Busy moms do it out of necessity. Drivers do it at 60 mph. And teenagers do it better than anybody.
Multitasking. No longer mere computer lingo, the word now describes life as we know it. Noshing on a burger while steering a car through traffic while fumbling with directions.
Gone are the days of one task at a time. Now we do everything simultaneously. Work. Play. Eat. Travel. We feel so efficient, so on top of things. Look, Ma no hands!
But when one of those multiple tasks includes a human being, we may be missing what matters most: an eye-to-eye and heart-to-heart connection.
I watched a young mother at the post office sort through her mail, talk on her cell phone, and try to keep tabs on her toddler. Nothing too dangerous there. Except she tossed out a letter, only to realize she meant to keep it, called out to her wayward little girl without really getting her attention, and apologized numerous times into her phone, "Sorry what did you say?"
The child was clearly frustrated. No doubt the caller on the other end of the line was, too. Both of them received the same unintentional message: "You're third on my list of priorities right now."
Do we really have to do three things at once to feel productive?
Apparently we do, and I'm the worst of sinners.
While on the phone with a long-winded friend, I open my e-mail, turning down the computer speakers so she won't hear the telltale sound effects, even as I wave a sheet of fast-food coupons at my husband, pointing to what I want for lunch.
Or I'll take a stack of correspondence into our family room and tune in a movie I've been eager to see. Distracted by the film, I have to read each letter twice, not really connecting with the dear person who's written to me, nor fully involved with the story on the screen. When a family member joins me and starts to chat, I catch myself scribbling words that make little sense, trying to follow the movie out of the corner of my eye and only half-listening, half-nodding to whatever my loved one is saying.
Is there any hope for a multitasking mama?
Yup. A simple one: Follow the Lord's example.
When Jesus spoke with people, they had his complete attention. The Bible does not say, "And while he sanded wood and kept watch on a pot of stew, Jesus said " He simply listened, then responded. Individually and compassionately.
In Jesus' meeting with the woman at the wellhis longest one-on-one conversation ever recorded in Scriptureshe was amazed a Jew was even willing to speak to a Samaritan: "How can you ask me for a drink?" (John 4:9). The disciples were taken aback, too, when they "returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman" (John 4:27).
Clearly Jesus put conversations first on his to-do list, ignoring what was politically correct or productively expedient. Nothing mattered more than this thirsty woman.
His disciples got the message: "No one asked, 'Why are you talking with her?'" (John 4:27).
She got the message, too, putting aside her task in favor of talking to people: "Leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town " (John 4:28).
Now it's our turn to get the message: Relationships aren't a task. Listening intently is the most valuable gift we can give. And looking into the eyes of someone we care about is time wisely spent.
My resolution? Do one task at a time and do it well, always putting people first.
Sure, it's old school. About 2,000 years old.
Thank the Lord it's never too late to learn.
Liz Curtis Higgs is the author of more than 20 books, including her most recent historical novel Mine Is the Night (WaterBrook Press). She lives with her husband in Kentucky.
Copyright © 2005 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
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