I tiptoe out of a dark room into a dark kitchen. I prepare a simple breakfast and a pot of coffee before cozying up on a screened-in porch to wait for the day to break into the night. Then I flip on a light overhead to see and meditate and study the holy words that promise to enlighten my eyes and feed my soul.
Soon I hear the birds starting up, signaling me to glance up—to witness the changing sky, to lay down my pen and lift up my eyes, and come greet the dawn. I hold fast to the Word I've just considered and ready it for my conversation with God. Finally, I position myself to behold the glory of the unfailing sun rising upon the earth. I want this light to form me; I want this light to wake me up.
Years and years of my morning meetings with the Lord have been hindered by the little light of my phone. I’ve often checked my texts, emails, and social media updates before my feet hit the floor. The first minutes of my waking ushered in a world of thoughts to think and decisions to ponder and plans to make, and I carried it all with me. Like the incessant chatter of a toddler to my time with the Lord, it left me unable to focus long on the Word in front of me or the words I brought back to God in prayer.
Over time, the yearning for a clear mind and a listening heart called for a prioritizing of lights. As I recognized the significant influence of my phone, I began to make small changes in the morning—turn off certain notifications, then to resist opening any apps, and now to keep my phone turned over altogether—until his Word fills, directs, and satisfies my heart.
My relationship with the Lord has begun to inform my relationship to my phone, for in his light, we see light. His Word influences the way I approach and allow social media to influence my life. And as I've fasted from certain apps during Lent and also every Sabbath, certain repetitive desires emerged.
The Desire to Consume
God created us as dependent creatures, in need of recurrent sustenance. That's true of our bodies and our minds. Food is for function, to fuel us for continued giving and living. Food is also for pleasure, to give us pause and enjoyment and return in praise to God. Our social media feeds offer only a quick nibble to appease that God-given design.
When I notice the desire to consume prompting me to open my phone, I ask before tapping the screen: Is there something more filling I ought to consume right now? Or can I consume social media with enjoyment to the glory of God? After a moment's assessment, I tend to reach instead for my Bible, a good book, or another less obvious form of nourishment: community.
I've long held that keeping Sabbath is medicine for breaking our addiction to our phones, but recently I’ve also seen the way the Christ-centered community satisfies the hunger that drives us to check our feeds. We tend to open apps out of a yearning not to miss out or feel alone, yet only the tip of our ache for filling relationships is satiated with bits and pieces of lives and updates, leaving us hungry for more. Pursuing intentional in-person relationships nourishes our hearts and primes us to consume our feeds from a place of fullness.
The Desire to Construct
God made us to create, cultivate, and produce. Social media tends to get lumped into a category of leisure or rest, but might we consider shifting this resource at our fingertips over to one of stewardship? Even for those who don't expressly use social media for work purposes, we would be wise to assess the profit gained from the amount of time and energy we invest in this place.
Approaching our phones with the mindset of being constructive helps us to spend the minutes and emotions we have in valuable ways. We are far more productive when we acknowledge the purpose of opening a certain app. Before I get on, I say my agenda in my head: "I'm responding to messages. I'm researching this design. I'm reading that post my friend told me about."
This practice prepares me for the inevitable pull of distraction, the vacuum of endless faces and stories to pique my curiosity and distract me from my intention. When the unexpected comes and I am no longer being constructive, I quickly go back to that original objective and finish it before closing the app.
When we reframe the reach for our phones from leisure to effort, it may dawn on us that more constructive uses of our time and energy await our attention. Whether we notice jobs left undone or think our limited possession of both time and energy make it impossible to get anything done, maybe the most constructive thing we can do is confess that we can do nothing apart from Christ. We can choose instead to abide in those moments by reading or memorizing Scripture. Even a mere five minutes in God's Word will not return void.
The Desire to Communicate
We've all had that moment—the scene in front of us begged us to capture it and invite others into our experience, to share in our joy, pain, or humor. The impulse to share happens in the reverse as well, when we open our apps to partake in the lives of others, to enter into their world and feel a part of it.
The Triune God created us in his image, designing us to live in fellowship with Him and with others. We were made for communion, for the safety of relationships in which we share intimate communication and offer the patience and endurance required to learn the rhythms of grace and forgiveness.
Social media provides us a chance for an immediate sense of fellowship, whether we open to share or to receive. But, when this desire reaches for a temporary fix to soothe an eternal longing, it can leave us lonelier than before we attempted to connect.
Before sharing, I double-check: Have I shared this with the Lord? And before scrolling, I ask the Spirit to discern: How is my connection with the Lord? Could I connect with a person I know and deepen that relationship rather than escape into the lives of people I don’t really know?
These filters help me to refrain or to move forward, sharing in a way that showcases the glory of God and serves his people or connecting in a way that honors, blesses, and encourages others with the same hope.
Experiencing More of the Better Light
Maybe other desires will surface for you, but perhaps these three insights will bring refreshment to a place of frustration or weariness. May they serve as an offering of light and hope to bring form and order to your relationship with the little light at your side. And more importantly, may they empower you to reach for the Light of the World, the relationship of ultimate provision and direction. Look to Christ, who willingly and delightfully shares his life with us and invites us to find life in doing the same.