In a world of ever-increasing technology, have we lost sight of the importance of spending time face-to-face with others?
As society goes virtual, it is more important than ever to invest in face-to-face relationships.
After a long workday, I gratefully sat down in a comfortable chair and began to peruse a newspaper article. One of my small daughters climbed into my lap and excitedly began to relate her day’s adventures. I responded absent-mindedly, but my eyes never left the page. In the next moment she stopped, grabbed my cheeks in her little hands, and pulled my face towards hers, with an imploring, “Daddy?”
As she looked into my eyes, I saw what I had missed just moments before. She did not just want me to mindlessly listen and answer her; she wanted me to communicate face-to-face. I learned a valuable lesson that day from my daughter.
The connection we gain through face-to-face interaction is profound. Reading each other’s expressions, we gain valuable clues about others’ emotional state: whether they are happy, sad, or content. We grow to understand nonverbal cues that convey meaning. We gather information about whether a person is confused, perplexed or angry. We detect hints of amusement and shared humor. We sense whether a person seems to be trusting, open and honest, or reticent and guarded. We gain all this through communicating face-to-face.
Human beings have been interpreting facial expressions since the beginning of time. The Bible records that when God confronted Cain about his disobedience, Cain’s “countenance fell” (Genesis 4:5). Cain’s emotion was easy to read—it was written all over his face! When Nehemiah, serving as cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, could not mask his grief for the plight of his people suffering in Jerusalem, the king asked, “Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This is nothing but sorrow of heart” (Nehemiah 2:2). We read, “As in water face reflects face, so a man’s heart reveals the man” (Proverbs 27:19). Our faces are the communication link through which our most personal relationships are sustained. Face-to-face contact is an invaluable tool for building and sustaining healthy, meaningful and rewarding relationships.
Sadly, in our modern world, real face time is becoming a lost commodity. As electronic communication is becoming faster and less expensive, genuine personal interaction is becoming more rare—and we are paying the price in weakened and damaged relationships. A recent study found that heavy media use—especially “multitasking”—can hurt social and emotional development in preteen girls. The study found that “heavy digital multitasking and more time spent in front of screens correlated with poor emotional and social health—including low social confidence, not feeling normal, having more friends whom parents perceive as poor influence and even sleeping less” (“Study: Face Time Benefits Teens,” Wall Street Journal, January 31, 2012).
What is the remedy? According to the study’s co-author, Dr. Clifford Naas of Stanford University, the answer lies in simple, old-fashioned face-to-face conversations. Dr. Naas notes: “You used to hear all the time ‘Look at me when I talk to you,’ but now everyone is looking at their devices instead… The most important message is that face-to-face communication is just enormously important and there has been a dramatic decline in that, among kids and among families” (ibid.).
Young people are not the only ones who find it tempting to let digital media crowd out face-to-face interactions in their lives. Adults are vulnerable as well. Plenty of adults spend substantial amounts of time in front of a computer, smartphone, tablet or other high-tech gadget. These tools give us unprecedented access to constant entertainment and instant communication, and they have a valid place in our lives (see “The Two Faces of Technology” on page 24 of this issue). But, are we the masters of our tools, or are we their slaves (Romans 6:16)? If you are not sure, ask yourself whether you felt “separation anxiety” the last time you were away from your phone or computer for any length of time. And if you have not been away from them, you probably have your answer right there!
As communication technology grows more sophisticated, it becomes ever easier to use it to avoid almost any human interaction at all. Yes, there are times when a carefully written message may be preferable to a spoken outpouring. Yet, in so many of our interactions, the rewards of “the personal touch” are worth the effort. In her book, Face to Face, communication consultant Susan Roane puts it this way: “When we use technology to avoid human interaction, we may save time, but we lose out on the opportunity to build rapport, trust and connections, as well as the unexpected benefits that happen in the face to face space” (p. xvii).
Would you like your relationships to be more genuine and meaningful? Do you seek a greater sense of wellbeing? Consider the importance of making face time a priority in three major facets of your life: with your family, your spiritual brethren—and with God Himself.
Think about the atmosphere in your home. Analyze your interaction with your spouse and children. Do you really talk to one another? More importantly, do you listen to each other? It is easy to shortchange real communication in our hassled and hurried lives. Laptops and smartphones become the ever-present and “always-on” accessory—thieves that snatch away the already-too-few moments with our loved ones.
A recent Boston Globe article pointed out that more and more children are asking their parents to cut back on smartphone and computer use at home (“Dad, can you put away the laptop?,” March 8, 2012). Some studies have found that the average working person spends less than 30 seconds a day in meaningful communication with his or her children. That is not enough! If that is all the time we are spending with our children in real conversation, then we (and they) are headed for serious problems.
Make the commitment to invest in your face-to-face relationships! Communicate with your spouse every day. Share yourself. Talk about your ups and downs. Be encouraging. Try using a “soft answer” to defuse anger (Proverbs 15:1). Be willing to give a little. After all, Jesus said it is “more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Seek to understand your spouse. Put down the phone and shut off the laptop and you may be astonished to discover how your marriage will flourish as never before!
Moses commanded the children of Israel to have ongoing, continual communication with their children: “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:6–7).
This is a mandate to true Christian parents to pass on the Truth to their children at every opportunity. But think about what this verse also implies beyond just the Truth; there should also be lots of general conversation happening all the time between family members. One of the best places to start is at the dinner table. Strive to eat at least one meal each day together as a family. During mealtime, turn off the television. Put away the newspaper. Ban mobile phones from the table. Ask questions and encourage everyone to participate, with no one left out. Do not let your family members drift apart. Start to re-engage them by having regular meals together, as much as possible.
While listening, family members need to look at each other—face to face! Giving undivided attention is especially important for a parent’s relationship with children. Physician Ross Campbell writes: “Focused attention means giving your teenager full, undivided attention in such a way that he feels truly loved, that he knows he is so valuable in his own right that he warrants your watchfulness, appreciation, and uncompromising regard” (How To Really Love Your Teenager, p. 31). Dinnertime conversations can become the foundation for renewed communication and cooperation in your family.
Is face-to-face contact only important for marriage and family? Of course not! Even in business, politics and sports, successful leaders understand the importance of face-to-face contact. Duke University’s coach Mike Krzyzewski, the all-time winningest coach in American college basketball, told CNBC.com writer Michelle Lodge that face time is vital for unifying any group: “How do you make five guys on the court play like one?... You do that with constant communication. Face-to-face is the best way to communicate, where people can look each other in the eye and, when you have that opportunity, always to tell each other the truth and [as a result] an element of trust is developed… It’s all about developing trusting relationships” (“Face-to-Face Communication Key to Success: Duke’s Coach K,” October 20, 2010).
Does God want that type of trusting, loving and brotherly relationship among His people? Of course! When Jesus Christ called His disciples, He challenged them to become a close, unified group, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (John 17:20–23). God wants genuine Christians to develop into a close spiritual family. Especially as the end of the age draws near, God puts a high premium on true Christian fellowship. Notice what the prophet Malachi recorded: “Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who meditate on His name” (Malachi 3:16).
If we understand what God is saying, it is vitally important that we have face-to-face contact not just with our own families, but with others whom God has called as well! Deep, spiritual conversations with true Christians are richly rewarding. Sharing our trials and problems with brethren we trust makes our burdens lighter. Even just chatting gives us a chance to get to know one another. We find out what is going on in each other’s lives, and we cease to be strangers.
The purpose of personal fellowship is not just to give churchgoers another thing to do. It is actually a crucial part of our spiritual relationship with genuine Christians. Jesus Christ foretold that many at the time of the end would lose their zeal for close, brotherly relationships, warning that “because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). The Apostle Paul echoed Christ’s words, saying that even some of God’s people would falter from true worship and fellowship. He charges us to “consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24–25). God’s people are to encourage and lift one another up. Personal, face-to-face fellowship plays a crucial part.
What about you? How much face-to-face contact do you have with your spiritual family? God’s Church is one body, made up of many members. “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12). The result is that “we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another” (Romans 12:5). But how does this unity occur?
Many of you Tomorrow’s World readers are coming to understand truths you never heard before. And many of you are faithfully following the example of the Bereans, who “received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). We want you to check up on us, too, and prove for yourself that what this magazine teaches squares with your Bible. As you do so, you will grow spiritually in your walk with God, as you learn to follow Him more closely based on His own teachings from Scripture.
As you grow, you will naturally ask yourself: “Do I need ‘face time’ with other true Christians?” When God calls people into His Truth, He places them in the body of Christ as it pleases Him (John 6:44; 1 Corinthians 12:18). Part of drawing closer to God involves coming together in fellowship with others of like mind, who have made the same commitment! They will want to get to know others of God’s people face-to-face!
Our most important personal contact is with God Himself. He is the One we want and need “face time” with the most. Notice Aaron’s blessing on Israel, as instructed by Moses: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24–26). We all want God to look on us with favor! We all want His protection, His guidance and providence. We want God’s face to shine on us, as a loving and devoted father’s face beams when he looks at and is pleased by his own children.
The question is, if we want Him to look on us favorably, how much are we seeking His face as well? Consider ancient King David’s powerful words: “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully… This is Jacob, the generation of those who seek Him, who seek Your face” (Psalm 24:3–4, 6).
Are you “seeking God’s face”? How do we do that? We cannot see His face literally, like Moses did. God spoke to Moses “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11). But, since you and I cannot see God with our physical eyes, how do we do it? We seek God by walking with Him daily and going to Him in heartfelt prayer. We seek His face by really talking to Him and giving Him our full attention. No one likes talking to people who are at the same time texting on their phones or checking their social media updates. Why would God not feel the same about half-hearted or distracted prayers? We cannot multitask with God! If we are doing that, we are not really obeying the great command to really put God first. Jesus Christ described the “great commandment” as: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37–38). Are we doing that?
Sometimes we have difficulty seeking God’s face because our sins are blocking our vision. The prophet Isaiah explained, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1–2). When we sin, our shame and fear can make it difficult for us to go to God. We do not want to look at Him when we know we have disappointed Him. We sometimes doubt that He would accept us in our present state. Yet that is precisely when we need to earnestly repent and seek Him without delay! As the Apostle John wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This enables us to once again go to our loving Father, and renew a face-to-face relationship.
Though we cannot see God, we know He is there—the whole universe testifies to His existence (Psalm 19:1)! And at Christ’s return, His resurrected saints will be made Spirit beings and will be able to see God in full glory! John wrote of this awesome future: “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:2–3).
As the close of the age draws near, as distractions multiply and the speed of life increases, do not neglect real, tangible, face-to-face time. Make sure you are committed to close personal contact with family, brethren, and most of all, your loving Heavenly Father.