Community in an Age of Distraction
By Jill Schmidt, Dialogue Resource Team


One of the biggest changes we face as people of faith is the society-wide impact of rapidly evolving technology and distractions. This past month, I spent a weekend retreat with a group of First Mennonite of Denver youth. We intentionally relinquished our cellphones for 24 hours as we explored the meaning of Sabbath in our lives. Through this process, I came upon a prayer in the 2010 winter edition of Seasoned with Peace, a daily meditation compiled by Susan Mark Landis, Lisa J. Amstutz, and Cindy Snider. These lines from the January 5 prayer contributed by Don Clymer stand out to me in particular, “I confess that I too often plunge myself into busyness to distract myself from the pain of the losses I have experienced personally or from the brokenness of the world I see around me….Help me not to deviate from your paths because of the distractions around me.”

As I observed the responses of our youth varying from boredom and distress to relief and comfort, I found myself wondering how times have changed so quickly. I am considered by many to still be a young adult and yet cell phones were not an active part of my life until my 20s and the internet was just catching speed in high school. And here we are, so dependent and connected to others and information at all times, and yet simultaneously so very disconnected from face-to-face interactions, our congregations and our families. This change in our society and in our church communities is real and impactful. To try to avoid and stop technology seems impossible, yet we can remind ourselves and our communities of ways to maintain and increase interpersonal connection that is essential for our health and our relationships.

As Clymer writes in his prayer, we sometimes plunge into busyness as a distraction from our own pains. This can neither address our pains nor allow us to lean on others for support or allow others to glean support from us. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, there are five levels of needs required for our holistic well-being. The foundation is our physiological need: food, water, shelter, etc. Without this all else is difficult to grasp. Next is our sense of safety: health, security, resources, etc. Third is our need for love and belonging: friendship and family. So often we seek this sense of love and belonging through social media where communication is painfully subject to misinterpretation,without tending to community around us. How do we show love and acceptance to those in our congregations? Or to others throughout our conference and denomination? The top two tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs are highly susceptible to crumble without receiving love and belonging, and those are a sense of esteem and self-actualization. These are two of the most important aspects to our emotional health and wholeness.

An increasing number of studies find that our prosocial behaviors quickly dwindle as we over-connect ourselves to technology, cellphones and work. When we don’t take time to sit and just be with ourselves, our friends and community, to actively listen and to share openly, we lose sight of our own sense of esteem and purpose. Jesus demonstrated to us again and again the act of listening and whole-heartedly being with others as he walked with the men on the road to Emmaus or sat with the woman at the well. Now, Jesus did not have Google, Snapchat and emails to distract him and tend to. But we do, and they don’t seem to be going anywhere fast. So with that reality, we have a new challenge to accept and a choice to make on how committed we are to being in whole-hearted community.

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