Editor’s note: Even though we are all relying heavily on our phones and computers to stay connected during these times, it is vital that we remember our devices are our tools, not our masters. In today’s excerpt from Get Your Life Back: Everyday Practices for a World Gone Mad, author John Eldredge offers practical tips for a healthier relationship with our technology that will bring greater peace, rest, and connection with our Heavenly Father.
Stasi and I celebrated our thirty-fifth wedding anniversary with a trip to Kauai. We find it the most gorgeous of the Hawaiian Islands, maybe one of the most beautiful places on earth. Volcanic cliffs covered with lush tropical forest spill right down to the water’s edge. Hibiscus blossoms fall onto the peaceful rivers that wind their way through the jungle. This isn’t your tourist Hawaii. Apart from Princeville, the North Shore is way laid back, and after you cross a couple one-lane bridges, you feel you really could be on the outskirts of Eden.
Sitting on a quiet beach there, with no one to our right or left for more than two hundred yards of pristine white sand, it was so luscious I expected Adam and Eve to go strolling by any moment. Now, you’d think this would be enough to delight, enchant, and soothe any soul, but as I took a stroll down the beach myself, I passed a guy sitting under a banyan tree — watching videos on his iPhone.
Wow. You can’t unplug from your technology even in paradise? Now, to be fair, I bet this is what happened: He had his phone with him — because everybody always has their phone with them — and somebody texted him a funny YouTube video, and he couldn’t resist the urge, and that was that. He was glued to a little artificial screen watching some cat sit on a toilet, when all around him was beauty beyond description, the very beauty his soul needed, and filling that beauty and coming through it the presence of God.
And I saw myself in this guy.
Because I, too, had brought my phone with me to the beach, and I, too, responded when the little “chirp” alerted me to an incoming text. (We always have our excuses; every addict does. I was “keeping myself available to my children.”) Every notification got my attention, because it triggered the brain’s learned response to check out what news had just come in.
Dopamine causes you to want, desire, seek out, and search… It is the opioid system (separate from dopamine) that makes us feel pleasure… The wanting system propels you to action and the liking system makes you feel satisfied and therefore pause your seeking. If your seeking isn’t turned off at least for a little while, then you start to run in an endless loop [Dopamine Loop]. The dopamine system is stronger than the opioid system. You tend to seek more than you are satisfied… Dopamine starts you seeking, then you get rewarded for the seeking which makes you seek more. It becomes harder and harder to stop looking at email, stop texting, or stop checking your cell phone to see if you have a message or a new text… The dopamine system doesn’t have satiety built in. It is possible for the dopamine system to keep saying “more more more,” causing you to keep seeking even when you have found the information.1
Neo was never so totally and completely trapped in the Matrix.
Since denial is one of the stages of addiction, let me ask you, dear reader, a couple questions: When your little Chime, Glass, or Swoosh sound alerts you to an incoming text, do you easily ignore it and go on with the conversation you are having, or reading what you are reading, or enjoying the back seat view as you drive through the desert? I’m serious — when that thing vibrates in your pocket, do you regularly ignore it? Or do you automatically reach to see? Can you shut your phone off when you get home in the evening and not turn it on again until morning? When you first wake, do you allow yourself a leisurely coffee and bagel before you look at your phone — or is your phone the very first thing you look at every morning?
Yeah, me too. Let’s be honest: we prefer distraction. The more distracted we are, the less present we are to our souls’ various hurts, needs, disappointments, boredom, and fears. It’s a short-term relief with long-term consequences. What blows my mind is how totally normal this has become; it’s the new socially acceptable addiction. I’ve got a friend who decided to break with his; he now turns his phone off over the weekend. I text him, and he doesn’t reply until Sunday night or Monday morning. I’m embarrassed by my irritation: C’mon, man — you know the protocol. Everybody agrees to be totally available, anywhere, anytime, 24/7. It’s what we do.
What does it say that you look like some sort of nut job when you turn your phone off?
The brother of Jesus was trying to offer some very simple guide- lines to a true life with God when, among other things, he said,
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. — James 1:27
That unpolluted part — that’s what worries me, when the average American checks their phone eighty times a day (!), and 70 percent said they sleep with their phone within reach.2
BUT WE HAVE A CHOICE
Finding more of God, growing strong in soul and spirit, requires creating space in your day for God — to intentionally put yourself in a place that allows you to draw upon and experience the healing power of the life of God filling you. Over the ages, serious followers of Jesus have used stillness and quiet, worship, fasting, prayer, beautiful places, and a number of other “exercises” to drink deeply of the presence of God. And untangle their souls from the world.
The ongoing deluge of intriguing facts and commentary, scandal and crisis, genuinely important guidance combined with the latest insider news from around the globe, and our friends’ personal lives gives the soul a medicated feeling of awareness, connection, and meaning. Really, it’s the new Tower of Babel — the immediate access to every form of “knowledge” and “groundbreaking” information right there on our phones, every waking moment. It confuses the soul into a state of artificial meaning and purpose, all the while preventing genuine soul care and life with God. Who has time to read a book? Plant a garden?
Let me say it again, because it’s so counter to the social air we breathe: what has become the normal daily consumption of input is numbing the soul with artificial meaning and purpose while in fact the soul grows thinner and thinner through neglect, harmed by the very madness that passes for a progressive life. We are literally being forced into the “shallows” of our life.
I’m not scolding; I’m tossing a lifeline.
Sincere followers of Jesus in every age have faced very difficult decisions — usually at that point of tension where their life with and for God ran straight against the prevailing cultural norm. The new Tower of Babel is ours. We have always been “strangers and aliens” in the world, insofar as our values seemed so strange and bizarre to those around us. We are now faced with a series of decisions that are going to make us look like freaks — choices like fasting from social media, never bringing our smartphones to any meal, conversation, or Bible study, cutting off our media intake so we can practice stillness every day.
The good news is that we actually have a choice. Unlike persecution, the things currently assaulting us are things we can choose not to participate in.
GIVING IT A TRY
And you’re already doing it — you’re reading a book! Well done! As we go along, you’ll discover many wonderful ways to unplug and be whole. For now, a few thoughts on technology...
- Turn off notifications. You don’t need to know when your aunt posted another picture of her dog on Facebook; you can check when you have set aside time to do so. You don’t need to know about the snowstorm in Ohio or the embarrassing thing the president just said.
- Fast from social media. Try cutting your use by 50 percent for one week and see what it does for you. (Many of our friends loved it so much they’ve decided to pretty much get off social media altogether.)
- Turn your phone off at 8:00 p.m. Give yourself some evening time for real things. And banish all technology from your bedroom.
- Don’t check your phone as soon as you wake up in the morning. Give your soul mercy to wake up; enjoy a few peaceful moments.
- When your phone chirps or vibrates, don’t react. Make it wait till you pick it up. In these small ways I’m making my phone a tool again, something that serves me instead of the other way around.
- Do real things. Chop vegetables, play cards, do a puzzle, go for a walk, learn an instrument.
If you create a little bit of sacred space every day, God will meet you there. And you will begin to love it.
1.Susan Weinschenk, “Why We’re All Addicted to Texts, Twitter and Google,” Psychology Today, September 11, 2012, https://www.psychology today.com/us/blog/brain-wise/201209/why-were-all-addicted-texts -twitter-and-google.
2.Asurion, “Tech-Tips,” https://www.asurion.com/connect/tech-tips.
Excerpted with permission from Get Your Life Back by John Eldredge, copyright John Eldredge.
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Are you overly attached to the technology that’s supposed to be a tool? Does your phone demand your constant attention? Let’s untangle our souls from the world and spend more time with God! Come share your thoughts on sacred space on our blog. We want to hear from you!