What would a day look like if we could hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign up on life?
How would our week change if we weren’t always at the beck and call of people’s expectations?
Would chaos actually erupt in the world if we turned our cell phones off for an entire day?
What if we were intentionally unavailable for a season and didn’t answer the demands of others?
It’s hard to imagine life without cell phones, the web, or immediate access to world events. In our age of technology, we have grown accustomed to constant contact with people. Our culture even has unspoken rules about the timeliness of return contact:
- If we email people, we expect return contact by the next day.
- If we leave a voicemail, we expect return contact within the business day.
- If we text, we expect return contact within an hour.
We have all experienced frustration at people not responding within our expected timeframe. When they don’t, it is easy to become cynical and think the person is insensitive, uncaring, or unresponsive to our demands.
Before we make those assumptions, however, let’s stop and consider a few possible explanations for their delayed contact:
- People are busy, and simply don’t have time to respond.
- People have families, and your request is not as important as other needs in their life.
- People are in the midst of crisis, and your message comes at a really bad time.
- People have other priorities that require attention and their life doesn’t revolve around you.
“Everyone is looking for you!”
Would it surprise you to know that Jesus did not jump at everyone’s beck and call? Would it shock you to know that Jesus did not answer every demand for time? Would it amaze you that Jesus was not always accessible and that He had to prioritize some needs over others?
With the demands of the crowd on Jesus’ time, the disciples went searching for Him in the early morning hours. They presumably searched a long time. When they finally found Jesus, Peter exclaimed, “Everyone is looking for you!” Translation: “Hey pal, where have you been? Don’t you know there are people with demands? Don’t you realize people have been wanting time with you, sick people who need healing, hungry people who need feeding, and untrained disciples who need mentoring? Jesus, where have you been?”
But get this: Jesus was intentionally unavailable to the world so He could be more intentionally available to His Father.
Jesus was prioritizing time in prayer over the demands of the world.
Jesus temporarily placed a “Do Not Disturb” sign up to free Him from the beck and call of the crowds so He could devote Himself to the higher call of God.
Life without Cell Phones
I occasionally wonder what Jesus’ ministry would have looked like in the age of technology. What if the disciples had Jesus’ phone number on speed dial? What if the crowd of 5000 distributed Jesus’ contact information? I know it’s conjecture, but there is a beautiful simplicity about doing life without the tentacles of technology grabbing at your time. Yes, we all share in the benefits of instant communication and immediate access, but along with it comes impossible demands that can make us slaves to the expectations of others.
Back to Peter’s search for Jesus. Peter says, “Everyone is looking for you.” At this point, we may assume Jesus would hop to His feet and rush to meet the demands of the crowd. Once He became aware of the need, social custom would place an expectation on Jesus to respond immediately. And, yes, there were times when He did respond with immediacy and compassion.
But in this instance, Jesus gives an unexpected response:
And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next town that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” (Mark 1:36-38)
Can you believe that?! When Peter tries to get Jesus to meet the time demands of one town, He effectively says, “No, I have other towns that need me.”
Jesus does two remarkable things in this instance which are worth noting:
- First, He hangs a “Do Not Disturb” sign up to make Himself temporarily unavailable.
- Second, He has limited time which causes Him to prioritize the needs of some over others.
Time to Get Away
In a news article called “The Secret to Disconnecting? Bring Back the ‘Away’ Message,” David Pierce writes about the demands of living in an “always-on” culture.
In this always-on era, we are assumed to be near our phones all the time, and there is no good way to signal to the world when we are not. There is no way to proclaim, “I’m not available, I won’t see your notification, and I won’t care until next Sunday.”
What Pierce calls for is a return to the “away” message, where we communicate to those looking for us that we are intentionally unavailable for a season. Pierce writes, “Away messages helped users understand why their buddies weren’t responding. More importantly, away messages offered permission to actually go away…You weren’t ignoring them on purpose; you were just gone.” Imagine how life would change if we actually gave ourselves and others permission to be away from contact!
In an “always on” culture, the expectation is that when people are looking for you, you will put your life on hold, respond to needs immediately, and prioritize the demands of others. Frankly, this is absurd and it enslaves many to meet impossible expectations. We need to take a lesson from Jesus’ diary and be intentionally unavailable to people so we can be more intentionally available to our Father.
Here is some practical counsel concerning time, availability, priorities, and expectations:
- Time is limited – use it well. Even Jesus had limited time in the days of His flesh which required Him to say “no” to some needs while saying “yes” to other needs. In the limited time we have each day, it is simply not possible to be at the beck and call of every demand for our attention.
- Availability is not required – give yourself (and others) permission to be unavailable. Hang up the “Do Not Disturb” sign. Turn the phone off for a day. Be face-to-face with family instead of face-to-screen with gadgets. When you are at mealtime, whether at home or out, be present with those around you.
- Prioritize the big stuff – you don’t need to respond to every request. You don’t need to be “always-on.” You don’t need to accept every friend request. You don’t need to respond to every email. The old analogy of putting the big rocks in the jar before the little pebbles is perfect. Only when we prioritize the big issues of life can we make room for the little things. But if we fill our lives with the tyranny of the urgent, we will run out of time for our most important priorities.
- Expectations can enslave you – you will eventually disappoint people. For people pleasers, meeting expectations can be one of the biggest bondages of life. When you feel like you have to respond immediately to the expectations of others, your wrists are in bondage to two sets of chains. On one wrist, you have the chains of guilt, making you feel embarrassed or uncomfortable if you don’t respond. On the other wrist, you have the chains of bitterness, locking you into resentment and ill-will toward the person who is requesting your time. In other words, you don’t really want to help, but you do it anyway because you don’t know how to say “no.” You feel enslaved by their expectations. One of the best things we can do is accept that we will not meet everyone’s expectations and that it really is ok if people are disappointed with us.
So, my friend, don’t be “always-on.” Be intentionally unavailable to the beck and call of others. And remember the lesson from Jesus: sometimes when “everyone is looking for you” the best thing to do is move on to the next village.
You are loved,