Last night, the kids and I lit the Christmas tree and turned off all the other lights in the house. We gathered candles and lit them too—a half a dozen or so scattered around the living room like fireflies. Faith and Jonathan brought two tall tapers to the table so we could have dinner in their hushed glow.
It was just the six of us, sometimes talking, sometimes silent, watching the flames and enjoying the comfort of sitting close and sharing a meal together. My children’s eyes twinkled, full of the wonder of Christmas, the enchantment of the evening, and the expectation of good things to come.
“I want to pray,” Kya said, unexpectedly. Micah’s warm little hand instinctively reached for mine and Paul put his hands over his eyes. Kya prayed right in the middle of the meal, just because she thought of something to say to God that couldn’t wait. “Thanks for making us,” she said.
It was a good prayer.
“I like this,” Jonathan said, nearly singeing his hair on the candle. All the other children smiled and nodded.
“I’m going to have a candle collection when I grow up,” Faith mused.
I watched her playing with the wax as it pooled up on the pewter candlestick like a glop of warm jam, and I was awed into silence. It takes so little to be happy. Sometimes, all it takes is a little quiet to let your ears hear what your heart is trying to speak.
But our world is far from silent. It has become ever louder with each passing generation until it seems that there is not a single place on this earth where the noise has not permeated. The average American spends nearly 5 hours a day watching television, two hours a day online, and at least an hour a day staring at a cell phone screen. Sixty-six percent of all American homes have three or more televisions, and seven out of ten homes keep the TV on during dinner. Most families have the TV on all the time, whether they are watching it or not.
There is no silence.
Our attentions are so divided, most of us multitask our media, watching TV and surfing the internet at the same time, listening to music while texting a friend and playing a Facebook game. It is no wonder we don’t enjoy our children. They are just another part of the noise.
Perhaps it’s time we unplug.
A few years ago, I made the decision to keep the TV off if my kids were awake. It was my habit to wake up and turn on the morning news shows. But I had become increasingly more aware of the fact that my children were watching what was on the screen. The programming, including scary news clips, was not meant for children. Neither were the commercials, which often sold products and services using very adult situations.
It was not an easy break. I missed it at first. But I reminded myself of this: no one ever got to the end of her life and said, “I wish I’d watched more TV.” I will not wish I’d sat on a couch more and stared at a box longer. No, I will wish I had lived my life more fully than that.
I am far from being free from the noise, however. My children will tell you that while I don’t watch TV, and I don’t own a cell phone, I do spend far too much of my day plunking away at my laptop. They know that if I am staring at the screen, they might have to ask a question two or three times before I hear them. Faith says, “Don’t you know Mommy’s in her computer trance?”
If I am not careful, I allow myself to engage more with my computer than I do with my children. I become frustrated because they are making noise and I can’t concentrate. I yell at them to stop arguing instead of getting up and going downstairs to see what’s wrong. I become annoyed when they need something from me because I am trying to work. I fill up my lap with a laptop instead of a child.
Have I really done anything better than what I was doing before? Of course not.
Enjoying my children means I must give them my full attention because I enjoy my children more when I am fully present, when they have both my ears, both my eyes, and my undivided delight. I enjoy them more when I am not attempting to multi-task my thoughts and my affections.
To do this, I must turn off the media. I have to keep the TV off, limit the times when I work or play on my computer, and let the phone go to voicemail.
Then, in the quiet, I can connect with my children. That means that when they are talking to me, I respond with my eyes. I watch their faces, not a screen. I listen with my ears to their voices, not to the TV or the music, and not texting someone at the same time. I answer with real words, not “Uh-huh.”
It is such a simple but profound difference. Your children know when you are not engaging with them. They can tell. That’s why they pat your arm and say your name over and over again when you’re busy doing something else. They want to know you are really there. They have learned that often, you are not.
Your children want all of you in their moment.
Unplug. Let the phone ring. Just because you have it with you does not mean it needs to control you. Let the texts go unanswered. Let Facebook update itself. Be unavailable today to the distractions of a noisy world and engage the people you really care about.
Today, make it a point to connect with your children in the quiet.
Join us tomorrow for Day 19: Rest
For further thought:
1) Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13 talk about how we cannot serve two masters. We are unable to divide our affections. In the context, money is the second master, but anything can take God’s place in our hearts, including media. Does your media usage reflect the fact that you are trying to serve two masters? How is that working in your home?
2) Most people are familiar with the phrase, “A house divided cannot stand.” How is dividing your attention destructive to your family? How is it counterproductive to fill your home with sounds and images that do not reflect what you say you believe?
3) Today, keep track of how often you put your children second to media. Sometimes, it is appropriate to make them wait, but often it is not. Evaluate yourself. Are your affections divided? Are you too plugged in to a device and not as plugged in to your children as you need to be? What changes can you make to correct this problem?