I love my phone. I’m still old enough to remember when my cellphone was the length of my forearm, with a big black antenna, and it was amazing because it could fit in my briefcase. And, it could make phone calls.
Now, I don’t even need to carry a briefcase, because I have all my email, documents, calendar, and access to information on my phone. I am a walking mobile office. I can also still make phone calls. And, it fits in my pocket.
But, I kind of hate my phone, too. I’ll bet you’re like me. I hate the way I feel enslaved to it sometimes. I hate the way I now feel like I have to be connected 24/7, that others demand unfettered access to me. I hate that when I don’t respond within 20 minutes, people think I’m blowing them off. I hate that when I’m standing in line at the grocery store or waiting for my kids to come out of dance class, I have this irresistible urge to pull the dang thing out and look at it, even when I don’t really have a reason to do it.
Most of the time, I subconsciously pull it out to look busy, or so I don’t have to engage others. Which may be one of the things I hate most about it. As a dad, I hate when we’re all together in a room, I’m looking at my phone, and I look up, only to see everyone else looking at their screens, too. I hate being in a meeting, engaged in conversation on an issue important to our school, and seeing three people on their phones (I’m in a glass house on this one, too-not throwing rocks). I hate how our phones, and other screens, cause us to lose presence with each other.
If there’s anything I’ve learned as a head of school, it’s the power of presence. When someone has a problem or an issue, a quick text or email can be helpful, but walking down to their office or sitting down with them in mine, looking them in the eye, and engaging them in uninterrupted conversation means so much more. When someone in our school community is sick or has a loved one who has died, showing up to give them a hug and tell them you love them means everything. You don’t have to say something spiritual or wise; you probably shouldn’t. But, being there matters. Finally, I’ve learned that, while I’m not omnipresent and can’t be at everything, showing up to as many school events as possible tells kids and their parents that I love them, which I do, much more than just saying it. And, all these things are true for all of us.
I’m not Amish, or a technology-hater. I appreciate technology, and I think, when used intentionally, it’s an invaluable tool. We employ it at Grace in the education process, because we want to help you help your kids learn to use it redemptively; if they don’t learn that here, I don’t know where else they will. But, part of learning to use it redemptively, to using it well, is learning how not to make it an idol, something we worship. Which means we have to put it down every once in a while. A great way to do that is through fasting.
At Grace, we’ve been compelled to call, to invite our students and school families to have a weekly Friday fast from our phones- what we’ll call “Phone Free Fridays.” This fast is completely voluntary. Phones are tools, and sometimes people need their tools to work. We’re not prying your phone from you, or your kids’ from them if you really need them to have it. We won’t be legalistic about it, or it will lose its meaning. All our landlines will be up and running if you need them or us, just like school has been done for decades before 2010ish. You’ll get follow up information from the principals on our campuses on how kids can turn in their phones and retrieve them after the already-shortened Friday school day.
But, we’re going to relinquish our phones, put them down, and see what the Lord will do with that time. We’ll see if He doesn’t help our kids be a little more present in each others’ lives, a little more engaged in conversation, a little more invested in each others’ lives. We’ll see if it doesn’t have that same effect on us. We’ll see if it doesn’t make it a little easier to put down our phones in other places, too; so that, when you’re having family dinner or you’re in the car, and you ask them to put the screens, maybe it will be a little easier on you. Most of all, we’re hoping it will maybe move us a little closer to trusting in the Lord, rather than one more thing, to occupy our thoughts and our affections.
Andy Crouch says that suffering and presence develops patience, and that the church of Jesus has been teaching its people patience throughout its history. A school day without phones isn’t suffering much, but it’s something. Maybe it will make us a little more patient? In this frenetic, crazy-paced world, we could probably all use that, too, huh?