I tend toward using my phone to check out. I’m just going to say that out loud and let it be a thing.
Whenever people in my sphere discuss their relationships with their phones and technology, the discussion tends toward the benefits of restriction and moderation:
“We hardly watch TV . . . ”
“I make sure the kids only have one hour of screen time a day . . . ”
“Kids need boundaries. They’d look at a screen all day if you let them! . . .”
“I don’t know how people can look at their phones all day. Society would be better if we all went back to flip phones. . . .”
And then we all get on our phones to google something.
I jest, but the struggle is real. We do not live in a different time period. We live now, in a world filled with technology. Screens are often a very necessary part of our day, our work, and marriage and family life.
The reality is, across time and history, humans always have been prone to checking out. We just have new methods to helps us do it.
Checking out, or the fancy term for it—disassociation—has its purposes. God created our bodies and minds with coping mechanisms to handle stress. When things become overwhelming, especially when we encounter extremely traumatic situations, whether our own or someone else’s, our brains signal our bodies to check out for our physical, mental, and emotional safety.
The problem is the world is extremely broken. Difficult things surround us all the time and can feel like they are pressing in. We may not be consciously aware of this pressure building in our minds and bodies. So, we end up checking out without realizing it. Checking out—with our phone or TV, a book, daydreaming—anything becomes a habit, a pattern of dealing with stress, instead of engaging and moving through the stress, working out the stress, walking through the discomfort of the stress. This overuse of checking out (my own included) creates unwanted and unfortunate disconnection in our relationships.
Song of Songs 2:15 calls to account the foxes of life, those things that rob our time, money, and energy, disconnecting the two lovers in the Song from enjoying their time and energy with one another:
Catch the foxes for us,
the little foxes
that spoil the vineyards,
for our vineyards are in blossom.
The external stressors of life are certainly foxes in our marriages:
Too many projects at work
Having to cook food every night or use a laundry hamper
I am sure you could name many, many more of these time-, money-, and energy-robbers.
What we are less aware of, and what tends to be the most powerful time-, money-, and energy-robber in our marriages is the fox of checking out.
When our spouse pushes a button, when we rehash a painful discussion, when we feel overburdened, it’s tempting to pick up a phone and scroll, watch TV and zone, or pretend to listen to our spouse but really switch over to thinking about sandwiches. This takes us from connected to disconnected in less than five seconds.
Jesus offers a better way to catch the sly fox of checking out:
The lovers in the Song of Song reconnect in the vineyard. Jesus is our vineyard. He invites us to come to Him when we feel depleted, when our internal alarm bells of anxiety and stress go off. We get to live in the vineyard of relationship with Him, not just visit it occasionally. When we find ourselves disconnecting, we can fend off that fox by calling out to God instead. Connection can look as simple as a prayer:
“What are you doing here, Lord?”
“Jesus, I’m tired.”
“(mutters and groans)”
We might connect with our spouse in prayer, or we might pray these prayers so we can continue to connect with our spouse when we really want to check out. Christ also chooses to connect with us when we disconnect; when we run far from the vineyard; and when we trample all the vines with our messes. Tangible physical connection can bring us back to mental and emotional connection. Reaching out to touch our spouse in the moments we are likely to check out is one way to keep our minds tethered to the here and now, an invisible gift to those we love.
We all want to catch the foxes who steal our time, our money, and all our energy.
Connection is a good place to start.
© Concordia Publishing House
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