I send people to voicemail. All. The. Time.
- 75% of the time it’s because I’m in the middle of something important like writing a grant or teaching class or watching Grey’s Anatomy. I have every intention to call them back and sometimes even do.
- 20% of the time it’s because it’s someone calling me back (usually because Summer called them first.)
- 5% of the time it’s a number I don’t recognize and I’m pretty sure it’s Com Ed, the electric company I’ve been fighting with for the last 4 months.
I used to love talking on the phone. I would talk to my friends for hours – even after spending all day with them. I have no idea what we talked about but we never ran out of things to say. Recently however, I have developed a habit of sending people to voicemail.
Sometimes it just feels like too much, answering the phone. Like I don’t have the energy. When this happens, it’s always a good sign that I need some adult social time. That the conversations about Sophia the First and Dora and Elsa aren’t cutting it. That watching Barney for the 9,876th time is beginning to kill a small but important place deep in my soul.
These kinds of things can start to wear me down. And being an extrovert, I need people to recharge me. People over 3 feet tall. People who can make me laugh because of something clever and hilarious and not just because they are cute. People that can just BE with me and don’t need me to make them a snack or play tea party or wipe them all the live long day.
I have come to understand that there is a small window of time where I can reach out and schedule a date night or a girl’s night or some time with friends.
But if I let that window go by, everyone goes to voicemail.
A few months ago, I heard about a conference and I asked my mother in law if she would watch the kids if I went. By the time the conference came up, however, I was past the point of reaching out for adult time and I hadn’t even registered. But my MIL showed up. And I went (Paul made me).
Bob Goff, author of Love Does talked about how being available is the best way to show love. To show people that you care. That he, a famous author and speaker, put his personal cell phone in the back of his book. And he never sends anyone to voicemail.
I immediately shrunk in my chair. I kind of hate the word ‘convicted’ because it’s overused in the Christian-ese language but if I felt anything, it was that. He has hundreds of people that call him and he never sends anyone to voicemail?
Bob is also renowned for quitting something every Thursday. Now, that’s an idea I could get on board with. I have so much going on in my life that quitting something weekly sounds fabulous. Even luxurious. As I sat at the conference, the list of things immediately started populating in my head. Quit biting my nails. Quit putting off calling Com Ed. Quit not flossing.
But the being available part of his talk kept coming back to me. I knew I wanted to be the type of person, the kind of mom, wife, and friend that people come to know as available.
Being the overachiever that I am, I wanted to quit something AND become more available.
So, I decided to quit sending people to voicemail.
Almost immediately, I was challenged on that. It’s kind of like when you decide to quit eating sugar and then you go to your mom’s house and she made your favorite childhood dessert for the first time in 900 years. Similarly, my phone rang and it was someone I would normally send to voicemail. I took a deep breath (waited till the 4th ring of course) and answered. And no one was there! It was a butt dial! I was so relieved and thought, I’ve got this being available thing down!
The next day, we were running late for church because of a whole host of reasons including but not limited to world war 968 about who gets to take Piper’s pajamas off, changing outfits 4 times (once because of a milk disaster and three times because Mia likes to change outfits nonstop. All day. Forever.) Naturally, by the time I got all 3 of them dressed and fed and dressed again and in the car, I happened to pass a mirror and was reminded that I was still in my pajamas.
In all the excitement of me coming in and out of the house, Tessa poops on the floor. I said a few words that I would later apologize for at church and cleaned it up.
We finally made it to church, I got all the kids checked in with barely a kiss goodbye and headed towards the auditorium. I used all my effort to fight off thoughts of the pastor’s wife image I was so not projecting as I not-so-gracefully maneuvered over people to get to my seat.
Then my phone vibrates and its Paul asking if I made it and sorry he couldn’t meet me to help with the kids and that he was having a crazy morning.
I just put it back in my pocket.
The word snuck out of nowhere and planted its’ rude self in the center of my vision. I tried to ignore it, to look around it, to focus on the pastor or on how the guy next to me was rubbing his foot (you know, because I stepped on it as I crawled over him).
But I knew. I knew that by not answering Paul’s text, it was basically the same thing as sending him to voicemail. And then the whole arguing with God thing started.
Me: But God, I was quitting LITERALLY sending people to voicemail.
GOD: I thought you wanted to be available?
Me: I do, but I’m in church. You don’t want me to text in church, do you God?!
GOD: Actually, I do.
And I get it. To quit literally sending people to voicemail is one thing. But what about the other kind? The kind when Mia is trying to tell me about what happened at school that day and because it’s taking 3 and a half hours to tell the story, my mind has drifted to the last episode of Breaking Bad? Or the kind when there is someone asking for change on the corner and I choose to look down at my phone instead? Or what about the kind when Paul wants to see just how available I am and I start snoring. Voicemail. Voicemail. Double voicemail.
Because what does voicemail actually mean? What is it really saying? Its saying I’m busy. I can’t talk to you right now. I’ll call you when it’s convenient for me. I’m unavailable.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of times when it’s ok to be unavailable.
1. When you actually are. When you’re at work or an appointment or somewhere where it wouldn’t be appropriate to answer the phone. I see lots of people who I wish would actually send people to voicemail more.
2. For self-care times. When you need to take a walk. Or a bath. Or just be silent. That’s important. The whole oxygen mask for you first thing.
3. When you can’t find your phone because your kids. And please don’t tell me to just call it – it’s on silent because that’s the first thing they do when they get ahold of it. It’s like they knoooooow.
4. When it’s Com Ed. Because obviously.
5. When you’re being available elsewhere and that elsewhere is where you need to be. At the park with the kids. On a date with the hubs. Watching Grey’s Anatomy.
If you’re wondering why the bathroom isn’t on this list, it’s because if you’re strategic enough (and hide behind the shower curtain), the bathroom can actually be a very good place to talk on the phone. Or the laundry room. No one ever goes in there.
So, I took my phone back out and texted Paul to let him know I made it. I even added a smiley face, you guys. And what I noticed was that my heart, clenched tight with the frustrations of the morning, started to soften, to open. I became available. To hear the sermon. To see the people around me. To place my hand in Paul’s when he sat down next to me.
I became available. And it changed everything.
When the mother of one of my students heard the ages of my children this week, she told me “If ever there is a time to be present-minded, it’s now.” AND I LOVE THAT. It’s a million times more helpful than ‘enjoy every moment.’ It’s helpful because it’s possible. We already know that we can’t enjoy every moment. But we can be present-minded.
Because that’s what it means to be available, right? It means being present-minded. And it through availability that we can best show love.
So that’s my goal for this Season of Life. Ok, that’s too overwhelming.
So that’s my goal for this Holiday Season. Ok, let’s be realistic.
That’s my goal for Today. Today I can do. I can be available Today.
I know all too well that being present doesn’t happen naturally. Showing love by being available – it’s a constant choice. A choice to put down my phone when I want to be available to my kids. To answer the phone when I want to be available to my people. To be still and quiet when I want to be available to myself. To notice and to listen when I want to be available to God.
Our life is a series of Today’s.
And so I’m learning. I’m learning how to show love by choosing to be available.
I’m learning how to quit voicemail.
And that maybe texting in church is ok after all.
“It will be our accessibility, not our words which will be our legacy” – Bob Goff