Life is full of irony and I confess – unless I am looking, the presence and the absurdity of it often escapes my notice. A recent example is the pre-COVID screen time debate. Actually, it wasn’t much of a debate but more of a mandate. Both educators and parents were pretty much in agreement that children needed less screen time not more. There was endless talk of limiting children’s screen time because too much screen time, whether TV, computer or phone, isn’t good for their development or their overall well being.
It was a constant battle to get kids off their phones or away from the TV or computer so they could engage in some physical activity and in face to face interactions with real people. Enter COVID-19! COVID effectively put an end to that debate or endeavor to liberate children from their ever present screens. Now more screen time is required of them, not less.
This is because closed schools have had to move instruction online in order for their students to continue with classes. How ironic that parents who once begged their children to get off the computer and go play outside, now need to be sure their children are logged in and in front of the computer screen for several hours each day. (this in addition to TV and phone time)
So children are getting even more screen time and missing all the personal interactions with classmates and teachers that school normally provided. Children learn better in a hands on, interactive environment. I’m wondering how classes such as band, orchestra, choir, physical education, theater, ceramics and other art classes plus science labs and speech and debate classes are adapting? No more putting problems on the board or class discussions. Online learning lacks certain capabilities simply because it is limited in what it can provide. Let’s face it. There is no substitute for the real thing.
And ironically, because children have been isolated at home with no where to go, no summer sports or camps or other activities, they are even more likely to spend their time in front of the TV, on their phone or playing computer games etc.
Students aren’t the only ones subject to increased screen time. For those able to work from home, time in front of their computer screen is a necessity. Additionally, many activities that used to take place in person, moved online. Zoom became the new meeting place for me, as it did for many others. Any meetings I used to attend in person, such as Bible studies, now took place on line, meaning more screen time.
How ironic, that pre-COVID so many of us were bemoaning the fact we spent so much time in front of our various screens (TV, phone, computer) and so many of our New Year’s resolutions were to decrease our screen time and allow time for more in person interactions. That is a resolution no one could keep this year! It is as if the whole world just packed up and moved online!
People were complaining of feeling lonely and isolated pre-COVID. There was talk of how we were more connected than ever before (via cyberspace, Facebook etc.) and yet more isolated than ever before at the same time. (another irony) The lockdowns exacerbated these feelings for so many.
When some of my zoom groups started meeting in person again, we all acknowledged how we much preferred in person to zoom. I was surprised myself to discover the depth of the difference of the experience. It didn’t become apparent to me until in person meetings resumed after having been on zoom for some months.
Instead of feeling drained after a zoom meeting (complete with technical difficulties often) I felt energized and encouraged after spending personal time with real people face to face. It is easier to share your thoughts and feelings in person, I think. And again, it’s true – there is no substitute for the real thing.
I am also finding online church to be lacking in some intangible but important ways. It is no one’s fault. Being able to hear a sermon online is certainly a blessing and I am grateful to live in a country where that is still allowed. Most churches do have an online presence and ministry which is vital to reaching people wherever they are.
Still an online church service cannot come close to replicating the in person worship time shared with other believers, my brothers and sisters in the faith. Once again, there is no substitute for the real thing. I guess that’s why it says in Hebrews 10:25,
“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24)
When we meet together we encourage each other, we spur one another on. I know I need that shared time with others and the encouragement we provide each other.
“For where two or three come together in My name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20)
“Assemble the people – men, women and children, and the aliens living in your towns – so they can listen and learn to fear the Lord your God and follow carefully all the words of this law. Their children, who do not know this law, must hear it and learn to fear the Lord your God as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.” (Deuteronomy 31:12-13)
That’s what I miss. That’s what we miss when God’s houses are closed to us. We miss the assembling of ourselves together as God intended for us to do. King David spoke often about going to God’s house to worship with others.
“But I, by Your great mercy, will come into Your house; in reverence will I bow down toward Your holy temple.” (Psalm 5:7)
“I will give You thanks in the great assembly; among throngs of people I will praise You.” (Psalm 35:18)
“I will declare Your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise You.” (Psalm 22:22)
“Sing to the Lord a new song, His praise in the assembly of the saints.” (Psalm 149:1)
the assembly of the saints – that’s saved sinners, that’s me and that’s you – that’s whosoever will – whosoever will accept God’s invitation – whosoever will come – whosoever will show up – whosoever will enter His gates (church) with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; (Psalm 100:4)
That’s what David longed for, that’s what David lived for, that’s what David did – he praised God in the great assembly of people come to worship God and to give God His due – that’s what worship is – giving God thanksgiving and praise together as His people.
1 Corinthians 13:12 tells me, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; (maybe that’s what all these computer screens are, but a poor reflection) then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
just as the difference between zoom and in person is vaster than it would seem to be, just as online school does not come close to replicating in person school, just as the difference between online church and in person church cannot be underestimated nor overstated, nor fully realized –
so too, our limited vision of what awaits us in eternity is most certainly but a poor reflection of the real thing. The real thing is so far superior that we cannot truly imagine it until we experience it when we behold Him face to face.
that’s why an online experience doesn’t satisfy, it doesn’t fill our God created craving for connection and community – we were made for the face to face, with each other and with our Creator. There is no substitute for the real thing.
my prayer for you today, dear readers, is this –
“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26)
to see His face, to receive His peace – there is no substitute for the real thing!
sincerely, Grace Day