Retreating from the grid

February 14th, 2013

I’ve written before in this space about my life during what I will call “the cellphone era.” My parents gifted me with my first phone on Christmas Day during my sophomore year in high school. I graduated to a better phone during my senior year, complete with full keyboard ready for my fingers to begin texting. Then, this past summer, I got my first smartphone, which is what I currently own.

Finally, I received the power to access the World Wide Web, my social media accounts and my email all in a compact device at my fingertips. I keep my schedule and communicate with others easily through my smartphone.

But, that all got stripped away late last week.

For some reason, my phone stopped holding a charge. One minute, I would plug in my phone with zero percent battery life. The next minute, my phone would light up with a “fully charged” icon. The people at Verizon thought it was weird, too. That’s why I will probably be getting a new phone of the same type soon.

So, if anyone needed to get a hold of me late last week, you could shoot me an email, tweet me or send me a Facebook message. I’m sorry if I didn’t answer your messages right away.

In some ways, I felt naked. I have always had a phone in my pocket for over five years. Now, because electronics malfunction from time to time, the ease of communicating with others was gone.

Even though I had just handed out multiple resume copies – complete with my phone number – to potential employers at the Career Fair last week, my lack of a working cellphone came at just the right time.

I spent a significant portion of my weekend at a house in the woods. A group of over 20 of us student leaders traveled to Carrollodge to take part in the Guidance retreat.

We reflected. We prayed. We spent time together as a community. We even got to know each other better.

I tend to think that the time I spent off the grid this weekend was just what I needed. Maybe the lessons learned on this retreat wouldn’t have stuck as well if I felt a constant buzzing in my pocket. And while the work of a committed leader never ends, sometimes we all need time to get away and build a deeper relationship with God.

When I came back on Sunday afternoon and sat down to do some homework, I saw my phone sitting on the table. I picked it up and pushed the power button, as I had fruitlessly done many times during the previous week.

To my amazement, my phone turned on with no issues.

As I write this column, the phone sits next to me on the table charging normally. But I will probably still get it examined by professional eyes.

Sometimes we need to put away our phones, get away from the email inbox, avoid the noise of the world and go find a house in the woods to spend 30 hours in reflection and prayer in the company of others. I think that’s why they are called “retreats.”

My parents even reminded me last week that they went plenty of places without cellphones for many years. If they could do it, I could too. I knew they were right, but it still felt weird … until this past weekend.

I am refreshed and ready to tackle what the last few months of life as an undergraduate have left to throw at me.

So, do yourself a favor in this time before midterms, and retreat into reflection and prayer for a weekend. I guarantee that you’ll come back fully charged.