Before and After

BEFORE.

Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory. I wake to a quiet house, kiss the husband, take care of necessities, pour a cup. Sit with book and journal, thought and prayer, silence. Most days begin bowing my heart, if not my body, before my Father.

Breakfast.

Conversation, laughter over frozen waffles. Background music, enjoyed together. Or the rush and tumble of everyone running late, but running late together.

Presence and Connection.

I am wherever I am. When I want to connect, I ask for it: Pick up the telephone, move physically toward another human being. Risk rejection. Together, I see with my eyes, hear with my ears, touch with my hands. When I am alone, I am fully alone. And when I’m with someone else, I’m fully with that person.

Work.

I work when I am at work. Anything that needs to be done must get done within those walls, the boundary of those hours. If I work late, it’s on purpose. I’m aware that I’m working. The boss can’t get to me after hours, few bold enough to call at home. Even as a budding work-aholic, these are easy boundaries to hold.

Friends.

Extroverted, I feel close to many people. My calendar is as full as my heart. Coffee, lunch, work friends, college friends, old friends, new friends. Sometimes I am overwhelmed, push against my limits. But a girl only has a certain number of hours to connect. There’s only so much energy to start, grow, and keep up with friendships. Life includes more than I like of “We kind of lost contact, I should call her.”

Evenings.

Dinner together, wash dishes, get ready for bed. Evenings are for books and conversations. Let’s play a game! What do you want to watch tonight? When we choose movies or TV, we choose together. Life in community requires compromise. We are home, or out with others. Here or there, with no in between. And if we are out, there is always the blessed ritual of coming home to each other.

The outside world.

Want news? Buy a paper. Turn on the TV. Have a favorite celebrity, author, or athlete? Buy a magazine for the interview. Maybe catch a clip on a talk show. Want to engage with the world? You have to get out into it.

AFTER

Rise and shine and…check in with the outside world. Necessities take a bit longer, distractions to scroll, podcasts to listen to. Mornings include pouring a hot cup, plus a journal, book and prayer. But to be honest, most days begin bowing over blue light.

Breakfast.

Quiet. Nearly everyone has headphones in, their own separate soundtracks. When there’s a rush and tumble, it’s often because one or more of us was plugged in, distracted.

Presence and Connection.

Presence is something we have to fight for. The world fell out of practice, now we need meditation books and podcasts and apps, ironically accessed via the very tools that trained us to be absent. I can connect now, from wherever I am. So convenient? No risk, but also nothing to see, hear or touch. I am rarely ever really alone. But I’m also rarely fully with another person.

Work.

I work when I am at work. I work when I can’t resist the lure of checking in, responding, seeing what’s going on. I work when anyone has a quick question. I work when anyone needs me to work. The lines are blurred, I’m barely aware that I’m working. Boundaries are hard, barely worth the effort. Accessibility is the expectation.

Friends.

Extroverted, I have 1,848 friends. I don’t have lunch or coffee with many, but there’s almost no limit to the number of people I can touch base with. I’m in contact with almost every person I’ve ever known: High school friends, college friends, past work friends, past church friends. Who do I spend actual time with? I’m unlimited, but also unsatisfied.

Evenings.

Dinner together, wash dishes, get ready for bed. We play games, watch something together, but it’s harder to find something everyone likes. Unlimited choices don’t always make it easier to choose. Too often, headphones go on, kids do their own thing, hoping we won’t notice. Compromise is no longer necessary? He watches videos in one room, I play a game in another. We’re together, but more connected to the outside than we are to each other. How do you come home to each other if you never left?

The outside world.

I don’t even need to open my door, we’re never not connected to the outside world. There’s no escape from news, from politics and violence and outrage.  I know more about at least 50 celebrities, authors, and athletes than I do about my neighbors. Seduced by convenience, “connection” is always at my fingertips. And yet connection feels like very hard work.

“Such a person feeds on ashes; a deluded heart misleads him;   he cannot save himself, or say, “Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?”

Isaiah 44:20

This Fall, Matt and I started a Masters program in Christian Spiritual Formation at Friends University. Our first class began by looking at the many and varied ways we are formed by the world and our particular cultural context, before studying specific ways we are formed spiritually. I wrote this piece for an assignment asking us to look at one aspect of American life that shapes and forms us.

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