A few days ago a Facebook note was being shared around the people I am friends with. It was entitled, “Dear Mom on the iPhone” and it originated, as far as I can tell, with this blog post by a Mom blogging at 4 Little Fergusons. I was impressed with the thoughtful and timely comment, as there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t see people around town with their kids, but their heads are down, not watching anything but the latest text or Facebook post, or pinterest picture scroll across their smartphone’s screen. I considered it a very timely message as I myself am often that Dad, even though the letter was written to Moms.
Turns out many people actually found the letter offensive. Many moms read it and took away from it guilt. One friend I know read it and then swore not to use her iPhone all day Saturday. I considered that to be a good thing, and I will explain in a moment what I am talking about it. But many other moms found their guilt twist into anger. How dare that woman write such a judgemental article! How dare she judge me! She doesn’t know what I go through every day! Maybe I was using my phone to pay bills, or write a grocery list, or check on a doctor’s appointment location! How can she sit at her desk and write such hateful things! I am a good mom!
One of those moms decided to write a defense of iPhone moms. I read that piece over and was struck by this perspective that judgement was being brought on all iPhone moms everywhere. One response to her on Facebook went even so far as to suggest that the original piece was meant to encourage people to judge moms on iPhones. I re-read the original and I don’t see that at all. I see a woman, a mom, providing a timely reminder to other moms and dads of the perils of allowing ourselves to be distracted by the culture of instant gratification and constant entertainment to the point where we miss our childhood. I didn’t and still don’t see any calls or demands for parents to be 100% focused (dare I say obsessed) with their children constantly. Only a call for balance.
Because of who I am, I read this whole debate in light of God’s wisdom. The verse that came flying out at me in reading this argument was this:
For godly grief produces a repentance not to be regretted and leading to salvation, but worldly grief produces death. – 2 Cor 7:10 (HCSB)
People are having a hard time differentiating between motivational grief and discouraging grief. Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians makes this distinction, when he was needing to send them a letter that contained some harsh truth about how the Corinthian church was conducting itself. He needed to tell them they were wrong, and it stung. So in this letter (it is the second in the Bible but the fourth that he wrote to the Corinthians) he tells them that there are two ways a person could respond to hearing harsh truth: grief that leads to death, or grief that leads to repentance.
What does he mean that grief can lead to death? I think what Paul is trying to say is if you hear words that sting, that you feel cut you and make you sad, your emotional response can be one of defensiveness. Defensiveness means you try to explain away why it doesn’t apply to you, or you go on the offensive, attacking the messenger. In both of these cases, what results from your response is separation. Distance. Both from truth and from others. This is what happens when you try to help someone but all that person hears is judgement. And it does lead to death – both in the Hebrew sense of separation from the truth and from God, and in separation from others – often the people who say these things are people you otherwise love – and it can break that relationship – it can kill life giving connection.
Paul contrasts this with grief that is not regretted, but leads to repentance. In regular words, a sadness that is motivational. That when you hear the harsh truth instead of going defensive or worse, on the offensive, you use the truth that you have heard to spur yourself to make a change. To experience this type of grief, you need humility. You need to be able to put yourself in a place where you can accept the truth that is there, and while no statement is true 100% of the time with anyone, to accept that it can always help to change what needs changing.
One of the biggest pieces of the response blog about the iPhone Mom was identifying that many moms use their phones for beneficial reasons – reasons that help, that contribute, that organize, or even earn income for the family. The examples may well be true some of the time – but just because they are true some of the time doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth examining yourself about the other times, and that is really what I think the first mom was trying to get at. Most of us aren’t very self-reflective. Yes, some mom’s can be their own harshest critics, but you know what? We all have blind spots. And because of the relative recency of the widespread use of smartphones, this tends to be a big one. Prior to 2008 a miniscule number of parents used smartphones regularly. Now, that group is the majority, and we don’t always have good eyes to see the consequences of new things. It is easy to see what 20 years of smoking parents do to children’s development and health. It is easy to see what 20 years of fast food families do to children’s development and health. But nobody has seen what 20 years of distraction and inattentiveness does to children’s development and health yet. I think it’s a fair caution, and I pray that as Paul tried to teach us, we see this challenge as one that produces Godly guilt, not worldly guilt.