We ticked off our checklist, huddled together once more and quickly made our exit from the campus. Mission “surprise birthday lunch” was underway and under-wraps. We steered our way through the streets of Blantyre (ironically on foot) and arrived at the church were the unsuspecting target lay prey. Things were going according to plan. I signaled the “squad” to take their positions as I went in to pull out Gabriel (we call him “Gabe” for short- “angel Gabe” is a bit of a mouthful). Waving from the front of the church, Gabe walked down the aisle with a glow of excitement radiating from his face. Birthdays have a rather unique way of reminding you that you are loved.
“Look who it is!” I grinned as he walked down towards me.
He shook my hand and shoulder-pumped me. The cards were playing out right. He was still clueless!
“Happy birthday!” I said with huge eagerness. “Any plans for the day?” (half stalling and half attempting to make conversation).
My feet began to slowly shuffle backwards as I motioned to the front door of the church. He followed suit.
“Thank you! You know, I didn’t expect to see you this morning,” he said as we walked back to the door slowly.
“Oh, you don’t say,” I chuckled.
Gabe continued. “Well, I left home in the morning and rushed to church to practice for tomorrow’s service (he’s in the church music band). And as for the rest of the day? Well, I’m not too sure what today-”
Gabe’s words were suddenly cut short. His eyes glanced over the line up of friends that stood at the front of the church (well hidden before but now in full sight). The birthday chorus sounded and elation erupted sweeping the curious on-lookers. Mission “surprise birthday lunch” was in full swing.
“We can actually talk to each other! Face to face even!”
We arrived at the restaurant and surrounded ourselves around the table. The menus came out and our indecisive state crumbled as we finally placed our orders. As we lounged in our seats (waiting), each person slowly reached within their pockets and were immediately engrossed by their flashing organized scraps of metal. Each finger tangoed with fine precision. The touch screens were touched and the key pads were pressed as each swipe and click fired the cyber signals into the cosmos. Lunch with Gabe slowly morphed itself into lunch with phone. Mtende (she is what you’d call the “peacemaker” of the group) scavenged her eyes around the table. She looked troubled.
“Hey people,” she said.
We peeped up as our fingers continued clicking away.
“Let’s set a few ground rules here.” She paused and waited for our reactions. “Well, it’s really just one to be honest: no phones!”
I awkwardly laughed within myself. We sent our last couple of messages and closed down our browsers and apps. In about a minute or so a mound of cellphones lay stack as the “decorative” center piece of the table. An elephant walked into the room (figuratively speaking). The awkward “what do we do next?” propped into everybody’s mind. Who could have fathomed this? Who could have guessed this shocking twist of events? We sat amidst a loud silence for a few seconds. It was then that a light bulb moment unanimously sparked in our minds: “we can actually talk to each other! Face to face even!” (I know what you are thinking).
We live in an age were technological advancements have soared passed the roof. There is a never ending list of channels by which we can use to converse with the peripheral world at large (Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter- just to name a few). The fact that we can re-connect and keep on connecting with those around us is amazing. However, something ironic is happening. Remember the good old “younger” days (perhaps 10 or 15 years back when cellphones were largely a luxury)? You could meet someone and just simply talk. Within those moments, even in their briefest time frame, connections would be birthed that could supersede the connections made by our phone signals.
There is nothing wrong with social media in it of itself. In fact, it can be to our advantage. But do you ever feel and consider that perhaps the current wave of technological progression has distracted us and robbed us of the skills of genuinely connecting with people? And even more so, perhaps, it has taken away the chance of building real and authentic relationships (not just followers). Have you ever had moments were the stream of conversation seems to not flow not because of your inability to speak or lack of social skills but because you are too busy on your phone? I know I have. Like lunch with Gabe, an eerie awkwardness catches us off-guard when removed from the cyber-scene and brought face to face with real human beings (people we can share emotions with- and not just photos).
I began contemplating about lunch with Gabe and other moments were this has played out. I began thinking of our need for candid and unpretentious relationships with the people in our lives. I glanced over the current situation with our cyber-craze and how it has possibly served as a distraction to our social need. And then it dawned on me: what about God? Let’s pause for a moment. Here and now stands a God who has removed every obstacle and barrier (even our most “grotesque” sin) through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus. To those who have answered His call (believe in Him) He flings the door wide open to a never ending access of Him. No barriers; no walls; no hindrances. Just Him. Good news for us! But if we stop and think, “lunch with Gabe” sometimes plays itself out with our own relationship with God. It is not that God is a million miles away waiting for us to come (in fact He is closer than we know). No. Actually, He can be right in our living rooms sitting on the couch He gave us and yet remain unnoticed (as was the case with Martha when Jesus came to visit) . Why? Distractions. They come in many forms, shapes and sizes. Even in the most sincere form (Martha choosing to cook for the Lord as Mary remained “At His Feet”) distractions serve as a threat, swerving us from truly knowing and experiencing God. The Lord would rather we get off our “phone’s” (metaphorically speaking), and simply talk with Him as He talks to us. When all other signals fail He is the one connection that remains constant.
Our relationship with God is the greatest relationship we can ever have. The people He has placed in our lives are His gifts to us both to enjoy and propel us into knowing Him more. Perhaps there is a friend we need to call up and meet instead of texting. Perhaps we need to put down our phones and enjoy the people in our life. Perhaps (if not absolutely) we need to ask God to show us what could be distracting us from experiencing authentic relationship with Him. Whatever it may be, He is faithful to bring you into right relationship, not only with others, but with Himself too.
At His feet…
 Luke 10:38-42