I recently attended a sophisticated party. Beautifully adorned women, smartly dressed men. I sat and observed the wonder of human interaction. How we dip and pirouette in and out of conversations with sighs, laughs, and head curtsies.
Then I observed one elegant woman sit upon the out-of-the-way leather couch, off to herself, pull out her iPhone, and flip through, whatever.
Astounding, I thought. We, the sophisticated, turning from the real, to the virtual. Then I thought how most of these beautiful men and women will return home, check their children (if they have them), dress for bed, and sit up looking back on the evening via news feeds from the social.
I marveled at how we can transition from the delights of fellowship, into the gorging of narcissism. This thought sent me reeling. I wondered how I looked within the grand context of human interaction. Was I checking my phone when e're I could? Did I return home simply to hop in bed and hop online?
Then I thought, How do my daughters see me? They pop into our room during the pre-sleep I need-a-snack time. What's daddy doing? Flipping through the social? Binge watching? On the laptop? What legacy am I creating each morning, noon, and night? What am I etching into their hearts via my actions and inaction? Do they see me rush to the virtual world, when the physical world demands my attention?
Certainly digital/social media serves some purpose in our lives. But what struck me was how it has moved from simple augmentation of the real, to a weird kind of co-inherence with one another.
So, I scribbled down my manifesto, a declaration of my organic humanity and its relationship to the most important discipleship project I'm a part of: fathering my daughters.
I want my girls to see dirt under my fingernails. Grease in my fingerprints. Grass stains on my jeans.
I want them to see me build a fire. Cook them s'mores. Pitch a tent.
I want them to see me work, hard. And then play, hard.
I want them to be overwhelmed with the wonder and beauty of books. To be humbled, intrigued, and inspired by human thought, because I, myself, respect all humans and their unique and varied thought.
I want them to read poetry, love poetry, write poetry, because I, myself, value poetry and its place in human discourse.
I want them to see me participate in hard conversations, through thoughtful interaction, through rigorous scholarship, and hard thinking on subjects that demand more than bumper-sticker-theology, sound-byte-moralism, or blog-deep-advocacy.
I want them to see me hold my ground, when the whole world shifts toward the popular trends and too-cool-ideology sparked by a postmodern narcissism that threatens to reduce sacramental and sacrificial living into a cesspool of self, tagged with the your-best-story-now mantra.
I want them to see me take on adventures. Travels, hikes, bike-hikes, day-hikes, back-yard-capades.
I want them to see me fail. I want them to see me get back up. And try again.
I want them to see me give mercy. I want them to see me accept grace. I want them to see me talking with their mom, in the quiet of the mornings on the porch.
I want them to find me playing my guitar when no one is looking or listening. I want them to know how beauty roots in solitude and blooms as an afront to chaos.
I want them to find me talking to God as if he hears, and wants to talk back, because he does.
I want them to discover the overwhelming wonder of music, from Bach to Led Zepplin. I want them to see me drink it in. I want them to see me singing with it, dancing to it, unafraid of the neighbor's surprise visit or what our sophisticated society may think.
I want them to hear my laughter shake the rafters.
I want them to hear my sobs resound in the quietness of my closet.
I want them to find me napping, under a tree, in a hammock.
I want them to find me by the fire just looking at stars, way past midnight when they should be in bed but can't sleep.
I want them to see me heading out on my mountain bike. Cleaning my mountain bike, fixing my mountain bike. I want them to ask me if they can come along.
I want them to see me bleed.
I want them to hear me tell stories.
I want them to feel free to crawl up into my lap, even while I'm working.
I want them never to have to wait until I post something to hear their inquiry.
I want them to be in the world, rather than spending time curating a virtual one.
I want to binge-watch THEM.
As a culture, our attentiveness has succumb to the glam of immediacy. I want my daughters to see me attentive, to them, to our life together, to the moment. I don't want them to see me rushing it off to the internet.
I didn't post any pictures from the party. I wanted to keep the images in my memory, private, and special. And the same goes for this Saturday when I planted pansies with my daughters. Life events don't have to be posted to be special. In fact, hiddenness enriches our lives with the value of intimacy.
Timothy Willard is the author of five books, including Longing For More: Daily Reflections on Finding God in the Rhythms of Life and the forthcoming The Life-Giving Adventure of Chasing Beauty (Eerdmans, 2019). He has collaborated on over 20 books and has written, consulted and served as spiritual director for organizations such as Chick-fil-A, Catalyst, Q Ideas and Praxis Labs. When he’s not riding the trails in the Appalachian mountains you can find him by the fire with his three daughters and his wife making up stories about Tom the back yard badger. He lives somewhere in the south Charlotte woods.