Oct 222017 7 Responses

Sometimes You Need to Be Off-Limits

When I was a kid there were a few times when my grandmother was in the hospital. I never remember her health being very good, but on those occasions, her health became the centerpiece of our family’s attention. While my grandfather was her main caretaker, my father was the primary decision-maker. During those seasons, he had to stay continually connected. Before the days of cell phones (or in the early day of the biggest car phone you’ve ever seen), we had to track his schedule and know how to contact him wherever he was. Thankfully these seasons were short and rare. She would get better and we could live in a more relaxed format.

Growing up, someone was always available only during times of life and death. In other times, they would be reachable…eventually. There was no guarantee a call or message would reach them immediately. Instead, you would have to wait. If they weren’t by the phone in their office or at home, you would leave a message. Eventually, they would return the call. In many situations, someone was out of contact for a good amount of the day. They knew it and others knew it as well. Teachers in school, business people in extended meetings, and those traveling could not be contacted. Unless it was a matter of life and death, we were not always available. (See: 5 Ways We Seek Rest But Don’t Get It)

Today, we seemingly live in a continual state of life and death. Everyone is always available. Through the presence of technology and in conjunction with changes in societal expectations, there is never a time in which someone is unreachable. They may choose not to respond, but there are avenues to communicate with them.

Consider some of the places from which I’ve returned text messages:

  • While graveside at a funeral during a song
  • On stage at a wedding as the bridesmaids are being escorted in
  • During a sermon

While everyone has probably texted during a funeral, wedding, or church service, don’t forget, I was the one giving the eulogy, officiating the wedding, and preaching the sermon. All messages were sent in discreet ways and were likely appropriate for the circumstances taking place. But they go to show we are truly never off limits.

No doubt technology has greatly benefited society in many ways. The ease of text messaging, the availability of others through social media, and comfort of knowing we can contact anyone at any time has many perks. But they also have drawbacks.

Ours is an always available culture. Yet if we are always available, we are never fully available. Because we have to continually be checking to see if others need us or mentally prepared to deal with other situations, we can’t fully invest in the present. We’ve become accustomed to being partially present. Physically we are one place while emotionally we are in another. Our bodies might be present with some people, but we are texting, tweeting, and Facebooking with people who are in a different place. We are continually thinking about everything except that which is right before us.

The Cost of Availability

While humanity can adequately exist in an always-on framework, we can only do for a short period of time. In moment’s of true life and death, it’s an acceptable way to function, but when it becomes a chronic mindset, we pay a great price.

Work suffers. Our minds are fascinating but they are not limitless. When we never fully engage with our work, but instead continually work on it while dealing with many other distractions at the same time, we fail to use our full resources on our biggest challenges. Our most important work demands our full minds completely engaged with the task at hand. How much productivity and innovation is lost because we aren’t fully present with our work?

Relationships struggle. Meaningful connection requires attention. Whenever we fail to completely engage with those before us, it is felt as though we do not value them. When no one is giving anyone their total attention, everyone feels devalued. Many bad behaviors are the byproducts of hurt and isolation rooted in being unseen by others. Desperate for attention, we seek it in destructive ways when we fail to get it in healthy ways. How many relationships are broken because we do not fully see those around us?

Emotions are exhausted. We weren’t created to always be on. We need downtime, rest, and moments in which our hearts, minds, and emotions can be turned off. When we continually make ourselves available without any off time, we end up fed-up and burned-out. Many of us are in emotional shock. We have overwhelmed our emotions to an extent that they cannot further process what is happening. This prevents us from connecting with others or understanding what is going on inside our own hearts. How many of us are emotionally frayed because we never allow our minds to shut off?

You Aren’t That Important

My profession demands a near continual on-call schedule. For years, I’ve slept with my phone right beside my bed knowing that on any night it could ring with the news of a significant tragedy having taken place in the lives of those I love. On several occasions, through the years, that exact call has occurred.

But something happened a few months ago which had never happened in my previous decade of the pastorate. The phone rang and I never heard it. I keep it on silent so it doesn’t wake my wife, but always before I had heard the vibration. On this night, I did not.

You know what happened? The caller found someone else to take care of the emergency. I wish I would’ve been there for them, but I wasn’t. Yet my absence didn’t greatly injure them. Come to find out, I’m not as important as I thought. (See: Why You Just Don’t Care Anymore)

At first, I was saddened by the fact that I missed the call. I want to serve people and I felt like I hadn’t served a friend well. But then I was liberated by it. I don’t have to always be on. I don’t have to always be available. People have other friends, other pastors, and our church has several staff members that can help others just as well as I can.

Turn Off

We would be better served and we would serve others better if instead of always being on, we sometimes intentionally turned off. (See: An Ancient Cure for Stress and Anxiety)

If you’re never off, then you’re never fully on. Your mind is never fully charged and you are continually somewhere else. By turning off, it allows our brains and emotions a break so that we can be better present when we are turned on.

Consider the following options:

Pick a day (every week) where you are less available than others. It doesn’t mean you can’t help some people, but generally speaking that will be your day off.

Pick a time each day where your work stops. Unless it’s an emergency, you no longer send email or texts after a certain time.

Pick at least a week each year where you are off-limits to work. Give that week to your family and no one else.

Find ways throughout the day to disconnect from the outside world to better focus on your work or family. Leave your phone in another room, let others know you should not be disturbed, etc.

Turning off is not selfish. It’s a recognition of our humanity. It leads to better work. There may be seasons where you have to always be on, but those should only be one or two seasons in your life. Most issues are not life or death. Let’s stop living as though everything is.

7 Responses to Sometimes You Need to Be Off-Limits

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