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Stop and Smell the Roses

A few months ago I was eating dinner with my wife and daughters at a local, Italian restaurant when six teenagers walked in. They were wearing formal attire—the three young men were sporting suits and the three young ladies were dressed in gowns, the expensive kind, the kind that women spend months picking out to wear for just one, special night. I watched the hostess walk up and greet the party of six and escort them to their table.

Scenes like this make me smile. I don’t know if it’s because it reminds me of my youth, when I ventured into the world of love and romance, or if it’s something simpler than that. Whatever the reason—it really doesn’t matter—it’s just nice to watch an event like this unfold.

Sometime later, I looked over at their table, curious how the date was progressing. I was surprised by what I saw. They weren’t nervously eating, or talking, or even looking at each other. All six teenagers were feverishly thumbing on their cell phones. I have no idea if they were texting, tweeting, posting, pinning, surfing, or something else-ing. All I know is that they weren’t paying attention to each other. All the excitement, expectation, and preparation for this one, special night, and they were missing it. Sure, they were there together, but each of them was someplace else.

I didn’t know what to think or how to feel; I just had an eerie sense that something wasn’t right. A few seconds later I turned away and never looked back, but the image of them sitting around the table—each in their own world—has stuck in my mind.

Is today’s youth so “plugged-in” that they are unable to focus on where they are and the ones they’re with?

Has the world changed that much?

Back in August, 2001, when my wife was pregnant with our first child, Kirstin, we moved to Utica, NY, where I began my career as a pastor. The church didn’t have a building, so I purchased a cell phone that served as the church’s phone and as a way for people to contact me in case of an emergency. It didn’t take long for that number to be the one people also called when they just wanted to talk. Feeling responsible to love and serve the congregation, I answered the phone every time it rang. It didn’t matter where I was or what I was doing, I always answered the phone, and it rang a lot.

Three years later, I was sitting in bed with Kirstin, playing a game, when surprise, surprise, my phone rang. As I started to reach for the phone, Kirstin beat me to it. She grabbed the phone, stuck it under the sheets, and looked at me with expectant eyes. She might as well have said, “Daddy, for once can you please just pay attention to me.” It broke my heart.

I would like to say that things changed after that. I would like to say that from that point forward whenever I was with my family I let the phone go to voicemail. But I can’t, because I didn’t. Occasionally, I would let the phone ring, but most of the time I thought my job was too important, so I excused myself and answered the call.

I answered the call to love parishioners above the call to love my own family.

The truth is: I’m not all that different than the teenagers I saw at the restaurant a few months ago. I may not be fixated on my phone, caught up in the social media craze, but I still answer my phone more often than I should. I also confess that even when I’m not on the phone, there are times that I’m out to dinner with my family, but my mind is someplace else.

So where do I go from here?

Well, today is Valentine’s Day, and I’m typically not a big fan of Hallmark holidays, but this year I’m going to buy my wife and each of my daughters a bouquet of flowers and a card—not because I have to, but because I love them. They don’t know it, but I’m also going to take them out to dinner and give them my undivided attention, because what’s the point of buying flowers and taking your date out to dinner if you don’t take the time to stop and smell the roses.

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