Love the one you’re with

During a fraternity meeting just a few months before my accident, our president made it mandatory that all phones be placed in the middle of the table during a meeting. I grumbled to myself, “What is this, junior high?” Guys in the house razzed him for apparently losing sight of the fact that we had joined a college fraternity and not the Boy Scouts. He held his ground though, even going as far to quote his mother who always emphasized to “Love the one you’re with.” There is nothing that ups your cool factor more with your fellow fraternity brothers quite like quoting your own mom.

One year later I found myself in the basement of my parents’ house in my current physical condition. Five guys sprawled out on the couch as I sat adjacent, motionless in my wheelchair. I began to share a story but stopped shortly thereafter, realizing my lack of an audience. Looking around the room I only saw the top of five heads looking down, ferociously typing away on their cell phones. My natural reaction would have been to grab my own phone to idly pass the time, but my arms laid still on the armrest of my chair. So I just stared ahead, waiting my figurative turn in the pecking order and feeling rather insignificant.

It looks like there was some substantial truth in the wisdom bestowed by my fraternity president’s mom. This has been one of many subtle yet valuable lessons I could only have learned on the four-year journey I have been on. Preaching “put your phone away” may paint me as a technologically inept, old-school person who is not up with the times, but actually I was up there with the worst when I had the option prior to my injury. I would rarely look up from my phone, regardless of who I was talking to. I would keep it on my lap back at my parents’ house for dinner, much to my mother’s dismay. While always attempting to put on the illusion that I was listening, I could not have been more oblivious to my indiscretion.

With no choice but to look straight ahead, I find myself recognizing more and more how frequently the situations portrayed in the video above are displayed with those around me. I once paused in the middle of sharing a story with a friend to see if he noticed I had stopped talking. After a few seconds (while still looking down), he told me I could keep talking, assuring me he was still listening while pecking away at his phone. I smirked and facetiously responded saying, “Thanks for your permission.”

However, situations like this got me thinking. Could trying to hold a conversation with a guy who’s focused on something else with his head down be similar to how God feels when I’m too distracted in the world around me to pay attention to Him? The fact that sometimes I can’t read the Bible or just sit and pray without being tempted to distract myself with something else makes me realize that just because I don’t have use of my hands right now doesn’t mean I can’t revert back to old habits. Fortunately, it’s not too late and I’ve been made aware of it thanks to the idol our culture has made of the cell phone. While currently not having use of my arms isn’t how I would prefer to learn simple life lessons, it was a lesson learned nonetheless.

Whether I can hold a phone or not, I want to be present in the moment. The person I am with is infinitely more important than the latest text message, Facebook update, or Twitter feed that can be attended to later. With Thanksgiving tomorrow, I recognize I have a lot to be thankful for. Four years ago I laid in the ICU on a feeding tube while my family and other visitors took turns eating turkey out of my sight. Not only am I able to breathe and talk now, the eating will be fantastic. I’m looking forward to enjoying fellowship, food, and football with family. Thankfully, the phone will not be part of it.

  1. Bob Buck said:

    Ryan, wonderful blog as we all begin our Thanksgiving holiday. You are blessed with a very special gift….you can communicate wisdom and truth as well as anyone I know.

    Happy Thanksgiving and much love to the Atkins family!

    Bob Buck


  2. Danielle Boyle said:

    Thank you for the post and reminder, Ryan. You’re truly a blessing! Have a happy and very blessed Thanksgiving with your family :-)!


  3. Kyle Quinn said:

    Yes yes yes!!! We have been on the same mental wavelength this week. I’ve verbally bashed the “cell phone” at least a few hundred times this week, noting instances similar to those you’ve disclosed above. Rather than simply complaining though…I’m taking action. Yours truly won’t be the one to have been too weak to be consumed by such seemingly important insignificant devices (or vices, for that matter). I’m going on a social media purge and creating my own cell phone rules…so that I won’t be oblivious to the world around me, so that I can truly appreciate the beautiful tangible and intangible creations that God has given us, and so that I can “love the ones I’m with”. Brilliant post Ryan. I hope you and your family have a blessed Thanksgiving.


  4. Marti Neyer said:

    Thanks Ryan Loved this and so true!!! Happy Thanksgiving and thanks for sharing your mom and Laura with us at Brynn’s wedding! It was so great having them!!


  5. Brian Tome said:

    Dude… seriously profound stuff here. Thank you.


  6. Linda Kallmeyer said:

    Dear Ryan, Your God given gifts and talents are amazing. I love seeing those shine in you. Every word that you write is heart felt, profound and God honoring. One thing that I am thankful for is you! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your amazing family!


  7. You are wise beyond your years. I will be sharing this and hoping that people will wake up and “love the ones they are with”. Many times I feel quite alone because people are focused on their phones instead of spending time with me. Bless you Ryan and your wonderful family.


  8. ThingsLindsayWrites said:

    So true! I spend a lot of time on my phone when I’m home alone, so I tend to put it down and crave real connections now. Love how you related it back to spending time with God – it seems like a million things get in my way – texts don’t need to be added to that!


  9. lisamarieluccioni said:

    Ryan, cell phones are bane of my existence! They increasingly become a problem in classroom. I believe some suffer from an addiction. When I was in Seattle this past summer, I went on a tour. Many people were too occupied taking pictures exhibits with cell phones, they weren’t present in moment. Sad, sad, sad. Your former prof has old-school “flip” style. I’m so on-the-grid in other ways, I refuse to be held captive by my own phone.


    Joyous Thanksgiving at Atkins household. Eat all your favorite foods and give thanks to our Creator, Savior, and Holy Spirit.




  10. Terrific. Thought it was a post about common courtesy at first, then the Jesus-juke caught me off-guard! Potent and poignant.


  11. Dave L. said:

    The video you posted makes a great point….NOT just the ubiquity of devices, but the lonely state of the one who chooses not to participate….


  12. Cindy Anderson said:

    Ryan, Thank you for sharing your story and the encouragement it brings to others.
    Love and many blessings to you and your family.


  13. schro907 said:

    “While currently not having use of my arms isn’t how I would prefer to learn simple life lessons, it was a lesson learned nonetheless.”

    Amen to that…it’s funny how God has a way of teaching us lessons in a way that often doesn’t line up with how we would want to learn them. But He sure does know best. Great post!


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