Last night Isaiah was talking in his sleep and it woke me up. I didn’t need to get out of bed (halleLUjah) so I just rolled over and waited a few minutes, making sure all was well before drifting back to sleep. But during those 2 minutes of wakefulness I had the urge to check my phone. You know, to pass the time. To pass those 2 minutes by checking my email, maybe Facebook, do a quick browse on Pinterest while waiting for Isaiah to settle down. And it struck me while I lay there resisting the desire to pick up my phone… what is this about? Why on earth am I tempted to check my phone at 3am? Who has possibly emailed me, besides GAP, Amazon and Living Social, since I went to bed 5 hours ago? And unless my friends on the East Coast are updating Facebook suuuuper early, chances are there is nothing new there either. But I wanted it. I wanted that little dopamine release that comes from checking my phone. I resisted but not without effort.
This has been a frequent topic of conversation in our house over the past few years. Since we got iPhones, really. You know the drill. In the car and you have to wait at the light for, I don’t know, maybe 17 seconds? Check your phone! Maybe someone texted you! In the elevator and need to kill a whole 24 seconds riding to the top floor? Check your phone! Might have a new email! Got two glorious minutes while your kids play on their own after breakfast? Check your phone! Might be your turn in Words with Friends! (totally legit, btw – I mean, it works your brain - unlike all the other mindless apps). You know what I’m saying. That’s how it’s been for me, anyway. And Jason, too. We’ve talked and talked and talked about it. We’ve long known that these aren’t good habits, not good for our souls, and not something we want our kids to emulate. We’ve made resolutions regarding our screen time. We’ve made rules for ourselves, tried to encourage each other and sometimes scold each other for being sucked back in. We’ve tried putting our phones in different rooms, in the cupboard, on silent, deleted superfluous apps, you name it. But nothing has really stuck. It’s always taken monumental effort to change our patterns of behavior with our phones. And we so easily slip back into old habits.
A few weeks ago, Jason took the boys to the frisbee park for a couple hours and I found myself with some unexpected free time. I had about 17 loads of laundry to fold and I wanted something to entertain me while I worked on it. I won’t lie, I was tempted by Dawson’s Creek (season 3) but I had heard recently that my alma mater had a youtube channel with all of their chapel talks so I decided to check that out instead. Good decision, it turns out. Not that Dawson and Joey aren’t good company but I found a lecture by one of my favorite professors* and was transfixed almost immediately.
- *Quick disclaimer – I credit Greg Spencer with changing the course of my academic life (and thus, in some significant ways, my personal life as well) during my undergrad years. So I might be completely biased but the man is brilliant. I know you’ll agree.
The lecture was in September of 2010 and was based on material from his book, Awakening the Quieter Virtues (we just got the book from the library and Jason has already snagged it so I’m currently waiting for my turn to read it). It spoke to just this topic of information overload and gave me a new framework and a new way to think about the use of my phone, and all technology for that matter. Anything that is competing for my attention, really. I won’t try to paraphrase his lecture. You should check it out, or better yet, read the book. But the one thing I think about now on a daily basis…
- Am I being a good steward of the present?
I’d honestly never thought of such a thing. I have thought about being a good steward of my money, the environment, my resources, and so forth. But never the present. And it’s flipped everything on its head for me. Instead of making up rules for myself and my use of my phone, I’m asking myself that question. Dr. Spencer said (I’m paraphrasing here) that instead of trying to fill up each moment in our life with as much as we possibly can, believing that more is always better, we should focus on giving our full attention to one thing, and one thing only, in each moment. Instead of multi-tasking, which isn’t really possible anyway, we should uni-task.
I’ve found this much harder than I thought it would be. I’ve got 2 young kids and multi-tasking saves the day, right? Making lunch for the boys, scanning FB on my phone, prepping dinner, picking up toys, and starting a load of laundry between, say, 12:05-12:25, sounds about right to me. It’s hard to slow down. It’s hard sometimes to give my full attention to making lunch. Just lunch. It’s hard sometimes to sit in the backyard with the boys without bringing my book so I can catch up on some reading at the same time. To give my full attention to them as they dig in the sandbox and pick up bugs. It’s hard to go to the bathroom without my phone (I am totally embarrassed to admit that, by the way, but it’s true. I rarely go to the bathroom without my phone). But the more I attempt to be a better steward of the present, the more I work at it, the easier it gets.
And I’m finding this week that in those moments, those little spaces in the day, those brief seconds in the car at a stoplight or those 10 minutes in the morning before the boys come banging into our room, if I just sit, just be, rather than fumbling for my phone, those are often the “thin spaces” in my day. It’s an image I like from the Celtic tradition, referring to “a moment and space in time where heaven and earth are so close together that the spiritual and the natural world intersect. A place where it is possible to touch and be touched by God. Thin spaces are the moments when we experience a deep sense of God’s presence in our everyday world.”
So it’s not about whether or not Facebook or email or smart phones or television are inherently bad. For me, it’s about trying not to talk to one person while texting another (we all know how good that feels). It’s about resisting the temptation to troll Facebook while playing trains with Gryffin and Isaiah. It’s about focusing on one thing, not 3 or 4 or 7. It’s about sitting quietly so that I can sense those thin spaces. I’m finding that they are not so elusive as I once thought. It’s a struggle still (I’m finishing this post while the boys have their afternoon snack… sigh) but it’s sure worth the effort. Thanks, Greg – you came through in a clutch once again.
Jason reaping the benefit of a good stewardship moment. Can’t beat that!
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a Wiggles dance party that needs my full attention.