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Obsessed with Distraction

By Michael Lane, Executive Director, Delve Christian Ministries
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We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature -- trees, flowers, grass -- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. We need silence to be able to touch souls. - Mother Theresa

A few months ago, one of my favorite bloggers, Peter Bregman, wrote about his experience with the new iPad from Apple. To summarize, he spent about a week with it and then decided to return it, but not for the reasons you might expect. It was not broken or ineffective. On the contrary, Peter decribed the iPad as being brilliant and he found that it was able, for the the most part, to do everything he wanted. So why did Peter return it? Because it's too good. He found himself reaching for it at all hours. Even worse, he found himself reaching for it at times when he should have been doing something else, such as sleeping or spending time with family.

I can relate. I don't own an iPad, but I do own an iPhone so I know first hand exactly what Peter is talking about. It's the first thing I reach for in the doctor's waiting room or while waiting for others to arrive to a meeting. That's reasonable, I suppose, but lately I've found myself reaching for it in the car at long red lights or when I'm watching television with my wife. That's not reasonable, and it's gotten me into some hot water.

The point Peter was trying to make is that we've lost our respect and desire for quiet, introspective thought. It's so easy to fill our minds with information or tap into entertainment that there is no longer a need to ever be without it - not in the car, not in our bedrooms, not even when we're camping or on vacation. Every moment of the day, regardless of where I am, I can check my email, watch a podcast, update Twitter or read the news. The vast majority of the time, there is not a single email, news story or social networking update that comes even close to affecting my life, but I read them all anyway. At the very moment when I sense that I am not listening to something, reading something or doing something, I instinctively reach out for anything that will occupy my mind and keep me from...well from what? Boredom? Silence? My own thoughts? Not being productive? I'm not sure, but I think it's some combination of these fears.

Up to this point, Peter and I agree completely. It's clear that many of us are addicted to filling our heads with worthless information and mindless entertainment whenever we sense that our minds are not completed engaged. When we do this, something very important is lost. However, Peter and I will diverge here when it comes to exactly what it is that we are really losing. His blog goes on to talk about the value of boredom, and the role that it plays in the creative process. I'm much more concerned with what all this is doing to our prayer time and our relationship with God.

Scheduled prayer time is wonderful and essential, but the most impassioned and meaningful prayer happens spontaneously when we have a quiet moment and an open mind. Two of the most powerful times I've ever spent with God were both unplanned and unexpected. One occurred while I was riding up an escalator in a mostly abandoned Toronto skyscraper, very early in the morning, waiting for my new job to start. The other happened in a dark, quiet room as I held my sleeping newborn daughter. On both occasions, I took advantage of the peace and silence to reflect on God's goodness and fully experience my appreciation for everything he's done. I felt the presence of God, and I was overwhelmed with peace and joy.

These moments both took place before I owned my iPhone, and I am humbled and frightened to realize that neither would have happened otherwise. If I'd had my phone with me on that escalator, I almost certainly would have been listening to a podcast. While I held my daughter, I would have also been reading the news. How many similarly amazing encounters with God have I missed in the 24 months since I have had access to instant distraction on-demand?

I have never deliberately distracted myself with my phone in order to avoid spending time with God, but the effect is the same nonetheless. It is simply not possible to read the news and also carry on a meaningful conversation - not with my wife and not with God. When I have an idle moment and I choose to pick up that phone, I have simultaneously also made the choice to not spend that time with Him.

So, am I getting rid of my iPhone, as Peter did with his iPad? No, I'm not. I respect his choice, but I also understand that this is not the fault of the phone, and especially not the fault of Apple for creating such a compelling device. It's my fault, and getting rid of the phone would be a temporary solution which does nothing to address the underlying concerns. What I need is a ongoing dose of humility which reminds me that the world will not end if I don't check Twitter and Facebook every hour. But most importantly, I simply need to remember that every time I pick up the phone and choose to occupy my mind with empty noise, I am closing it to the Holy Spirit and the conversation He wants to have with me in that moment. I hope that you will do the same - pause and reflect before your pick your distraction tool of choice, and ask if your time would be better spent in quiet conversation with God.
 

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Comments


It's funny; I read this article on my iPhone... Makes you think a bit.
9/27/2010 1:13:14 PM - Scott, Delve Christian Ministries


Yes a well timed article, it did make me think and yes getting rid of things isn't really the answer it's a good start.............you need to change how you think about the creator get to know Him then you will want to spend time with Him more and more.
9/27/2010 3:25:30 PM - mammak, Member of Delve into Jesus since 9/3/2008


Powerful article. Thank you for writing it. I had the tv on while sitting 'quietly'? in the morning. Have just turned it off. As I look out at the sky as morning breaks I hear the Spirit calling for a moment together for a realignment of soul, spirit, mind and living on earth. Tranquility to hear and experience the wonder that is God in our dailyness. I'm grateful for the reminder.
10/5/2010 11:39:59 AM - RobynC, Member of Delve into Jesus since 10/5/2010


Wow.. talk about timing. Just got a new iPad and my wife just had her new iPhone. But looking at what God can do thru us using these devices can be powerful blessings as well. Here, in the Philippines, some pastors I know who have iPads have used them in powerful ways. iPads have become portable offices and libraries to most of them, not to mention the fact that they deliver God's messages thru them as well. A pastor friend of mine preached about the downside of these devices thru a message entitled: "Satan's goal is not destruction, it's distraction".. using an iPad when he preached it! Cool huh? the way I see it.. you're right, it's not Apple's fault. It's either we use it or be used by it. God bless.
10/5/2010 10:52:17 PM - Abe5, Member of Delve into Jesus since 10/5/2010


Really good piece. Like most others I am reading on a device (i.e. my computer) upon which I devote too much time and energy. I am reminded of Jesus' parable about driving the demon out of the house and how in a vacuum 7 more demons move in....
11/9/2010 9:17:43 AM - AlexH, Member of Delve into Jesus since 11/9/2010


That is really good, I have been experiencing the same thing but I don't have an Iphone or Ipad its with my Xbox 360. I think that I have to play it when I am bored or I will literally die. My pastor challenged me to give it up for a week and seek God, because when i was playing on my system I wouldn't be reading my bible. This article definitely helped me, I just started my fast and this made me determined to keep going.
11/11/2010 7:17:24 AM - GFGLasers, Member of Delve into Jesus since 11/11/2010


I'm telling you that if you go on a fast, it will be BLARINGLY clear what is a distraction in your life. It's just obvious during and after you are done, it's so essential for every christian. If it's not obvious to you on your own, well The Holy Spirit will definitely let you know. I'm on a 21 day fast right now and he's showing me distractions from my walk with the Lord left and right and letting them go is HARD but thanks to the strength of My Lord, I know I will starve my flesh and let go of these things. It literally feels like there's a WALL between me and God and these are seemingly little things but I hold them in such importance. Somethings I need to dial back, others I know I need to completely let go. God help all of us, he has called to such great things and desires such CLOSENESS with us and through his strength we shall overcome and be victorious in His name!
1/10/2011 10:17:23 PM - lovejesus11, Member of Delve into Jesus since 1/10/2011


I've never owned an ipod, iphone, or i-anything ... I don't think I would know how to operate a simple cell phone. I have not had a television in almost 9 years. I don't own a radio either. I DO have this computer, and most days I thank God for it .. but I'm very aware that I spend far too much time using it.
I think ALL of our blessings can become a "curse" if not used in moderation and with disecernment and wisdom.
For myself it's a matter of self-discipline .. an area of my life that is very weak.
I'm beginning to see that as I learn and practice the spiritual disciplines, my self-discipline is getting better. The verse "seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all the rest will be added unto you" seems to have unlimited applications.
1/11/2011 5:42:43 PM - savedbygraceme, Member of Delve into Jesus since 3/3/2009


i love this article!
1/18/2011 11:06:01 AM - emma06, Member of Delve into Jesus since 1/18/2011


Praise God that we have the choice to set down our technology and just spend time in His wonderful grace and light. I am a techy and find this very true in everything i do that if i don't stop and shut off my TV or PC or Kindle or Ipad i lose alot of inexcusable time with my Lord and Savior.
1/31/2011 10:19:00 AM - longing4glory, Member of Delve into Jesus since 1/31/2011


GOD IS SOVERIEGN TO ANYTHING SUCH AS TV TELE-EVANGELISM, SATELITE TELEVISION RADIO, I-POHNE-I-POD ETC, AS LONG AS WE DO NOT ABUSE IT FOR HIS GLORY WITH CORRUPTNESS .......GOD IS EVER SO NEAR WHERE EVER YOU MAY BE YET SILENCE IS GOLDEN.......
4/22/2011 5:55:46 AM - DEBRADRP, Member of Delve into Jesus since 4/22/2011


ALL THINGS MUST BE DONE IN MODERATION!
4/22/2011 5:57:25 AM - DEBRADRP, Member of Delve into Jesus since 4/22/2011


Busyness is definitely a detractor to our relationship with God who should be first and foremost in every day. I know I fall short of putting my quiet time in reflection and prayer and I don't carry a smart phone or an internet accessible item. What would we do without technology? Maybe be more compassionate? Wiser? Readers of books?
5/6/2013 6:25:32 AM - Fire4Christ, Member of Delve into Jesus since 5/6/2013




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