God is not the only person that we’re tempted to ignore by looking at our devices. Can you remember a time when you have set down your phone, only to discover that someone is looking deadpan at you, waiting to continue a conversation? That is an embarrassing moment, but is one that happens to each of us from time to time.
It is tempting to abandon in-person conversations for a quick look at our phone (or a TV or tablet). Sherry Turkle said that in these moments each of us is “pause-able.”1 Face-to-face interaction is hurt by our constant tech use. Phones in our pockets or on the table cause us to mentally multitask while having face-to-face conversation. We struggle to listen to the person in front of us while also being conscious of the rectangle in our pocket. It is difficult to be present with the face-to-face while simultaneously being connected to people digitally.
Our devices connect us to too many people and streams of communication at once. They provide seamless connection to the world and provide endless opportunity for distraction. We trade in meaningful face-to-face moments for dozens of irrelevant interactions. They are distractions that we can’t escape so long as a device is near us.
Distraction competes with the presence of others. The most meaningful conversations happen when two people are fully engaged with one another. Intimacy happens when we bring all of ourselves to the moment with another person.
Think of the deep conversations you have had in your life . . . conversations about friends and family, death and marriage, faith and love. They involve qualities such as trust, confidentiality, safety, and patience. These traits are each hindered by phone use during a conversation.
We break trust when we choose to pause a conversation to take a call or a text. We break confidentiality when we send signals to a friend that, “Your life isn’t important enough for me to hold off on communicating with others.” How many intimate moments have been ruined because someone wants to throw the perfect moment up on an Instagram story? Significant memories like birthday parties, weddings, and deep conversations are halted when we reach for our phones and pause real life for a camera.
We develop weighty friendships through face-to-face interactions. It shouldn’t surprise us that, statistically speaking, Gen Zers spends less time with friends if their screen time increases. It also shouldn’t be a surprise that depression also follows the same correlation.
In-person relationships are humanizing. They help us feel alive and have the power to restore a person whose spirit is dwindling. Emerging generations ache for friends with whom they can smile, laugh, and dance—friends who are physically present.
You can provide spaces for thriving friendship within your Christian community. The church can restore vintage human relationships. However, we will lose the potent power of forged families if our communities are built around distracted friendships.
Hosting young adults in disturbance-free environments is a good way to enhance forged families. But you must first teach, model, and value presence. Communities will be present with each other only when they are made up of present people. Undistracted lives pave the way for present community.
A Paradox Worth Embracing: Solitude Connects Us
The practice of solitude is monumental for developing an undistracted life. Solitude forces us to confront the emotions that are so easily stuffed by device distraction.
Let’s look to “philosopher” Andy Dwyer for a good example of solitude. This absentminded and beloved character on the sitcom Parks and Rec begins a job as a security guard in one episode. He spends time alone while patrolling an abandoned government building. The pressure of being alone with his thoughts builds and, after twenty minutes, he calls for help. In a manic state he says, “I got so bored that I started thinking about existence! Do I matter? Do any of us? Is there a master plan in the works? A grand design?”2
Goofy example, I know. But these are truly the types of healthy questions that rise to the surface when we spend time alone. Alan Noble wrote: “The constant distraction of our culture shields us from the kind of deep, honest reflection needed to ask why we exist and what is true.”3
We will never be emotionally or spiritual whole without confronting the great and small questions of life. Maturity will remain beyond our grasp if we never muster up the courage to confront the thoughts that arise when we’re alone.
Device medi(a)cation keep us from knowing ourselves and God. Andy’s breakdown on Parks and Rec made me laugh, but it also highlights the need for a practice of solitude.
The first step toward equipping young adults with a lifestyle of solitude is to model it ourselves. It is up to each one of us to embrace the tension of being alone without distraction. Only then can we become whole people and be able to contribute to meaningful relationships. True and undistracted solitude is the Christian response to the wall of device distraction that isolates us. Solitude is the practice of intentional and healthy disengagement from distraction and from others. Ruth Haley Barton, in her book Sacred Rhythms, wrote:
Solitude is a place. It is a place in time that is set apart for God and God alone, a time when we unplug and withdraw from the noise of interpersonal interactions, from the noise, busyness and constant stimulation associated with life in the company of others. . . . Most important, solitude is a place inside myself where God’s Spirit and my spirit dwell together in union.4
God will shape us when we spend undistracted time alone in his presence.
We cannot control the presence of God, but we can control the rhythms of our lives. Our rhythms shape us. We are unlikely to be molded by the presence of God if we don’t put ourselves in positions to encounter that presence.
Living a life of device distraction will discourage the experience of God’s presence and keep us disconnected and emotionally discouraged. Conversely, God can shape us into relationally connected and emotionally whole people when we choose solitude.
Solitude gives God space to lead us in Scripture and heal us in prayer. Our lives—and the souls of emerging adults—can heal when we give God space to speak to us about our questions, doubts, insecurities, and emotions.
Peace in solitude allows us to have peace in community.
Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer didn’t mince words when he said, “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. It will only do harm to himself and to the community.”5 I wonder if Bonhoeffer were alive today if he would say, “Let him who cannot be alone and undistracted beware of community.” We need to have wholeness in God—and in solitude—before we can meaningfully love others.
Emotionally and spiritually healthy people are capable of truly loving others. Solitude allows us to become a safe place for other people to experience intimate relationships because we are satisfied with God and no longer need to self-medicate with distraction.
Distracted and anxious people make for shallow communities, but emerging adults who master the art of solitude will be a gift to others. They can offer their friends a present attentiveness, a listening ear, and a caring heart. Henri Nouwen wrote: “Solitude does not pull us away from our fellow human beings but instead makes real fellowship possible.”6
What We Need Is Undistracted Friendship
The art of presence starts with solitude and extends into our everyday relationships. We can help protect the sacredness of human connection by cultivating communities in distraction-free environments. Think about the dynamics of the room where you gather young adults. Can they see each other? Do they ever face one another or are they always facing a presenter? Is the meeting space simple, or does is blaze with bright lights and large screens?
It is impossible to imagine a distracted Jesus in Scripture. Think about Jesus with the woman at the well. What if he asked her to pause her adultery confession so he could respond to a quick text? Or imagine one of the disciples zoning out during the Last Supper to watch a TV on the wall in the Upper Room. These pictures are hilarious to think about, but they are the realities of our common gathering spaces. How many sacred moments are wasted because our communities meet in distraction-prone environments?
You can protect the sacredness of spiritual friendship by forging families in simple spaces. Bring people together in clean rooms where they can be present with God and with one another. Allow for genuine relationships to break through the awkwardness of silence. Encourage eye contact. Listen to people with your whole face.
You will help emerging adults to bond tightly with Christian community through the practice of solitude and environments of presence. They will not only find that they love the presence of God, but that they have friends in the faith as well. These relationships will dive below the surface of shallow interaction.
No one remains a stranger in forged families. They will be present to understand one another’s stories, experiences, and hearts. A deep soul resonance and trusted unity will develop as they discover how much they have in common. Intimacy, love, and humanity can be restored to their relationships with a little intentionality.
Twenty-somethings are desperate to be known from the inside out. Tear down the wall of distraction, and you are likely to forge an authentic and attractive emerging adult family.
Your church or young adult community can buck the trends of the emerging adult exodus by simply listening to the Millennial and GenZ generations, and by cultivating a forged family community that will reach and form them.
Forged: Young Adults and the Renewal of the Church equips you to do this by: 1) making these generations alive and personal to you and 2) shedding light on how your church can re- engage them in this moment.
This book illuminates both the darkness that surrounds most emerging adults, and the blind spots that keep most churches from eﬀectively ministering to them. Take a second to look critically at these generations and evaluate how your church can serve them. Some simple but profound changes in how you approach young people may spark renewal. God has called you to lead these generations in this moment. Forged will help you confidently lead your church into a bright and positive future with twenty-somethings.
- Campus ministers
- Mentors to young adults
- Pastors desiring renewal
- Family ministers
In these pages you’ll:
- Rally your church or family to re-engage emerging adults with creative and potent strategies
- Learn how to plant micro communities that can reach and disciple young adults
- Learn principles to successfully disciple and develop the next generation of their church leadership
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1. Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2017), 161.
2. Parks and Rec, season 5, episode 8, “Pawnee Commons.”
3. Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2018), Kindle.
4. Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 32.
5. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community (New York, NY: HarperOne, 1954), 77.
6. Henri J. M. Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1975), 42.