At first, it was a subtle itch far back in the throat. Soon, it was followed by a series of progressive symptoms; loss of appetite, alternating chills and sweats, body aches, coughing, congestion in head and upper chest. I felt like I had been beaten by a gang with bats.
Wrapped up like a moth in a cocoon, in bed in a room with no TV, stereo, radio, or computer. Just an alarm clock. I used my phone the next three days only to text work I would not be in. A complete and utter seventy-two-hour digital and human blackout.
Three days of periods of sleep alternating with restless tossing in bed. Only the sound of my own coughing and the occasional airplane overhead interrupted this prolonged stillness. When I got bored with my thoughts, or realized I was beginning to believe some of the stuff I was thinking, I gave prayer a chance. But this was not my usual kind of prayer.
This prolonged physical discomfort and solitude rubbed out any desire for simply going through my regular morning practice. Caught in this vice between my powerlessness to get well and my need for help, I dropped routine, and my real self came pouring through.
I found myself talking to God like he was sitting on the end of my bed—like a hurting child who doesn’t care what he looks like. “God, I feel like shit! This really sucks. How long is this thing going to last?”
This little prayer did not seem profane—rather it occurred to me it was almost Holy, like He was nodding his head in understanding and sympathy.
For the next three days the two of us engaged in a running dialogue—between my naps, my coughing and sneezing spells. Like Tevye, in Fiddler on the Roof, walking along the road, pulling his lame milk cow, and glancing to the heavens, he registers his complaint – “So God, this is how you treat your friend Tevye?”
The light finds a crack in the window blinds, and I don’t know if the day is coming in or going out. Turning my head to the window, I continue talking with God ,(who by now I was sure was sitting here with me), not with profundity and religious terms, but like a kid turning to his Dad for help. I talk to him about my fears, my hopes, and my dreams— for myself, for my wife, for my children and grandchildren, and for family and friends. I sense a deep listening ear, and a loving nod, as if fully understanding everything.
Towards the end of this three-day “sick retreat”, I ended in a place I had always been, but had forgotten— I am just another one of God’s kids, talking to his Papa, and trusting that everything was in good hands.
My life is not a secret to Him. He knows, and he cares. It was this simple but intimate connection that I was in danger of losing, until sequestered for three days in this room.
I have heard that all addiction is in essence an inability to connect with the three things in life that really matter—with God, with our true selves, and with others. It is a disease of disconnection, and recovery starts when those connections are re-established.
Yet, all around me are all these siren-calls to make “pseudo-connections” – connections that appear to be real but are not. Even Prayer and meditation can become another “pseudo-connection” if I lapse into it as a rote exercise. This three day digital disconnect has made me aware of something; My life is not measured by how many connections I have, or how often, but by the quality of my connections with those that matter; with God, with myself, and with whomever he places in my life.
No, I am not going “dark” to digital information and connection. But, I have been reminded once again of what it is I need to grow as a human being. It is not technology. It is not even more information. It is heart, it is spirit, it is soul – it is honest, helpless, surrendered prayer.
And if the occasional disconnect with digital helps me remember that, it’s not such a bad thing.
My 2017 wish for us all: Stay connected to the things that really matter.
Happy New Year,