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For Your Marriage

Dennis and Mary Jo Weiss have been married for more than 30 years. They write about a shared love of nature, prayer, and their children and grandchildren from their home in Hamburg, New York.

Technology and the Family

We had a hard frost last night here in Buffalo. The conditions are just right for a much-loved family past time called “The Leaf Game.” After a hard frost, trees start to drop their leaves in a silent downfall of large, colorful confetti.

The game is very simple. Stand below a tree and try to catch a leaf before it hits the ground. A point for each leaf caught. Hands only, no nets, jackets, or blankets.

Sound easy? Try it. Oh, the leaf will seem to be floating gently down at times, and then curl just out of reach at the last moment!

Then, if there is even the slightest of breeze, the coveted foliage will ride the changing currents of air, and you will have to follow it in some crazy path through the air as it winds its way down! If you add in the competitive element of several people trying for the same leaf, well, let’s just say it is not always a non-contact sport!

When I reminisce about special family times, the joy and simplicity of our adventures in God’s great outdoors are some of my best memories. The times that we talked, laughed, shared and played were much simpler times, without some of the challenges that today’s parents are facing. No one had cell phones or smart phones. We were happily unavailable to the outside world, and I believe that this deepened our presence to one another, and strengthened our family.

I have no issue with technology itself, but I cannot deny that I have seen its detrimental effect on families. The other day, as I passed the playground, I saw a child playing as his mother sat off to the side engaged in her smart phone. It made me sad to think that when that child did something wonderful and sought the eye contact of his mother to see if she had seen him, that special moment would not happen for him. His mother was physically present, but absent to him in spirit.

We all need “down time” as adults, but it seems that we need to return to the idea of being fully present to those around us and not miss those opportunities that come so fleetingly, at times.

There are opportunities every day to indicate through eye contact or gesture that we notice and care for one another. If your attention is on a screen, how can you know who around you is in need? These “small misses” will eventually add up and lessen the quality of our relationships. Though we are more globally connected, it seems we are becoming more distant to one another. Our powers of observation have been diminished by our need to “multi-task.”

Grace is subtle, and if we are missing opportunities to connect with others in a deeper way, are we not also becoming oblivious to God’s actions in ourselves and others?

So what is a family to do?

When our children were small, we used to teach them a simple phrase for deciding whether to do something: “Is it helpful, or hurtful?” As heads and hearts of families, parents must do the same.

As parents, we must discern through prayer the place that technology holds in our lives and draw firm boundaries as to its reach into our homes. This involves a deep examination of ourselves, and a humble openness to what God is calling us to become in relationship to those around us.

The health of our households depends on how intentional we are as parents in defining the culture within the walls of our home.

We must cultivate the sensitivity that tells us, “This is too much,” or tells us when to decline something due to its addictive nature. Just as we can fast from food, new possibilities can arise in our lives because we abstained from a form of technology that would consume too much of our time.

Like you, it is an on-going discernment for Dennis and me, even with our children now grown up. With the rapidly changing advances in technology, we need to decide what will help us and what may detract from the sweetness and joy of the life God calls us to.

Let’s go to God and ask Him how best to use our time, how best to feel fully alive.

Chances are the answer does not involve much technology.

And remember, for a down-home, “laugh ‘til your sides hurt” kind of fun – try the leaf game.