Today’s Wednesday’s What-Not we investigate what happens when we do the counter-intuitive. When doing the opposite of what makes perfect sense is, in fact, the perfect solution.
- Disconnect from social media — completely
- Read Andy Andrews’ The Noticer Returns
The message wasn’t a parting of the Red Sea, trumpets blaring announcement from God. It was more a silent wooing of my spirit. As I packed for our road trip, I pondered what two weeks without technology might look like. Would it even be possible for me to step away from social media that long? Somehow, I doubted it as I packed my computer, tablet, and phone first – before stuffing any clothing or personal care products into my suitcase. A girl has her priorities.
In my defense I had also prioritized books in my packing endeavors – several real ones that you hold in your hands – in anticipation of new worlds and experiences yet to be opened. I planned to be obedient in at least one of the directives: read The Noticer Returns. That was easy, really, as I had wanted to read Andy Andrews before, but I never seemed to pick up one of his books. This time I was on assignment, and I imagined I could obtain an A from my Teacher. My diligence as I dove into the storyline would be duly noted in the comment section of my vacation report card. I was sure of it.
Part of my resistance to step away from social media—for two whole weeks (or said another way, 14 full days!)—stemmed from my desire to one day become a published author. These days, writers need to have a pre-established audience and an ability to market him or herself, much of which happens on social media.
How would taking a break help me grow influence? Quickly, one can become obsolete in social media’s out of sight out of mind environment. If you’re not engaging, you’re extinct.
I felt like Professor Hinkle from Frosty the Snowman, “I’ve got to get busy writing. Busy, Busy. Busy!”
Why would God direct me to step away from everything that I liked and followed and commented about, often in 140 characters or less? It all seemed counter-intuitive to our end objective. After all, I felt God had called me to write my story. Although He never promised me it would become published, wouldn’t He want that? How would taking a break help our end game? What was God trying to teach me in this sabbatical from social media?
What did I learn on my social media sabbatical?
First, that I could do it. Initially it seemed strange. Social media, even if you’re not trying to build a platform, is entrenched in our culture. It feels second nature to see what others are sharing and talking about. No one wants to be left out of the loop. It’s like sitting at the high school lunch table by oneself – not cool. However, I found the longer I was away from social media, the less I missed it. I thought to myself, this is what life used to be like before the advent of the internet. A lot less complicated. It was a good reminder to step away to a simpler time, at least every once in awhile.
Second, people can get along just fine without me. I don’t mean this in a defeatist way. Rather, in a realist fashion. You see, long before I ever wanted to build a platform, I wanted to connect with people. So many people are hurt and looking for something real. I think social media is a great place to authentically engage with others and in so doing show the light of Christ. I try to do that. However, if I am called to take a break, God can and will use others to convey His message of love. Of course, I always knew this, but it was a good reminder not to put so much pressure on myself. God’s got things covered.
Third, I saw how much I had come to rely on technology and social media to fill every moment of down time. During my social media sabbatical, I noticed how many times my fingers twitched for my phone to see what was happening on Twitter or Facebook whenever I had 30 seconds to spare. Especially the first leg of my trip, my fingers found themselves longing to explore the www. A little war waged within. My husband would need to use the washroom and I’d think to myself I wonder what’s going on? I could jump on Twitter real quick and see a snippit. It’s not like I would read a novel. I could engage while Sam was otherwise engaged. But I resisted. Every time. Instead, I looked around the restaurant and smiled – at actual people. I eavesdropped the good ole fashion way, by perking up my ears and leaning a little closer to the table next to me. (I had to get my fix somehow!)
I even resisted during the arduous road trip imprisoned in the car for hours. As I drove through a certain state (to remain nameless so as not to offend its occupants), my sabbatical felt like a real sacrifice. Social media would have been a pleasant distraction. Instead, I looked out the window and tried to keep myself amused. Fortunately for me, my husband came up with a great idea. We’d take silly snapshots and send a text message to my parents with ridiculous photos from our trip. They were completely random and helped us pass the time. And I think we may have started a new family tradition. We had a lot of fun finding silly shots and sharing them with my parents. Since it was my husband’s idea and I’m always so obedient to his suggestions (ha ha), I figured this would be one allowable technology infringement. Stamped and approved to send silly photos, our modern day version of a good ole fashioned post card sent with love. Here’s the product of some of our silly shots.
Fourth, I learned sometimes we need to slow down in order to speed up. Although I brought my computer to write, I didn’t feel like I was supposed to do that during this trip. I wrote in my journal, but not on my computer and not for the world to consume. Instead, I just was. I was present and in the moment each and every day. God was teaching me, yet again, to enjoy the journey. I have a tendency, when there is a goal and a vision, to run toward it. But if I run too fast, everything on the sidelines becomes blurry and I’ll miss seeing some of what God wants to show me along the way. In order to get the most from the track God has me on, I needed to slow down.
Because I took a full-fledged break, I relaxed and came back completely refreshed. My husband kept asking what God was speaking to me during our trip and I told Sam, Not much. It was silent. God had already spoken prior to my trip. I was supposed to step into the silence with Him.
That’s where The Noticer Returns steps in.
I am a gobbler of good books. Even in this, God slowed me down. This too is counter-intuitive. While in the big city (Nashville), I didn’t begin to consume the characters waiting to come to life in The Noticer Returns. It wasn’t until the second, quieter, leg of our trip tucked away in our mountain cabin that I opened the book. I felt God wanted me to spend some time amongst the pages and not rush to complete it.
Luxuriate in the language. Pay attention. Shhh. What does the silence have to say?
By way of the title, God was saying to me, “Notice things.”
I knew that’s what He wanted. He was teaching me to be an observer. Becoming a better noticer would help me become a better writer. But noticing isn’t just for writers. Becoming a better noticer helps us become better people. We see others more clearly. We see God in the every day, in every detail. Becoming a better noticer teaches us to see beyond the surface. There’s a lot to be said about being a better noticer.
In the silence I sat in my favorite vacation spot, the porch swing that allowed for movement even as my mind gained rest. Many a morning I listened intently to the sounds of the mountain forest as I took in the misty sights of the Smokey Mountains. My focus was hearing and seeing what the world held beyond what I would notice in a fleeting moment’s pause. And in my paying attention, I did see and hear more of what God had created. It was a fuller picture of all His hands had made. I appreciated His attention to detail and variety. Rather than digging into in-depth topics in my journal (which I tend to do), I found myself describing the sights and sounds I experienced.
Here’s an excerpt from my journal and what God allowed me to see when I slowed down…
What a beautiful morning it is! The sun shines through the mountain mist while birds each sing their unique song. Each sounds distinct, but I find them difficult to describe. In the tree canopies high above the forest floor, they sing their chorus—twirls, chirps, caws—some slow and steady, some quick and high pitched. Together, they make a magical morning melody. Each morning there is a new song, a sound slightly different than the preceding day. It reminds me of Psalm 33:3 “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.” And so the sweet songs of the birds harmonize, ushering in a new day.
The trees are still, standing at attention. There’s barely a whisper of a wind. Previous days the leaves were flapping like a bird’s wing in flight—quick and furious as storm showers rolled in. Turbulence in the trees a telling sign a storm’s brewing. Leaves cupped upward and you know rain almost certain to fall. God gave nature secrets for us to explore and discover, perhaps like a jigsaw puzzle where there are various pieces that all come together to create a beautiful picture. If even one piece is missing, the picture is incomplete. A predator becomes extinct and its prey overpopulates. Or an extra puzzle piece gets introduced. The piece came from a different puzzle and it doesn’t fit at all. It changes the picture, like the trees we saw destroyed from an infestation of a European bug that was somehow introduced, transported into the area. Part of the forest destroyed or in jeopardy, traumatized by this bug that does not belong. Perhaps its natural predator doesn’t exist here in the Smokey Mountains.
Think of all I would have missed that morning had I not been noticing. It made me stop and think what I might have missed other times I wasn’t noticing. Who didn’t I see? Who didn’t I help? Because I didn’t notice. What opportunity didn’t I take? What friendships might I have missed? Because I didn’t notice.
What might you have missed when not noticing? More importantly, how can you become a better noticer, so you don’t miss the blessings God has for you?
For one, I’d recommend reading The Noticer Returns. Andy Andrews is a fabulous storyteller. He teaches through the art of story and draws the reader in with his wonderful writing style. I will definitely be reading more by this gifted storyteller who gives lessons in wisdom through the stories he weaves.
Certainly, God used the story to teach me to become a better noticer, but that’s not all. I gained insights into life, business, parenting, and perspective. Through the art of story, we learn about God’s faithfulness and provision when we don’t see a way.
I think I did come away with an A for my vacation report card, but it wasn’t for my ability to diligently dive into the storyline. Rather, it was for my use of restraint as I took the teachings in more slowly over time so I could better learn the lessons God intended.
There are so many sentiments I’d like to leave you with from this book, but I think I’ll end with this quote…
If I can manage to keep my eyes and ears open, a twenty-four hour day holds undeniable drama, astounding possibilities, and the certainty of making a difference in the lives of others.¹
I pray each of us does just that. I pray we notice. And I pray we make a difference in the lives of others, because we have seen what God intended for us to see.
If you are a storyteller yourself, read The Noticer Returns paying particular attention to the effectiveness of Andy Andrews’ style. Coincidentally, upon my arrival home author and blogger Jeff Goins conducted an interview with Andy Andrews. Here’s a link if you are interested in listening to the art of telling story interview.
QUESTIONS & ACTIONS
- Take a minimum of 15 minutes to sit silently as you notice sights, sounds, & smells all around you. Slow yourself down and really pay attention. Ask God what He desires to speak to you through the silence.
¹Andrews, Andy (2013). The Noticer Returns. Nashville: W Publishing Group, pp. 222