911: Always On Call?

Imagine that you just sat down for dinner, ready to enjoy good food and conversation, only to feel that infernal buzz in your pocket. A second or two passes while you try to remain in the dialogue around the table, but it’s too late. Your mind has been activated and your curiosity forces you to take a peek. Sure enough, it’s an associate who has just received some new information about the deal you are working on. You have a split-second to make one of two choices: 1) politely apologize and excuse yourself to respond to the message or 2) steal glances at your phone under the tablecloth and attempt to reply without being detected.

(Loud buzzer) You are incorrect!

There were are least two more options: 3) turn off the phone before dinner or 4) leave the phone in the other room during dinner. Fewer and fewer of us choose option 3 or 4. Do you need an intervention in this area? (My wife answered yes for me) Today’s technology has created the ethos of always being “on call.” Many of us are caught in the trap of making ourselves professionally available 24/7.

Growing up I would often visit my Uncle Ken, who was a family doctor. We learned through what what on call meant. Ken and his partners rotated nights and weekends to address the emergencies of their patients, but their answering services only phones the physician on call if it was a crisis that couldn’t wait until morning. Consider your profession. Does it really require that level of responsiveness? Every hour you remain plugged into your devices (and respond to everyone within seconds) you are reinforcing the expectation that — like 9-1-1 — you are always available., Without any boundaries, the wonders of technology become liabilities.

What buffers have you placed around yourself? Creating healthy margins of accessibility requires resolve, courage and restraint. In The Tech-Wise Family Andy Crouch confronts what’s beneath our resistance: “Instead we are our own jailers. We are prisoners of our own insecurity (Will I sill have a job if I take two solid weeks of vacation?), pride (How can people get along without me?), fantasies (What if I miss an email telling me I’ve won the lottery?), and cultural capitulation (This is just how the world works now, isn’t it?). For us, the door to a better life is only locked from the inside.

I would feel concerned if my personal physician was trying to advise me about a life-threatening health decision after being on call night and day for two weeks straight. A frazzled, exhausted doctor won’t instill confidence in her patients. In the same way, over time, your clients or customers will feel the effects of the scattered, overwhelmed version of yourself that still hasn’t learned how to sustain a same rhythm of life and work and rest.

Jesus knew what it was like to be on call. Luke 5:15-16 says the news about him was spreading everywhere at a great pace (even though back then Twitter was what birds did): “Despite Jesus’ instructions, the report of his power spread even faster and vast crowds came to hear him preach and to be healed of their diseases.” It also informs us how he managed the crush of those demands: “But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.” Jesus regularly extracted himself from the crowds, retreating for the restoration and refreshment provided by the Heavenly Father, even if he risked being misunderstood.

You have permission, even an imperative, to withdraw from the daily commotion to spend some indispensable, uninterrupted time alone with your family, friends…and God. If I call or text you during these hours…please do not answer!

Serving Him with you in the marketplace,

David Atchison

Lord, I’m not sure how I got here, but I know it is not healthy to continually check my email and phone all day and continue it throughout the evening. I’m not sure what’s beneath my need to respond immediately to every message, above family or you. Teach me to trust you enough to set wise boundaries around my “connectivity.” Teach me how to intentionally withdraw from my nonstop activity for fellowship with you, and more meaningful exchanges with the people I love.

“Come to me all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Jesus