two months ago i spoke at philhaven hospital in mount greta pennsylvania. i shared the room with 40 therapists and community members who were fantastically interactive with the material i presented around technology and health. at the end of the day a truly remarkable woman approached me to share some reflections. among them was a phrase that has stuck with me in deep ways. “i tell parents that they do a huge disservice to their children when they don’t give them opportunities to be inconvenienced and uncomfortable.”
while i have encouraged parents and kids alike to maintain an ability to be bored, to require themselves to take relational risks, and to boldly attempt tasks they don’t already excel at, i’ve never been able to put these suggestions into a sentence so concise. what had taken me half of my 6 hour talk to say, this brilliant woman said in an instant.
technology has afforded us some amazing opportunities to avoid inconvenience and discomfort. gone are the days where waiting is a necessity. we can text our orders to restaurants to be picked up curbside. we download feature films to our smart phones. we scan bar codes while shopping to compare prices at neighboring markets. we troll facebook telling ourselves we’re building a network of friends to whom we reveal our very edited lives. we avoid awkward pauses in communication by turning our attention to our devices. we auto-fill online order forms and don’t notice that all the ads that appear on our screens match up perfectly with our interests, making our devices seem to offer up all our favorites without our ever “asking.”
some of these things are wonderful. truly.
all of them are convenient.
many of them save us from being uncomfortable.
what we’re left with, however, is the question of just how comfortable and convenienced we might chose to be if we were conscious of the choice.
my parents were fantastic road trip executers. activities were plentiful, snacks healthy and fun, and discussions lively. even having shared a small back seat, my brother and i have nothing but fond memories of our 12 hour drives between california and oregon (which contained only 2 ten minute stops). my parents also used to throw (and let my brother and i throw) really fun parties. in eighth grade they helped me move the furniture out of our family room for a party where the girls built banana splits in the boys’ mouths, we made tall human pyramids, and played twister. a few years later we turned our living room into a hawaiian beach for a date my brother dreamed up. we hosted a party every year on christmas eve that spanned the hours of midnight to 3 a.m. and, often, we loaned our house to others to throw parties when their own homes weren’t fitting for one reason or another. our house wasn’t large or fancy and we weren’t wealthy. my parents were simply resourceful and willing to be inconvenienced for a greater “good.”
i have encountered many other families with similarly spectacular inconvenient stories. families who continue to share one desk top computer which is housed in mom and dad’s bedroom. families who forego expensive cell phone plans in order to afford farther reaching travel destinations. families who play board games, get out their instruments for community jam sessions, and volunteer together. families who organize block parties, neighborhood parades, and who give up their own rooms to sleep on couches when they have overnight company.
i know individuals who are also willing to be inconvenienced and uncomfortable. they take sabbaths (a 24 hour period where they rest or take breaks from certain activities or objects that normally keep them from being present to their lives and/or their spiritual selves) or go without expensive coffee drinks to give money to a charity instead. individuals who mail letters for the simple desire of keeping the postal service alive. people who forgo smart phones in order to keep themselves from constantly consuming technology and people who refuse to have difficult conversations via text. even though it would be easier. especially because it would be easier.
if we are never inconvenienced, if we are never uncomfortable, we will never grow. i would imagine that it is inconvenient for a seed to need to be buried in the ground, uncomfortable to live deep in the wet (or dry) earth, and possibly painful for a sprout to break through the skin, push up through the earth and make its way to light. yet without these discomforts a seed just stays a seed. it never grows.
it is easy, in our hyper-convenienced world, to begin to feel entitled to the many eases technology presents. in doing so we under-develop the ability to strive for knowledge, to seek real wisdom (over mere advice), to wrestle to find answers to complex issues, to think critically. as our technologies “learn” us they present us with ever more personalized images, information, and offers that pander to our preferences. if we don’t name (or recognize) this process we simply begin to unconsciously consume only that information that is dished up to us based upon that which we already support, like, believe, endorse. we are neither uncomfortable nor inconvenienced and, what is worse, we don’t even realize it.
we are hard wired for connection. to others. to ourselves. to God. these connections are risky. to engage in them authentically we must get out of our comfort zones and grow into new spaces. even if we don’t chose to live in those spaces we must at least explore them. like the seed that never reaches to the light for fear of the dirt along the way, when we keep quietly to our comfortable places we eventually die a dried up seed. when we risk the reaching, when we force ourselves into inconvenient and uncomfortable spaces, we not only grow our own flexibility and resilience but we inspire it in others.
while it’s uncomfortable to venture a conversation with someone whose first language is not our own, doing so affects both parties. we may feel silly, it may go terribly, but at least in trying, we are growing. while it’s inconvenient to limit a child’s screen time to a moderate amount and it requires us to become creative in helping them find new forms of entertainment, doing so demands a host of relational skills and investments from adult and child. these investments will pay off. while it’s risky to go phoneless for a day, letting our minds wander when we’re in line or at a restaurant or walking down the street, it might develop imagination. while we may feel silly staring into space, or initiating eye contact, or asking for directions, or offering up a compliment to someone we don’t know...all of these discomforts hold the potential of great growth. i have yet to meet a person who encountered their great personal passion or unique gift or calling by sitting in one place, speaking to no one (including themself), consuming images fed to them on a screen.
being a whole, grounded, authentic, sturdy self is rarely easy. it is often inconvenient (it’s so much safer to be cut off from our selves). it is almost always uncomfortable. it is messy. it means feeling like an idiot sometimes. and looking like one alot. it means moving the furniture out for a party and interacting on long road trips and a million other large and small actions that make us feel vulnerable. it means going to places unfamiliar (especially places that stink) and trying foods that make us wince and expressing things to others that make us feel incredibly uncomfortable. it means dancing by ourselves if there is no one to dance with. or inviting someone to join us for a meal even if it’s a simple one. or the house is dirty. or all we can afford is top ramen with hot dogs.
(if you are the woman who coined the phrase, “inconvenienced and uncomfortable,” thank you! please write to me and tell me your name so that i can ask your permission to spread your amazing phrase and give you all the appropriate credit you deserve.)