Are we living lives that are superficial? Do we have relationships that have depth to them or do we keep everyone at a distance, even those we “communicate” with a lot?
What do I mean by superficial?
When we greet someone we might often ask “How are you?”. Most of the time the answer is something like “ok” or “good”. Do we expect anything more? With most people, probably not. “How are you?” has simply become a polite way of greeting people. It seems to show some concern for the person. How genuine is that concern? Ask yourself two questions.
First, if the person said they were having a bad day, what would you do? Would you want to run away to avoid further conversation? Would you ask what’s going on with a genuine listening ear? Would you offer to pray for them?
Now, the second question is “are there people you want a genuine answer to “how are you doing”? Who in your life do you care about? One may have 250 “friends” on Facebook but do you know who any of them are? How many genuine friends do you have?
Have we hardened our hearts in a superficial world?
How else might we be superficial?
When we are conversing with other people, do we avoid the difficult topics like politics and religion? Now, we are not going to talk politics and religion with everyone. In some settings, it won’t be appropriate. But is there anyone you discuss religion, politics, or another difficult subject with? Or do you avoid any topic that might rock the boat? There are times we should avoid such topics. For instance, the funeral of a loved one is not the time to bring up how someone you see at the funeral has hurt you in the past. It is a time to keep the peace. On the other hand, if we never discuss difficult topics, are we being sincere in our hearts? Remember what Jesus said, “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Luke 12:51, cf. my homily 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C).
Another way we might be superficial is how we look at the news. Assuming we even look at the news, do we merely skim the headlines and think we know enough or do we read the stories with an open heart? Despite my previous articles on the importance of watching the news, I have to admit, I find myself becoming more of a headline skimming. Why? Sometimes it seems like it is always the same old stuff and it is not good news. For example, how many shootings have you heard about in the last week? Yes, the news can be depressing. The fact that bad news depresses us actually shows we care, that we are not just a superficial people. How many times in the gospels do we hear that Jesus was “moved with pity“? We may not want to get involved but maybe that is exactly what God wants us to do.
Now, turning to another way of asking ourselves if we are nothing more than superficial, how do you communicate with others? How many times a day do you text someone? How many times a day do you actually talk face to face with people? Do you prefer to text? Why? Are you avoiding something? Texting can be a good way to communicate if we are not avoiding something and engage in the “conversation.” When you text, are you conversing with one or two people in a group text or are you texting several people in separate conversations at the same time? If the latter, are you really paying attention to anyone? I know some of you reading this don’t do a lot of texting but I hope you still get the point.
I have some friends that I carry on text conversations with. Sometimes it gives me a chance to really think about my response. It can also be convenient when conversing with two people who are not in the same room. Just make sure you engaging in the conversation. Texting can also be a great way to touch base as long as we do more than just touch base at times.
There is nothing like a one on one conversation when we need to feel supported. Sometimes texting is the best we can do in the initial moment because of other things going on. That is understandable.
Do you use lots of abbreviations or emojicons? Some of these can be appropriate and universally understood. However, others can be misunderstood. Does “LOL” mean “laughing out loud” or does it mean “lots of love”? A smiley face or sad face emojicon might be readily understood but there are some that I have no idea what they mean and I don’t care to. It’s not that hard to type “I’m sorry for what is happening to you.”
So, where am I going with this? I have a blog to talk about how we live out our faith, not how we text.
What is your prayer life like? Is it superficial? When you pray are you just reciting prayers you have memorized or are you thinking about the words and what they mean (For an example, see my article “Charles de Foucauld’s Prayer of Abandonment”). This does not mean that every time we recite a prayer that we need to dissect every word. What we need to do is pray from the heart, not the lips. Likewise, when we ask God for help, are we just giving him a list of things to fix or are do we engage with God in a conversation, taking time to listen to what He wants to say to us (see my series of presentations on prayer – Giving Our Hearts to God: What It Means to Pray).
What about our presence at Mass? Are we paying attention? Do we appreciate what is going on? We stand, we kneel, we bow, we genuflect. How many times have you thought about why we do these things. They have meaning (see my series – Uncovering the Treasures of the Mass). It is not simply a matter of external actions. Do we practice what we preach?
There are times of dryness or great turmoil in our lives that reciting memorized prayers or carrying out the external gestures at Mass are the best we have to offer. When that happens, keep doing it. God is paying attention. God is with you. Give it all to God.
Our world may be superficial in many ways. We don’t have to be that way. “Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5).