins.
The campus bus system is a place ripe with opportunities to talk to people. I’ve missed a lot over the years because of my phone but I’ve also had a couple of good ones once I put it down. So what is your bus route? Is it work? Or is it just being in class? I don’t want to miss out on opportunities to make someone’s day and I don’t want to be distracted from what God wants me to do anymore.
Feel free to ask me what I’m doing if I’m on my phone. I won’t think you’re being nosy. I’ll actually be stoked because I’l know you read this entire blog post. Keep me accountable for being present and unplugged from this little handheld distraction.
If you want a good podcast to listen to while you drive or something, here is the Breakaway podcast I referenced: