“No email, texts, or calls for three days. There would be no way for anyone to get a hold of me.”
Have you ever been alone? I mean so isolated that there was no way anyone could reach you, even in an emergency. A death, tsunami, or the release of the latest iPad, and you would be oblivious, the electronic umbilical cord cut. Inaccessible. Alone. The term “going dark” works perfectly in this context. It’s a common slang expression used in the intelligence world as a way to describe a spy going silent to protect his identity from an enemy. There is no handler contact; he is completely cut off and on his own.
Solitude is an essential ingredient for me to be a prolific writer. It is within the fires of solitude that my best stuff happens; I am forced to engage my deepest voices without outside support or encouragement, to rely on my inner resources and the Holy Spirit. After years of avoiding feelings of isolation, I have discovered that loneliness is my muse. She is an ugly lover who demands as much as she gives. In spite of myself, I have reluctantly flirted with solitude through solo canoe trips, two post-apocalyptic divorces, and three-day hiking trips into the woods.
But because of the increase of social networking technology, today I can be isolated without really being alone. With my iPhone on vibrate, email, texts, and Facebook notifications afford me the feeling of connection without the breath of bloviation on my face. Barely twenty minutes would pass before my phone would vibrate with something new and exciting. I would drop everything, including my train of thought, and look. After all, how could I not? Responding is robotic, as though I am an extension of my phone instead of the other way around. How did I ever live without my iPhone anyway? I wonder, as I feel that silent heartbeat against my hip. Oh look—it’s Mary with some clever anecdote to help me smile away a humdrum morning; or one of my daughters providing a one-sentence word picture extrapolated from her alien subculture. Every interruption becomes an excuse to stop the arduous task of writing and look into my 3.5-inch window to a better world.
It wasn’t until a seven-day fast that it became clear how dependent I had become on my social networking devices. Funny, no matter how much I have written about fasting, I am still amazed at how much this altered state is able to clarify things and, every time, I am taken by surprise, especially if it’s been a while since I have fasted. There it was, as clear as the hunger in my belly. Because of my obsessive personality and struggle with insecurity, I have become emotionally dependent on texts, email, and phone calls. The real-time connection provided by my iPhone creates the perfect ecosystem for compulsive behavior to grow. I would obsessively check to see if I had a text and, if I didn’t, there would be a tiny unpleasant feeling, an almost imperceptible sensation of insecurity and disappointment. But it was just enough to create an obsessive behavior. I am a fiercely independent person—at least, I desire to be so, therefore any form of dependence on something or someone is a mockery of personal autonomy. When I receive texts or email, they became small islands of relief in a shallow sea of borderline insecurity. The feeling would last for only a moment, compelling me to search for the next little island.
It was time to take decisive action, and I knew there had to be some pain involved. Without explanation other than “I am fasting,” I texted my family and a handful of friends to tell them that I was going dark. I had to refer to my owner’s manual to learn how to turn off my iPhone. (Hold the top button down until the phone’s heart stops beating.) I actually felt sadness as I watched the little silver apple disappear. And then there was nothing. I didn’t even check my daily web traffic or sales, which are a source of gratification. Creating a quiet sanctuary in my own living room, this was my walk into the desert.
Sure enough, the result was remarkable and quick. After only a few hours of transition, after checking a dead phone out of habit faded, there was a calm, followed by a cleaner spiritual focus, and finally, a deeper connection to God.
It seems the networking system that God uses is something far more subtle than cell phone towers and internet cables. The personal line of communion is focused faith. You see it throughout the bible. Most often, it’s when people are alone, even abandoned, and then they hear the voice of God. Keep in mind that the bible is a compact collection of stories, and we forget that only a few chapters can span someone’s whole lifetime. The point is, even with the biblical greats, there were seldom pillars of fire, a still small voice, Mount Sinai moments, or talking donkeys. Hearing God’s voice, whether audible or not, is rare and life-altering. I don’t think this is because God is uncommunicative. When you examine the times God spoke to biblical figures, there emerges a pattern. They are most often alone, in despair, and almost always waiting. Unlike with a cell phone, it’s the remote places where spiritual reception is best.
Today, we are hardly ever really alone. We run from despair, and our lives are so filled with stuff. Even when waiting in line, we can listen to our favorite music or talk, text, and tweet our friends and enemies. One thing we know about God: He is a jealous lover who has a clear sense of Himself. I Am who I Am. He will not shout and vie for your attention as the more insecure, smallish gods do. God is adept at waiting. He knows that it is only a matter of time before you will be alone, in despair, and waiting. And then you will remember what really matters. Who really matters.
For me, it meant untangling the obsessive emotional dependency I have on others to prop up a faltering insecurity and, instead, finding my confidence in God’s presence. Practically speaking, it means going dark from time to time. With the advent of cell phones, this has become an important component in my faith maintenance program. When I begin to feel personal autonomy waning, when my baseline sense of well-being is measured by how many texts, emails, and Facebook notifications I receive that day, I know it’s time to turn off my iPhone, close Outlook, and unplug my landline. It takes only a few minutes before this strange quiet envelops me, and a few more to realize how I have gradually pushed God away again.
"I am alone and I feel at peace. No one can get in touch with me. It's just my closest Friend and me."
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