Changing the culture one stitch at a time

Consider this definition for a moment. Culture is how a group of people think, how they react and what they value. In a secular culture that moves more and more toward living in virtual reality and limiting the value of each person, what can I do to ground myself in physical realities and uphold the dignity of each person?

A great way to begin is to put down my device and see the people I encounter throughout my day. How often do I pick up my phone to pass the time or how often do I talk to someone while still focusing on a screen? These simple actions send a powerful message to the people I am unconsciously — or consciously — ignoring or not giving my full attention to: “Whatever I am doing on my device is more important than you.” This is not the message I want to send.

Filling my time

Last fall, two things prompted me to finally confront the almost decade-long bad habit of using my phone to fill time. The first was homeschooling my son. His work became more independent, and I found myself on my phone waiting for him to ask for help. Soon, however, I noticed that when he asked for help, I responded begrudgingly, annoyed for being interrupted. I knew I needed to change my response and, better yet, choose an activity that was not on my phone.

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Around that time, I also needed to prepare for a series of surgeries and the recovery periods that would follow. It is easy to make a screen one’s constant companion and distraction during a recovery period. I knew that I needed to plan other activities besides watching shows and reading on my phone, but what did people do during recovery periods before the smartphone and television existed?

We need look no further than St. Ignatius of Loyola. After suffering grievous injuries in a battle, he found himself enduring a long convalescence. He asked for reading material, preferably tales of chivalry, but instead was brought stories of Christ and the saints. Reading these accounts sparked his desire to be a saint. He went on to teach and write what today is called Ignatian spirituality, a way of prayer that has inspired so many people in their faith journeys. We could wonder what would have happened if instead he had been able to binge watch a show.

Whether the time is long or short, periods of recovery and periods of waiting are moments we should be open to God’s action. He may reveal himself to me in some way, or he may be asking me to be his instrument to reach out to another person. Whether I’m recovering from surgery, in the waiting room of the doctor’s office, standing in line in a cafeteria, or waiting for my son to ask for help with his school work, the activity I choose during this time needs to be one that keeps me open to meeting, receiving and cheerfully responding to the people around me.

An alternative to my phone

So what did I do? I asked my sister, an avid knitter, to teach me the basics of her craft. For years, I have admired her ability to knit and still hold a good conversation. It is an activity that keeps your hands busy and your mind free. Think about being in a waiting room. I would never ask someone what they were doing on their phone because there is no outward sign signaling what the activity is. She could be making a grocery list, reading a personal email, or filling out confidential paperwork, but I cannot tell by looking at her. All I see is a woman on her phone. Knitting, on the other hand, invites a question: “What are you making?” It is an activity that occupies you but leaves the door open to interacting with others.

Knitting is not the only activity that leaves the door open to personal interactions with others. Other handicrafts like sewing and embroidery invite a similar question. Reading a physical book, newspaper or magazine invites a few different questions: “What are you reading?” or “What do you think of that book or article?” Drawing or sketching also leaves the door open to conversation. The goal is to pay attention to the message I am sending to others with whatever activity I choose to do. I want to be free to meet, receive and cheerfully respond to the people God has placed in my life, be they strangers or those in my own home.

In these last few months, knitting has helped me use my phone less. It has given me more time to think and pray. I have been more cheerful during morning lessons with my son, and after a few weeks, I gave my niece a blanket to use for her doll. Choosing to set down my phone and pick up a handicraft is helping me to ground myself in the physical realities of my life and uphold the dignity of the people in my life, contributing in a small way toward building a culture that values what God values: his creation and his sons and daughters.

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