I can’t tell you how many times over the years parents have said something to the
effect of, “My kid couldn’t go a week without their phone!” This usually comes from
moms and dads who are considering sending their son or daughter out on one of
our wilderness trips, and it captures a view that many people today have of youth
and adults under the age of 25. I have heard people say, “they couldn’t last without
their phone,” “they need to be able to talk to me,” and “I can’t get them to put it
down at home, and you think they can go on a wilderness trip?” My answer has been
(and thankfully still is) “yes!”
Now don’t get me wrong, I have seen young people nervously step off the bus into a
group of strangers and attempt to “not feel so alone” by reaching out to their friends
through a couple of touches of a screen. Some may even initially agree with their
parents’ comments. But as they slowly get engaged and start meeting other similarly
excited and nervous people, they catch a glimpse of the potential in the adventure
before them, and they go to their phones less and less. This all comes to a head when
they are dropped off at their “put-in” (their launching point into the wilderness),
and to the relief of some and disappointment of others, the phones stop working and
the only relational choice before them is how they will interact with the people
Five or ten days later, the people who emerge from the wilderness hardly resemble
those I dropped off just days earlier. They truly are a “group”. On the bus ride back I
hear them laugh, joke, reminisce, and make promises about staying in touch. The
tone of their voice (I can’t see them because I’m driving) gives it all away…they care
deeply about each other in a genuine and unabashed way.
How does this happen so quickly? How can the same young people that earlier
would have rather looked at their phones than at each other have transformed in
such a drastic way? They left the engaging distractions that normally fill their lives
behind for a few brief days. They learned new skills as a group and used them to
solve complex problems benefitting each other. They saw beautiful sights and
persevered through challenging circumstances. They saw each other at their best
and worst, and they got to know each other’s story. They chose to encourage,
support, and uphold each other. They made decisions about what type of group they
wanted to be and made commitments to living intentionally during their experience.
They lived life together, all while being supported by leaders who were fostering the
relationships and helping the individuals become their own group. More often than
not I have seen the toughest and most rebellious student say with tears in his eyes
that this group has become family.
Young people today crave meaningful experiences and real relationships. This is
part of how God has wired each of us. We are made to be in relationship with Him
and with other people. However, despite what our culture tells us, not all
experiences are equally formative, and deep friendships aren’t primarily formed out
of similar hobbies. It is hard to navigate this today because we live in a time of
convenience, when most of the technology we use is designed to make things easier
and more efficient. When our culture makes experiences easier, we become averse
to challenges, and when it makes relationships easier and more comfortable, we
isolate ourselves from the chance of real depth.
Real “deep” relationships are those formed on the bedrock of trust; trust forged out
shared experience, mutual vulnerability, and of intentionally living life together.
These are friendships formed in person. Devices are tools for supporting
friendships, not forming them. Deeper still are friendships built on Jesus Christ,
where Christ serves as the Giver of Life (Jn. 10:10; 2 Cor 5:17) and his people “spur
one another on towards love and good deeds” (Heb. 10-24), out of a response to
what He has done for us.
So, could your son or daughter go a week without a phone? You bet they could! Yes,
it may seem scary for you both, but the prospect of a deeper and richer life on the
other side is well worth it!
Questions for reflection:
How were the most important relationships in my life formed?
Which relationships am I intentionally fostering?