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BONUS Back to School #4 (Part 2): Being A Friend Means Being Present

Being present matters. Today’s conversation is an extension of Tuesday’s, with three examples that help us connect what we learned about friendship to our own daily lives.

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Welcome to the Gospel Tech podcast, a resource for parents who feel overwhelmed and outpaced as they raise healthy youth in a tech world. As an educator, parent, and tech user, I want to equip parents with the tools, resources, and confidence they need to raise kids who love God and use tech.

Hello everyone and welcome to the Gospel Tech podcast. My name is Nathan Sutherland, and this podcast is dedicated to helping families love God and use tech. And today we have another short episode addendum, if you will, to Tuesday’s episode. I don’t plan on making this a tradition, but I did have additional thoughts that had occurred to me afterwards. I almost put ’em just into an article and then I figured, you know what, it’s the conversation’s in one medium and nothing bothers me more than a conversation over multiple mediums. Meaning like when someone calls you and leaves the message and the new texts them back, and then they send you an email in response. Like that drives you bonkers. So, I’m not gonna do that to you. We’re gonna keep the podcast conversation rolling. But when we were talking about having real friends and making friends, how do we make ’em? How do we keep ’em? How can we be a friend? How can we know if someone’s back, actually, our friend, what does that look like? I was getting ready this morning and was reminded of three specific real-life instances where real life friends mattered, and just the value of having a couple, a couple good ones. So, I wanted to share this with you. I hope it is a shorter episode than my other addendum. But my hope is that this is just an encouragement as you continue to reflect on friendship, and why it matters, cuz to begin this, I believe sometimes we feel an urgency for our children to have friends without an actual goal of those friends.

And by that, I mean we want friends at any cost and want friends of inequality. So, if as long as they have a pulse and they hang out with our kid, like we’re fine with that. And then that’s like, yay. My kid has friends. And that’s not our goal. So, when we talk friends, we are looking for that, like the one to three people, Jesus showed us that he had three in his like close network and 12 in his, you know, close friend disciple group. And then he had all of these followers that his disciples went out and taught and encouraged and discipled themselves. So, when we look at kind of our friend groups, we recognize these are smaller groups and with my kiddos, right? What I’m praying into is asking the Lord for one to three good friends.

So, these are friends who will be present with them. Certainly, they can have digital relationship as well. Right? They can send texts, or they can communicate through social medias, or whatever their digital formats are, but that’s not gonna be the basis of their friendship. And I want their friendship to extend beyond their common interest.

So, while they can meet through sports or they can meet through school or they can meet through something else, I want to encourage that friendship to have, as we talked about, the time and the special events and just the regular daily contact, or maybe not daily, but regular life contact, that is part of friendship.

And, and this is where it comes in. I had mentioned briefly in the Tuesday episode that the benefit of real-life friends is that when things get hard, they’re more able to respond. And more able to be present in that. And I don’t want to be too glib cause I do know that people have very solid online relationships.

They have very solid online friends, meaning that friends are consistent, the friends put in investment, they know each other really well. And that is a very real relationship at that point. However, You run into the two problems. One being, you can be a friend of convenience and not realize it. It’s very difficult to read the, the relational vibe sometimes until life hits the fan. And you realize, oh, I was just another member of the squad. I was just another person on this server. I was just another common interest. And as soon as my life goes on hold, like I can’t play today. Or I can’t go to that thing. Or I can’t be a part of this event that we’re discussing or, or planning or whatever it is, the, the group moves on without you.

And it doesn’t mean they don’t like you. It just means that that wasn’t the relationship that happens as well with, I mentioned, elite sports, right? That we’re dedicated to the sport; and online, it can feel a little more community cuz we’re, we’re here for a common interest and it feels like, Hey, we all get along. We belong here until something goes wrong. And so, that’s the one side.

The other side is that they just can’t. Like, the friend can’t be there both because of the way your friendship is developed and the limits of the digital medium. So, by that, I mean, let’s say I have a friend. They’re a solid friend. They’re not just there for the convenience of the video game or the shared interest in the, in the athletic or in the hobby. Interests that we have online. We’re real friends. We go through life together. We share life together, but my life goes on and they’re, you know, seven time zones away. like, there’s just times of day and physical limits to their ability to be available for me, just like in real life with real life friends. Like they might have a job, they might have their own family stuff, but we’re now adding a layer to that of even with the best of intentions, they might have a really hard time being present in a meaningful way.

And that can be limiting, in addition to the fact that digital friends can’t, man, they can’t just get… Well, I’ll share in my story here. So, three examples. When I was a teacher in my town downtown, they have a junior high, that’s right next to a high school. It’s a close-knit community. It’s like a farming town that has become bigger than a farming town, but they don’t really know it yet. So, it’s kind of awkward. Like it it’s sprawled out into what used to then be like a giant logging road, is now just like a way to get to the suburbs. And it’s very, it’s not very well planned. Let’s say that. It’s not well laid out well, but in the small town, you have families who have been there a very long time. People know each other. And I got kind of the worst call ever one day when it was right at the beginning of summer, or right at the end of school, I guess, heading towards summer. And it was just a phone call of, Hey, we’ve had a tragedy, will you come? Like we can’t find any other adults, basically. like and I knew a little bit of what I was getting into. A kid had passed. I knew very few details. I knew this family, but I had did not know the young man personally. He had gone through my school, but I knew a lot of the kids and his friends personally. And so, you get this phone, and I’m like, all right, like this is a, I, I would put it in like one of the more terrifying of events, like that I’ve ever had to be through. I don’t know if that makes sense, but when you’re stepping into someone’s sorrow and sadness, you’re not exactly sure who’s gonna be there.

You’re not exactly sure what even, what happened and you’re not exactly sure what you were being asked to do. Like they just asked, would you be here? We have a bunch of like broken down kids. Will you show up? I think that’s what’s really hard to do on the internet is show up. So, when I showed up, like I parked outside street is just covered in cars. Right. And I knock on the door, and they let me in, and then the lights in this place, aren’t, they’re not on, cuz people are grieving and sometimes bright lights don’t go well with that. And I get the opportunity to just sit. We, me and a buddy showed up. We both worked with Young Life, and so we got these phone calls because we were the next adults that were known, and I was a teacher. And so, these parents were just any, anyone. Just gimme anyone who can help us care for these kids while we are grieving too. And we showed up with some ice cream and just sat. Zero answers. Zero ability to explain anything, cuz we didn’t know everything.

We don’t know the ins and outs of all of these kids. But none of that mattered because we had the opportunity to be present. And it ended with literally sitting on a trampoline in the backyard with, you know, a dozen kids and just handing out spoons for the ice cream. And that was it. Like we didn’t, we didn’t do anything magical.

And that, it turns out, so, I then gave a talk in a different town I mean a year and a half later. And I, I referenced this conversation of kind of the grief and loss and how do we process? And a woman came up to me and was like, my nephew was there. This woman was in the police force and, and this other city that I was in. She’s like, my nephew was there. She, he actually told me about this. He got in the car when I picked him up and told me that, like, these adults had been there and had just been like a steady presence in the room. And he thought that was super cool. He didn’t know my name. Right. He didn’t, she just, like, she knew who the kid was. She knew the event and was like, oh, you were one of the two adults there.

And that for these kids, first of all, they were present. Right. They didn’t have answers. They couldn’t solve this problem. Grief is really hard to process, but they were present. They weren’t sending texts. They weren’t posting YouTube videos about how sad they were for this friend. They weren’t right. Bringing it into like a, a, an unhealthy amount of limelight. They simply showed up and they grieved for a long time. And it happened for days. And then it went on for weeks and they processed, and I’m certain, they’re still processing as we all do with big big losses in our lives. They were, they were all part of that process. And then we were invited into that. Me and my friend were given that opportunity to simply be present. And I, I bring that up because I’ve seen that a couple different times. That being present, especially in times of hardship, and I would argue in times of celebration, matters more than, man, we had a good phone conversation. Or like those, those things are great for continuing a relationship, but at some point, like we want our kids to have that person who can show up when things get hard. And I’ll, I’ll give a, another hard example and then a happy example.

So, another hard example, being another young lady from Young Life where she was going through a just, I, I would say unimaginable difficulty. She had lost a pair of family members to sickness. And had basically just heard that her sister was sick and that it wasn’t looking good. And so, she went by the time we went to Young Life camp, it was like weeks maybe, of her sister’s life left. And the, what I saw with her friends, and then when we returned home, like her friends coming around her. Again, there’s, it’s wonderful to get a text message when you’re feeling low and it’s wonderful to have a friend you can call, and you know, it’s gonna be on the discord server. It’s gonna be on social media or that motivational individual you watch on YouTube where they don’t know you, but it’s fine.

Like parasocial relationship is what that’s called. You have a meaningful relationship with them. They don’t know you exist. That can be all well and good until you just need somebody to be present. And again, being invited into that relationship where you’re like, I can’t, I can’t fix this. I can’t explain away your sister’s sickness. But having the opportunity to just go to their house. And again, something I had never done. I was an adult at this point. All these kids were getting huge head start on the emotional wellness of being able to process grief. But these kids showing up and as the sister was in hospice at home, the opportunity to just show up and care… and you can’t, again, you can’t make better. You, you can’t distract her enough to somehow recognize or not recognize what’s happening, but you wouldn’t even want to. Like the whole point of this is we want to be with you while you love your sister. While she’s still here. While this is a really hard situation. It doesn’t change the love for your sister. It doesn’t change. The fact that it stinks, and this is not what we want to be seeing. And the fact that we love you and that we’re gonna show that love by just taking time and recognizing there’s nothing we can do except be present. So, we showed up and like people ate food and then she’d go away and be sad. And then she’d come back out when she’s ready. And people would just like be in the living room. People would just be out back. Like people were around. They weren’t just off on their own playing video games, trying to forget the hardship. They’re constantly just wallowing kind of in the hard, in the hard part of it, and doing so prayerfully right. Showing up and just bringing food, bringing snack. Checking in, even if there’s nothing you can do.

I know sometimes I get tempted to just be like, well, let me know if there’s anything I can do. And what I’m saying is like, put me on your meal train so I don’t have to show up because it’s really hard to show up. But that’s not what we’re called to do. We see with Jesus, and our brokenness, that he walked into our hurt. We are told that he didn’t see equality with God as something to be grasped, something to be held onto. Instead, he emptied himself and took on the likeness of man. So that He could love us in our brokenness. It’s we’re told that he suffered in every way. He was tempted in every way that we are tempted, and he didn’t break. And then he won us a perfect victory. And so, we do the same for others. We’re called to be ambassadors for Christ when we’re called to be the body of Christ. It doesn’t mean we’re supposed to be Jesus. Like we’re supposed to be Jesus for other people. Meaning people look at us and they see Jesus, not us. They don’t see our effort. They don’t see our goodness. They don’t see how impressive we are. They see the love of Christ and they know the love of Christ. And the holy spirit moves in us and through us, and that is the beauty of the new Testament. The beauty of what Jesus is saying, like, I’m gonna go die. I’m gonna rise again, but I’m not gonna leave you as orphans. I’m gonna send you my helper. That is what friendship is, right? It’s this opportunity to have this bridge into their life to speak truth, to be present, and simply hurt with them because it’s something we know that Jesus has done for us. And so, we could extend that.

So, I would also argue that it’s for awesome events too. And I, I mentioned that my friends and I had traditions of celebrating people’s birthdays. I’m gonna let you a little bit behind the curtain on this one. I didn’t share it in the full episode, but let’s, let’s just go in. We we’re high school boys at this point. And what we found was our junior high celebrations had been fun, but we were looking for new and creative ways. And we were limited in what we believed creativity to be. So, it turned into, I’ll just share my experience. On my birthday, what happened was I was upstairs playing video games. Remember, I remember basically everything about this. Upstairs playing video games enjoying myself. My mom shouted up. “Hey, Nathan, some friends are here.” Now, I didn’t live anywhere near other people. I mentioned that our town is kind of that awkward sprawl of old town downtown. And then it runs into an old logging road that just kind of sprawls out to suburbia. Well, I was on the far end of suburbia. Like you go a couple blocks past my house, you’re not in the town anymore. So, we are deep out in the woods. People don’t live nearby. This, people don’t just drop in on their way somewhere else. They have to drive out here on purpose. I was like, oh, that’s weird, but whatever.

And they came around the corner; and it’s two friends. Sure, like that makes sense that these two guys might just come over cuz they wanna hang out. Cool. Come on guys. Check out this video game. So, we’re playing I, I show them kind of the game I’m playing and we’re talking and maybe a minute later, two more guys come around the corner. And I’m like, oh, that’s like, it makes sense that those two guys are here, but it doesn’t make a ton of sense that those two guys are here with these two guys. And then two more guys come around the corner and I’m like, oh, because these guys would never hang out. Like this is not the right, like mix of people. And now there’s six of them, and that’s a really big number of people to just drop by. And then comes the guy with like the camcorder and the, and the seventh person.

And what I quickly surmised was for my birthday, I was going to get jumped. I was, I was going to be treated to a kidnapping. Now, I’m not saying this is a good decision. I’m a hundred percent sure this would be counted as hazing nowadays. I won’t name any names or given any incriminating evidence, but what happened was my mom was in on this. They, I had always told them, cuz this is like something we had talked through in brainstorming. Of course, I would help crack a plan that would be used against me. I had told them that I was just going to fight them tooth and nail if they ever chose to do this to me and that, like, you guys you’ll be able to like eventually get me, but two or three of you are going to the hospital, was sort of my premise.

And then I felt like a huge jerk for being like, oh, like you just can’t whatever. Like, all right, I’ll go with it. And about halfway through I realized it was a terrible decision and began to fight tooth and nail and just mule kick everyone. But what happened was they taped my hands, my forearms, my arms, my legs, my ankles which turns out you can’t roll over if you’re like fully, you don’t have any leverage points. Put me in the back of a vehicle, drove me somewhere, put me in the back of another vehicle. Now, at this point, I just assumed I was gonna die. Cause I’m usually a jiminy cricket with my friends. So, I’m the one who’s like, are you guys sure that’s a good decision?

Fast forward. It put me through a car wash with a pillowcase over my head. So, I had the opportunity to experience a little bit of water boarding. We didn’t know what that was at the time. It’s not fun. They then proceeded to take me back to my home where a bunch of friends had all gotten together to celebrate my birthday. So, there’s a picture somewhere of me being carried into the house with, like duct tape still on me and just like a crowd of people around me and they all celebrated and it was wonderful, and memorable, and actually much safer than I thought it was at the time. So, don’t worry. It wasn’t a hot car wash. It was the back of a truck. I don’t know if I said that earlier, but yes, I’ve been through a car wash in the back of a truck.

And the idea here being. Those friends didn’t do it. Cuz they hate me. They didn’t do it. Cuz they were just hazing me. They did it actually in a approved, apparently had checked with my parents. They’d checked. They knew someone, apparently who worked at their car wash. Like I was, I went back and like tried to put like, how did you guys manage this? Like what, what was happening? It’s hard to know when you’re blindfolded, what’s happening. And then they threw a huge party. Like there were probably 30 plus people at the event and it was a celebration, not just a, we’re going to be mean to this person. Sometimes pranks that we say we’re doing for fun, like toilet paper in someone’s house. My standard is if you don’t go and help that person clean it up the next day, then you weren’t including them on the fun. Right? You were having fun at their expense. This wasn’t that thing. And what I would say was, these friends did care about me. Many of these are the friends I’m still friends with. And they just, in their high school brains thought that this would be a funny story and a cool thing to do. And probably that I deserved it, in full disclosure. But that idea that they were able to be present, right? How much, how different is that then we got online and watched a movie together, or we got online and played a game together, or we got online and just talked over a discord. That idea of the sunshine events are very difficult to capture over the internet. And while the internet can be positive for our kids, while it can be a benefit for our children, we wanna make sure that we are able to be present. Because that is, I mean, when you read scriptures, we are reading Psalms, and David is talking about God. Or when you read Genesis, Exodus, Levisticus…, Genesis, Exodus Leviticus. We see God present. That’s like a huge part of what we’re talking about. When Jesus comes, he’s talking about God being present. When he promises that not leave us as orphans, but to send the helper, he’s talking about God being present. And it’s not a long distant, I know you’re out there somewhere thing. It’s a personal relationship. It’s a heart change. It’s a new creation and that is what we need to have. And what I believe the digital world makes very difficult. Yes. VR will adapt some of that. And there’s some really cool benefits. Some robotic technologies are gonna make that so that it can feel like someone’s there with you. Even if, for example, during COVID right. Zoom is better than nothing. Absolutely. We’ll take it. But don’t we want the ability to be there present? And don’t we want that for our kids.

And I, I do have one more example. It’s a sad one, but I, I think it’s important. So, I’m gonna share it, even though it’s gonna be three to one on hard to, hard to happy, but I think it’ll be important. I do just wanna say that this is a sad story. It involves grief and loss. If you have experienced that or are in that, and you’re not in a spot where you want to hear about that anymore then, I don’t blame you. You can stop now. But I didn’t get to say that early in the episode, because I wasn’t planning on sharing the story. So, that’s kind of a little disclaimer as we head in here. So, how long ago? 10 years ago, our first son was born. Anna and I had our first son, Daniel. Was a super, it was like the best and the worst of times it was a complicated pregnancy. We didn’t find that out until something like week 16 or 20, cuz his heart rate was great. He was, you know, kicking and moving and doing all that stuff. But somewhere around week 20, there were some growth metrics that were off and they’re like, oh, he might have Trisermine, like there might be fluid on the brain. There might be spina bifida. We’re not exactly sure. We have a wonderful near us here in the Northwest, several amazing, children’s hospitals and maternal fetal medicine clinics. And so, we were going in and, and having the big wigs, like the people that give the national trainings and do the biggest studies were looking at our baby and looking at Anna. And it took them, all they knew was there were problems and that the baby might die soon. So, that was like all we were told. And then it progressed to like week 22 and then week 24 and then week 26. And we’re going in multiple times a week to figure out what’s happening. Run more tests. They eventually do an amniotic fluid test, where they like have the picture of the baby and they have to jam this giant needle in and they take the fluid out to run these genetic tests to see what’s going on. None of that is problematic. So, they’ve ruled out all of what they thought was happening. And eventually as Daniel grows, they see, oh, there’s amniotic bands that have broken off. And so basically, inside the uterus, you have a couple, you have two layers and the inner layer as this fibrous band situation, they can break loose and come kind of like jellyfish and they’ll wrap around stuff.

Typically, the baby dies from that. But in his situation, he did not. He ended up living till I, man, I think he was born at 30. I’m gonna forget here. I wanna say it was 34 weeks. Cause I think we had a 36-week C-section set up. And so, there, you’re doing this weird paperwork, like this very disjointed paperwork where you have to do all the birth stuff and you’re making the birth plan, and you’re making the hospital plan, and you’re making all those things. And you have to like, pre-fill out your death certificate. Cuz basically the amniotic bands had wrapped around his chest. His heart grew his lungs didn’t. The only reason I’m giving you all of this detail is we headed in, so, Anna’s water just broke one day. We were, we were absolutely petrified to this day arriving. Water broke. We’re going in. Family is like out of town. We weren’t ready. We thought we had time. There was no warning that this was going to happen, but this was birthday. This was it. This is happening. So, we got on the phone, started calling people. I like forgot the directions to the hospital that’s eight minutes away from my house. Like I, I, Anna was way more calm, cool, and collected.

She ran upstairs to like grabbed the birth bag and all the stuff we’d had prepared at night. All I did, in full, full confession here, was walk around the kitchen with the car keys, setting them on different surfaces. Like I couldn’t, I’d set ’em on like the counter and then I’d pick ’em up and I’d move ’em next to the coffee maker. And I just kept like walking places and setting the keys down. And then Anna came down and I was like, what are you doing? And I was like, I. I don’t know. I don’t, I, I have no explanation for what I’m doing. So, we went to the hospital and it, I I’ll spare you all the details, but at the end of the day, the Lord’s very good. We met Daniel. Daniel went to be with Jesus, and in that process, family came in, people got to meet him. It was this amazing process. Incredible doctors and, and one angel in heaven, nurse on earth, or angel from heaven on earth; a nurse who it was her last shift. And she chose to basically dedicate herself to us so that we would have a singular point of contact. We wouldn’t have to keep having the shifts change. And she was the amazing human being. And during that time, we found out that one couple, who were family friends, had come and they just sat outside our room. So, while people came, and they provided us amazing gifts. And they came and they wept with us, and they were present with us, and they made the intention to show up, even though like, who wants to show up for that event? Nobody. Nobody wants to take their day and be around that kind of sadness. Everyone is sad about that. And there’s no, there’s no silver lining. It’s just, this is, this is a poo-fest. So, we learned that this couple had been out there all day. They spent something like eight hours outside our room. They prayed, they worshiped, and then they updated everyone who came so, that everyone who walked through the door had the same information.

So, we weren’t retelling the story. We weren’t rehashing the timeline. We weren’t reliving that trauma. We were simply there celebrating that we got to meet Daniel. And we got this incredible blessing of just two people who were willing to be present. And knowing even when no one was visiting, we still knew there were two people outside that door, and they weren’t there to be a big thing. They weren’t there to make it about them. They just wanted to be present in it. So, and again, I shared that, I know that’s a heavy story. And my prayer is that if you’re experiencing that or you have gone through that, that man, that people would be present with you. That the Lord would show you his presence in that hardship, and that he would use it to remind you of his goodness, even when super broken things happen.

And my hope in sharing it, in addition to these other three stories is a reminder that our kids need real people in their lives too. They would not have been the same to just have someone on zoom. Zoom would’ve been great. It would’ve been better than no one showing up. Right. Texts were better than nobody coming in.

I did appreciate getting texts from people that simply said, “praying for you. We love you.” That did matter, but it did not, it would not have supplemented or replaced real people taking real time to just sit. And that was 10 years ago. And I am still so thankful that those individuals chose to do that. We didn’t ask anyone to do that. They just offered it and took it upon themselves to, to love us in that way. So, I would also challenge us to ask how can we do that? How can we step into people’s brokenness without being asked, and just be present in it. Just knowing that it’s messy. By the way, someone in a traumatic situation, they’ll tell you to leave if they need you to leave. There, I don’t, I don’t know anyone in a traumatic situation who’s not more than happy to tell people when they’ve overstepped their boundaries. They, it’s very, very hard to ask. In addition to the brokenness, you’re already experiencing to be more broken and, and ask for certain things.

So, let’s prayerfully step into that brokenness. We didn’t have to ask Jesus to come and provide salvation. He did that freely, and for all who will repent and believe. And so, we can extend that kind of grace to others.

So, that’s man my extension, it was long look at that. Would you look at this addendum, but I hope it was encouraging. I hope when you hear this, it helps you kind of flesh out a little more of the conversation with your kiddo. It helps you think through yeah, like what is, what is the benefit of this digital resource and what are the limitations? So that we can see our young people be healthy. Yes. But also, be able to be the body of Christ. The hands and feet of Christ, the ambassadors for Christ as they go out amongst their friends, amongst their community and to wherever God will lead them. So, I hope it was encouraging to you. That you feel empowered to think more deeply and have these conversations with your kiddos. I hope that it extended that conversation and that you would share it with someone who might need to hear it.

And I hope you’ll join us next week as we continue this conversation about how we can love God and use tech.

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