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The Tyranny of the Expected Response… What lies beneath?

A farmer sits on his front porch. Just inside the screen door the phone rings. And rings. His neighbor asks, “Aren’t you going to get that?”
 
The farmer spits and leans back, “I bought that phone for my convenience. And right now…it’s not convenient.”
 
Not so long ago…if someone phoned you and you didn’t answer…they just called you back. 
Then, If someone emailed you…you responded within a day or two. All was well.
Then came instant messenger and Facebook messaging. We see you are logged in on Facebook so we kind of expect you to respond…
Then came a river of  tweets rushing by…I know you’re always checking your feed…Tweet me back!
Then came texting. Immediate. In the moment commentary. Can you believe that touchdown?! And the message above. Now there is a demanding expectation. Answer me, dang it!
 
I have blogged about how the Internet is rewriting our stories and rewiring our brains. I've reported on new research: The average person processes 450 texts a month. The average teen 3,700 a month. But even more challenging than the volume is the increasing expectation of an immediate response. What does receiving a tweet like the one in the image above mean for us? Even more important, what does *sending* a tweet like that mean for us?
 
Why are we feeling stressed by all the email/messaging/tweets/texts? Because we’ve lost the farmer’s perspective. Our machines are running us instead of us running our machines. Time to retake control. Here are 4 tips to help you get back in the driver’s seat of your life:
 
1. We live  our lives intentionally before God. “Choose you this day whom you will serve…” The Bible does not look at us as victims, but choosers. Make a choice to answer when it’s convenient. With the caveat that the main thing is to love God and love people. It’s never convenient to love people. So we ask God for daily discernment for how to love well with our machines. And how to say…”Right now it’s not convenient.”
 
2. For a great organizing scheme on how to handle stacked up email check out this blog by Michael Hyatt. He has some of the world’s best stuff on systems and productivity. 
 
3. At the end of every few weeks or a month delete all the unanswered messages and start over. If it’s important enough they will get back to you. Scan for anything important you might have missed. You’ll feel lighter. And more like the chooser rather than the victim.
 
4. If you struggle to gain control, it might be good to ask yourself…what motive lies beneath? Why am I so addicted to Twitter/Facebook etc? Why can’t I say “no” or “later” on my terms? Ask yourself, “When I text/tweet/message am I the one expecting or even demanding an immediate response? Why is that? I’d like to suggest a possibility:
 
You just might be controlled by a hidden idol of your heart, not your true heart in Christ. Ezekiel says we have hidden idols of the heart. In her book, Idol Lies, Dee Brestin says that mature Christian women tend to struggle with three main idols: control, approval and security. 
 
How might a hidden idol of approval be driving the tyranny of the expected response in your life?
 
Amy posts countless selfies and picture after picture of her with her husband. Her with her kids. Her in new outfits. Her with her latest creative project. And then she labors over the captions, writing and rewriting for laughs or shock value. And then, after she posts, she monitors the “likes” and responses with eager anticipation. Not enough and she feels let down, spurring a new round of uploads.
 
Amy is in the grip of a heart idol of approval. She is not confident in who she is, beloved by God. So she needs continual validation by her tribe. The red flags are there in her quantity, labor and disappointment when her tribe doesn’t come through with enough attention and approval.
 
Jeanette sends tweets like the one in the image. Lots of them, especially to her bf Nan. If Nan is slow to respond she gets angry. She spends time wondering what Nan could be doing that’s so dang interesting. She wonders if Nan is out with another friend, Allison. Her gut tightens. She feels jealous of Nan’s time with other friends. Offline she strategizes how she might intercept Nan in the carpool line after school and visit with her for a while. Jeanette is in the grip of relational idolatry.
 
Nan has become more treasured than God in her life. She would never admit it. But her affection for God, for spending time with him and enjoying him comes nowhere near her affection for Nan. She’s always wanting more of Nan.
 
Beth turns in her exam. That evening and about seven times over the next 24 hours she texts her professor, wondering if the grades are up yet. In between she texts her husband repeatedly asking where he is and who he’s dining with on his business trip. If he doesn’t check in every hour of so she is miffed.
 
Beth struggles with hidden idols of control. The red flags are there in her expectations that people respond to her asap, even when it would be very disruptive to their lives. She expects her family to be constantly checking in. If she doesn’t know where everyone is/can’t reach them she feels “out there,” ungrounded. She worries constantly.
 
If you suspect a hidden idol is driving your tyranny of the expected response I encourage you to watch Dee’s video (#1) here, where she confesses her own idol of control. You may even want to buy her book and do her Bible study, watching all ten videos as you read the book. Our women’s Bible Study is doing her book/DVD series this fall. Powerful. And challenging. #ouch
 
God has not given us a spirit of fear or anxiety over approval or of needing to be so connected to someone that we’re not ok when they are off living their own lives. He has not given us a spirit of needing to control our family, our colleagues or our friends.  2 Timothy 1:7  “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” We can make our own choices of how we communicate…for our convenience and for love. We can choose to control ourselves…not others.
 
The gospel is the power of salvation. The gospel not only has the power to reconcile us with God…it has the power, if we only ask for it, to help us live in love and self-control. Rather than our machines or idols controlling us.
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Lael writes and speaks about faith and culture and how God renews our vision and desire for Him and his Kingdom. She earned a master's degree (MAT) in the history of ideas from the University of Texas at Dallas, and has taught Western culture and apologetics at secular and Christian schools and colleges. Her long-term experience with rheumatoid arthritis and being a pastor’s wife has deepened her desire to minister to the whole person—mind, heart, soul and spirit. Lael has co-hosted a talk radio program, The Things That Matter Most, on secular stations in Houston and Dallas about what we believe and why we believe it with guests as diverse as Dr. Deepak Chopra, atheist Sam Harris and VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer. (Programs are archived on the website.) Lael has authored four books, including a March 2011 soft paper edition of A Faith and Culture Devotional (now titled Faith and Culture: A Guide to a Culture Shaped by Faith), Godsight, and Worldproofing Your Kids. Lael’s writing has also been featured in Focus on the Family and World magazines, and she has appeared on many national radio and television programs. Lael and her husband, Jack, now make their home in South Carolina.