BLOG––Encouraged by Faith

In the world––not of it

Posted by Crystal Hammon on

The gospels are full of interesting clues about how Christ handled himself while he lived on earth. One thing is apparent about his way of life: whenever he was tired, overwhelmed or grieved, he sought solitude.

  • When Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been beheaded, he withdrew to a private place.
  • After sparring with the Pharisees, he went up into the mountains and prayed all night.
  • Observing how tired and hungry the disciples were from the constant crush of people, he organized their retreat away from the crowds.
  • Walking 90 miles between Galilee to Jerusalem, Jesus had five days alone to steel himself for what was to come. 

Christ’s example puts most contemporary Christians in an awkward place. We’re unfamiliar with the practice of solitude. As the social critic Lawrence Scott says, a moment alone in our hyper-connected reality “may feel strangely flat if it exists solely in itself.” The legitimacy of an extraordinary moment is nullified if it isn’t documented and shared with a virtual audience. 

The human race has become very efficient at culling solitude from our daily life, aided by an influence much greater than the hold Christ has on us: our screens. The average smartphone user spends two hours per day on social media, apps and related messaging services. That time swells by several hours when you count listening, watching and reacting to media.

My friends, these stats do not refer to the screen time we all spend at work. We’re talking about the optional time we spend playing on gadgets, devices and apps that have nothing to do with usefulness or productivity.

The numbers come directly from the social media platforms and media outlets themselves—and rest assured, they know. The very people who are building this technology now openly acknowledge their intentions. They’d like to control human behavior. They’d like to have a piece of your soul and mine—and they’re succeeding. I’ll be honest: there isn’t a day in recent history that I have spent more time in prayer, reflection, repentance and self-examination than I did looking at my smartphone.

Most of us never intended to become consumed by these tools. We’ve been duped by deliberate corporate tactics—sly tactics that feed behavioral addictions on a par with drug or alcohol dependence in terms of their ability to alter our lives. Skilled exploitation of how the human brain works is what keeps us watching our phones, obsessively checking for likes and clicking on links.

The creators of Facebook and other tools are intimately acquainted with what makes people tick. They know that human beings are universally drawn to intermittent positive rewards and social approval. When we post something that’s “liked,” our brains are bathed in dopamine and other neurotransmitters that regulate pleasure and craving. On the flipside, mental health can be seriously compromised when our contributions are publicly ignored over time. That’s true for people of all ages, from teens to adults.

Living a mindless digital lifestyle can keep Christians from the peace and solitude we are meant to have. If we’re serious about being the kind of people who are more influenced by Christ and the autonomous renewing of our minds than we are by the strange rhythms of this world, then we need to regulate the way technology works in our lives.

For insight, I highly recommend Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, by Cal Newport. It’s a thoughtful book that explores how we can extract only the parts of technology that align with our deepest values, and how we can cultivate a monumental life through analog pursuits such as solitude, a state of being that frees us from the input of other minds. Human beings, Newport says, are not wired to be constantly wired.

Christ demonstrated the peace that passes understanding and showed us how to find it: by making time to regulate our emotions, to clarify problems, to build moral courage and to improve our relationships on earth and in heaven. It’s up to each of us to claim the peace that can transform the world.

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