We sat there, drinking tea and talking for about two hours straight. The actual content of what we talked about escapes me now, but I’m sure we talked about books and dreams and travel and a host of other things we love talking about. We talked until I completely lost track of time [which is a rare occasion for me] and never once did I think about checking my phone (clearly, since I didn’t even know what time it was!).
Later, I thought about it and realized – those are the kinds of people that I love. People who make me forget to check my phone, because whatever we’re doing or saying is so much more engaging than anything that little gadget can offer me.
For many people, checking their phone is an automatic reflex. Sometimes it is to check the time, but more often than not, they’ve conditioned themselves to constantly be looking for something new, and as soon as they see that notification on their phone, they’re instantly pulled in. It’s why people feel lost if they leave their house without their phone. They don’t have the comfort of a device notifying them that they’re important enough to be getting text messages, emails, and Facebook likes.
I don’t know about you, but when I find myself being pulled into that trap, I feel repulsed by the addictive feeling. I don’t want to be dependent on a machine to give me short-term happiness. I want to feel real joy that comes from living and immersing myself in the life that God has given me.
I want to sit enraptured by a sermon, so busily taking notes that I don’t need to be scanning my phone for a place to eat after church.
I want to be so engaged by a creative task – be that writing, scrapbooking, painting, or reading – that I get lost in a world that can’t be bothered by text message dings.
I want to get so involved in my work that the phone isn’t on my radar until my seven-hour work day is over (which can be hard to do if you use your phone all the time for your job – but believe me, it’s easier when you have twenty-some small humans vying for your attention all day long).
I want to care so much about the conversation I’m having with a close friend that I don’t feel the urge to replace them with something else popping up on my phone.
Because every time we turn to our phones, we want a mental break from whatever is in front of us. Granted, sometimes those mental breaks mean we’re actually connecting with another human if we’re talking to or texting them on our phones. But too often it means that we’re distracting ourselves with social media and not immersing ourselves deeply enough in the task in front of us.
So how does one immerse oneself that deeply in what they’re doing?
Start by single-tasking. I won’t pretend to be an expert on it, since there’s a whole book written on the topic, but I do know that more research shows that multitasking is less productive and more stressful than focusing on one task at a time. It makes sense, right? You could do five things at once semi-well (checking your phone being one of them) or you could focus on one thing and do it really well until it’s finished.
The more you focus on that one thing, the less you will allow other things to crowd your mind because you’ll be directing all your energy towards it. Putting your phone in the other room while you’re focusing on this one thing might help alleviate the temptation to reach for it when you pause in whatever task you’re doing.
Second, learn to care more deeply about what’s in front of you, be that a task or a person (certainly more if it’s a person). View the person that you’re talking to as the most important person in the room at that moment. If you care more about that relationship, what the person is saying to you, and how you’re relating to them than anything else at the moment, there’s no way that the distraction of your phone will come into play.
We have a tendency in life to take other people for granted – “They’ll always be there,” “They know I love them,” “I’ll have that conversation later” – when in reality, other human beings are the most precious gifts we could have in life. They are God’s image-bearers – His masterpieces – our fellow burden-bearers. Is a lifeless machine really more important than our relationship with them?
Third, untrain yourself to check your phone so often. It can be a difficult habit to break, but if you start checking your phone less in general – even in moments when you don’t have to be focusing on a task or a person – then you won’t automatically think of it when you’re in the midst of something else. As we slowly unlearn our dependency on our phones as a distraction mechanism, we will begin to immerse ourselves fully in the moments of life all around us – from making intentional memories to becoming more observant of details to being grateful for every small gift.
Our phones in and of themselves are not the enemy. Our sinful desires to be constantly filled up with something other than God are the enemy. We could easily immerse ourselves in something besides our phones that pulls us away from God. The point is not simply to rid ourselves of distractions, but to do so for the purpose of serving God and others better. When we give our undivided attention to the things God has called us to, we reach new heights of excellence, new depths of intimacy in our relationship with Christ and His people, and new levels of joy that don’t come from shallow diversions.
May we learn to be obedient to the call of turning away from the lesser for the joy of the greater.