Many Christians struggle to read their Bibles every day. If you bring this issue up around a group of Christians, they are likely to cite how busy they are as a reason that they don’t read the Bible as often as they should. However, if you were to check their screen time, you would likely find that the “too busy” trap is not as real as it may seem. We all have enough time to read our Bibles, we just squander it away on trivialities that do not matter.
In his book Deep Work, Georgetown Professor Cal Newport explores how we can regain the ability to do focused work in an age marked by consistent distraction. One of the strategies that shares for regaining comfort for working without distraction is to “embrace boredom.” He starts the chapter by talking about a man he knows who committed to studying one page of the Talmud each day. The man, Adam Marlin, told Newport that he struggled in his study at first, but has grown in his ability to concentrate on the Talmud and think deeply about it. He said the “consistent strain” of Talmud study had “built my mental muscle over years and years.”
From this, Newport deduced that “The ability to concentrate intensely is a skill that must be trained.” This is a skill we need as Christians, isn’t it? After all, reading, memorizing, and meditating on the Bible, spending time in prayer, having evangelistic conversations with unbelievers, listening to sermons, and counseling with struggling Christian friends require a great deal of concentration.
Newport argues that shallow distractions like email, Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, and a host of other apps crush our ability to concentrate. He says that if we think that we have to have some type of entertainment any time we feel bored, we are not going to be able to think deeply.
“Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction. Much in the same way that athletes must take care of their bodies outside of their training sessions, you’ll struggle to achieve the deepest levels of concentration if you spend the rest of your time fleeing the slightest hint of boredom.” (157)
He uses the example of waiting at a restaurant for a friend or waiting in line at a store. If you glance at your smartphone instead of thinking during these downtimes, he believes that you have “rewired your brain” so that it will not be able to handle deep concentration.
He believes that the answer is not found in “Sabbaths” from the internet. Instead of setting aside small times to be away from technology, Newport believes that we should be offline as much as possible. He offers some helpful advice on how to accomplish this.
“Schedule in advance when you’ll use the Internet, and then avoid it altogether outside these times. I suggest that you keep a notepad near your computer at work. On this pad, record the next time you’re allowed to use the Internet. Until you arrive at that time, absolutely no connectivity is allowed–no matter how tempting.” (161)
Simply put, you need to embrace the boredom of sitting and waiting without scrolling through your phone because it builds your ability to concentrate and think deeply. You gain little insights into important issues in life when you give yourself the space to think. Plus, you will train your brain for the kind of deep concentration that will help you grow in both your spiritual life and your work life.
“Why I Switched from a Digital Bible to a Paper Bible“
For Further Reading:
Deep Work by Cal Newport
Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney