Do you remember the “olden days”? You know what I’m talking about: Before cell phones.
How did we ever survive?
Once upon a time, I spoke at a Baptist associational meeting deep in the Appalachian Mountains. Back then, I was editor of the Western Recorder, the Kentucky Baptist newspaper; husband of one wife, Joanna; and father of two young daughters, Lindsay and Molly.
The meeting ended, as Baptist associational meetings do, around 8:30 p.m. With a four-hour drive ahead, I wanted Joanna to know when to expect me.
So, I followed standard procedure for the day. I found a gas station with a pay phone, hopped out of my car, dialed the loooong access number on my phone credit card, then dialed our home phone number. Busy signal.
This was before caller ID, call waiting and voicemail. If you called someone and got a busy signal, you either kept calling, or you got on with your life.
Unperturbed, I hopped back in my car and drove to the next village. When I found a gas station with a pay phone, the phone was broken. I circled a couple of blocks, looking for another phone. None.
A little perturbed, I drove to the next town. And the next. And then the next.
Between busy signals—we had school-aged children; we used our phone a lot—and broken-down pay phones, plus a working phone that wouldn’t accept my access number, I stopped five or six times. When I finally talked to Jo, my expected arrival time was much later than I originally estimated.
Thank God for cell phones. That trip today would begin with a quick call from the car and end in time to get an hour more sleep than I received that night.
But I wonder if we’re not just a little too dependent on cell phones.
My phone does so much, I insult it to call it a phone.
• It’s my entertainment center, which contains 1,771 songs—4.7 days of continual music—plus two online radio stations. And if I want, I can watch movies and TV shows, too.
• It’s my communication hub, which allows me to monitor all my email addresses. Texts, too. Oh, yeah, and Facebook.
• It’s one of my Bibles, with more translations than I can remember.
• And don’t forget my weather center, alarm clock, calculator.
• Also my map and GPS system.
• It’s my game closet, with puzzles, hockey, cards. Even WhackAMole.
• It provides the world of news and information—the Baptist Standard app and a bookmark for FaithVillage.com, of course. But also newspapers and magazines and websites from TV channels. And don’t forget a phalanx of podcasts from my favorite radio programs.
• And it’s also my resource for inspiration. It plays podcasts of terrific sermons, plus hours and hours of Christian music.
• More and more, it’s my bank account. It lets me pay for stuff without touching my wallet.
• Lest I forget, it’s my phone, too. And a really smart one, that remembers all my family’s and friends’ numbers, so I don’t have to.
Out of habit, I carry my phone practically everywhere I go. The shower’s out. But that’s about it.
The other day, Jo and I went out to dinner and ran some errands. And, you guessed it; I forgot my phone. I wasn’t so worried about missing phone calls, because messages would be there when I got home. But I wondered what would happen if Jo’s shopping list exceeded my attention. What would happen if—gasp!—I got bored. No crossword puzzles to work or articles to read. No tunes to tap.
The first editor of the Baptist Standard, J.B. Cranfill, had been a cowboy, preacher and doctor in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Those were wild days in Texas, and Cranfill always carried a gun. He wrote: “The fact was I put a revolver in my pocket every morning when I put on my trousers. Indeed, I would have felt more comfortable going up the street without trousers than I would without a gun.”
Well, I don’t carry a revolver, but I feel almost that way about my phone. I’m not worried about getting in a shootout. But what if I need to make a call, read an email, catch up on the news, get lost, want to check the weather forecast? And what if I get bored?
My phone is handy, but it also represents what goes wrong in my life too often. I get bored and/or distracted. I have to stay busy. And I don’t make enough time to be still and listen to God.
That’s too busy, too distracted, too bored.
In the days leading up to Easter, I plan to turn my phone off more. Leave it at home or in another room. Get quiet. And listen for the Lord’s still, small voice.