With the average American spending two hours a day on social media, an increasing number of voices argue that we need to learn how to step away for a while. Since the engineers at social media built their platforms to attract your attention, accomplishing this will take a lot more work than you might think. However, when you consider what time away from our devices will do for our spiritual lives, ministry fruitfulness, and emotional health, the pain of putting them down is absolutely worth it.
Here are five ways that putting down your phone will make your life more fruitful and more joyful.
More Time in God’s Word
I agree with Jen Wilkin that we are in the midst of a “biblical literacy crisis.” From reading some literature from the early 20th century, I’ve become convinced that the average person on the street in 1918 knew more about the Bible than most followers of Jesus do today. These things should not be this way.
We cannot blame a lack of tools or a lack of access to solid Bible teaching for our deficient knowledge of God’s word, so the only remedy is time spent in deep reading and reflection on God’s word. We should not expect to turn the tide immediately, for knowing God’s word takes a lifetime. So, we should resolve to spend time in the Scriptures every day.
In addition, take the time that you would have spent on social media or distracting games and use it to work on Scripture memory. Even if you “have a bad memory,” you could learn two or three verses or Scripture every week. If you are giving ten or fifteen minutes a day to this practice, it will yield great benefits.
More Time with People
I will admit that the observation I am about to make comes from my background and personal experience. I grew up in a town of fifteen hundred people and knew almost everyone who lived within walking distance of my home. Now I live in a suburb and more people live in my neighborhood than in my hometown.
We don’t know the people who live around us anymore. Where we used to work in the front yard and go for walks, now we sit in our homes looking at our phones. We “stay in touch” with thousands of people but don’t have real interactions with the people who live in physical proximity to us. I run into countless people who do not know the names of their next-door neighbors and would not know how to get in touch with them in an emergency.
When we put down our phones and engage the people around us, some great things can happen. We have the opportunity to get to know new people. We can enjoy conversations about the most important things in life. We receive and give encouragement. We make new friends. This is not going to happen, though, when we prioritize superficial digital “friendships” over real ones.
More Time for Enjoyable Activities
Before I picked up my computer to write this paragraph, I polished off a package of Oreos. I didn’t just eat Oreos either. I dunked them in milk and then ate them. I defy you to find a better snack, but it would be a terrible idea to eat it as a meal on a regular basis. It may taste fantastic, but it’s loaded with sugar and I doubt there is anything healthy about it.
In the same way, playing around on the phone may seem to be a nice distraction, but it is an awful hobby. We were made to do things, make things, learn things, and enjoy things. Cal Newport theorizes that our failure to schedule and devote time to satisfying enjoyable activities is driven by our settling for a low or no-satisfaction activity like scrolling through social media. Think if you put down the phone one night and played a game with your family, went into the garage and built something, or read a good book. What if on a beautiful Saturday you planned an outing with your family rather than allowing the family to drown in a sea of devices? Even if you watched a movie together, at least then everyone is experiencing the same thing rather than everyone being immersed in something else.
Less Dependence on Others for Affirmation
God hard-wired us to desire affirmation and acceptance, but we often find in other places what we should seek from him alone. Because of Christ, I don’t need anyone’s affirmation because I am fully accepted and beloved before the Father. Too many days, that is not enough for me though.
Highly-skilled, intelligent, and well-paid people run Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and whatever else is popular by the time you’re reading this. They understand human psychology, biology, physiology, and behavior and use this knowledge to engineer platforms that attract an increasing amount of your valuable attention. Facebook’s red notification numbers, the little pink hearts and speech bubbles on Instagram, and Twitter notifications are all little dopamine hits that keep you coming back again and again. Each one of them says someone thinks you’re smart, funny, interesting, or beautiful.
For the Christian, taking time off of this affirmation binge would help. We get dependent on the feedback and it keeps you picking up your phone constantly. This means you ignore the people around you and never concentrate deeply on things that matter. Take this time away to remember the Gospel and the Father who loves you. Because of Jesus, you have nothing to prove and no one to impress. You don’t need likes, comments, and retweets. You have an approval that is infinitely better.
Less Frustration with Other People’s Opinions
I have developed good, lasting friendships with people that I was first introduced to through Twitter. This is the exception rather than the rule, though. Social media, especially Twitter, tends to make me more cynical about people because I am exposed to their opinions without exposure to anything else about them. I don’t know their backgrounds, their families, their struggles, or their triumphs. They are an avatar and a string of letters.
If I follow a person on Twitter and don’t know them in real life, I get frustrated with their outspoken opinions and rarely have the ability to ask clarifying questions without offense. In real life, when a friend makes an outlandish statement, we have the relationship that allows me to challenge him and he can do the same to me.
Also, as a pastor, what people are talking about on Twitter is not what the people in my church are usually thinking about. These opinions get in my head and form the way that I frame both apologetic aspects of my preaching and my application. The problem, though, is that these concerns are usually not the concerns of people in my church or community. When I log off and talk to flesh and blood people in my community, my ability to address their concerns from the word of God increases exponentially.
How to Get Started
We often lack the self-discipline to put down our phones, especially if they are buzzing at us. If you are ready to step away for a while, here are a few steps that you can take. First, turn off your notifications. Don’t let your apps beckon you when you are away from them. Then, delete the apps that distract you the most and remove the web browser from your phone. Also, you can find an accountability partner or install apps on your phone that will help you. Freedom blocks sites and apps for a specified period of time and Moment tells you how long you spend on your phone.
Remember that cutting something out is never enough. You must replace it with something better. Read, hike, build something, serve someone, or go talk to someone. Rediscover what life was like before these apps started commanding all of your attention. In the end, you will find a way of living that conforms you to the image of Christ, gives you greater joy, and increases your fruitfulness in the lives of other people.
“How to Grow in God’s Word in 2018“
For Further Reading:
The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch
Irresistible by Adam Alter