I took a walk down memory lane to the 1980s, and there I sat, in my stirrup pants, wearing a big, baggy sweater with shoulder pads, going through a pile of records next to my stereo. I flipped through Madonna, Rick Springfield and Pat Benatar, but decided to play Stevie Nicks. As Edge of Seventeen crooned out of my huge speakers, the phone rang: the white, push button phone with a cord, that was attached to a big clunky answering machine which recorded any missed calls on a small cassette tape.
Ah, those were the days.
I laid on the floor of my room for hours at night, talking to a boy I liked or a good friend, twirling the cord around my finger, being completely focused on the conversation since multi-tasking was a bit impossible on a corded phone. Mom or Dad eventually popped in with, “You’ve been on the phone long enough. You need to hang up.” I would hold my hand up and nod, mouthing, “Just one more minute!” until ten minutes later they returned again and adamantly announced, “I SAID, get off that phone!”
Which is what I heard the other day about my much more advanced iPhone as I thought about spiritual disciplines during this Lenten season.
One spiritual discipline is fasting, which usually means abstaining from food for a certain amount of time. I am not a big fan of fasting from food. I always make it about myself (shocking, I know), and it doesn’t feel particularly healthy for me. I am not saying it isn’t a good exercise for some people, but, for various reasons, I feel ok not doing a food fast.
Which is maybe why God made me think of my iPhone and the fact that a phone fast might be more spiritually beneficial for me than a food fast during this Lenten Season.
I need to confess that I have failed miserably at it. I already looked at my phone three times while writing this and feel the urge to look at it for a fourth time.
Let me give you a court side view of my life with my phone and why this fast has been so difficult.
Last Monday, I woke up, determined not to look at my phone. This proved difficult because I use my phone as an alarm and as I grabbed it to hit snooze, I noticed a text from my boss. School would be two hours late because of inclement weather, but because the weather might get worse, stay tuned in case we closed.
I laid there in bed, thankful for the extra morning time. I decided to use it wisely and not have my phone next to me, but then noticed a couple of notifications sitting there on the Facebook icon and the Twitter icon, and shouldn’t I just check in case the messages are important? Besides, I can’t stand having those little red circles on certain apps, and need to clear them. (Before my cell phone, I never thought I struggled with OCD much, but maybe?)
I cleared all my apps and as I looked at the Facebook message, I found a really funny video that I had to watch. Oh my gosh that is so cute. What if I would have missed that? And what’s this article about? Maybe I should read it? Maybe it would help me grow spiritually? Yes, I will just click on it really quickly. Hmmm. No, that one wasn’t so good, but that’s ok. I decided to head downstairs to get some coffee, surprised that thirty minutes had passed so quickly.
I resolved to put my phone in my purse to avoid distraction. Oh but wait! What if I get a text saying that school is closed? I don’t want to miss that! I better keep it nearby, just in case. Someone might need me.
I sat down to pray, and my phone lit up five minutes into the quiet. We are closed! Phew. Good thing I had my phone with me. Two more texts appeared, and I decided to respond to them. I mean, I know I am supposed to be fasting from this stupid thing, but I think it would be rude if I didn’t respond, right?
I then wondered if I could find a repair person to come and fix our treadmill since I would be home all day. I grabbed my phone to do a google search.
I found someone and he said he could fix it today! Yes! I didn’t have to wait!! He said he would text me when he was on his way. I shrugged and knew I couldn’t separate from my phone because I didn’t want to miss this appointment.
As I considered this dilemma, my phone buzzed with an email. I needed to check to make sure it wasn’t something work related. Nope. Just an offer from some store saying they were having the biggest sale of the season. Good thing I checked.
It wasn’t even 9am yet and I felt a little disgusted with myself.
I put my phone face down and turned off the sounds.
I focused on other meaningful, productive things and forgot about my phone for a little awhile.
Ok, for twenty minutes, but still, that’s progress, right? I stared at the back of my phone and wondered, “What if my friend is texting me? Needing a response? I don’t want to make her wait. I will just turn it over and check it really quickly. And then I won’t look at it again.”
No messages. Wasn’t missing anything. Really didn’t need to check.
Are you tired yet? I am. How did this happen? This obsessive, controlling need to be connected all the time? When did I become so worried about missing something? And what exactly am I missing? Some big sale at Best Buy? Some Groupon coupon that I can’t live without?
What happened to patience? And waiting? And quiet?
What happened to conversations with a friend or family that don’t include checking a message if it arrives in the middle of the conversation?
This spiritual discipline of fasting hasn’t been very successful for me, but I am working on it. It is important for me to put my phone away every once in awhile and realize that life will go on if I am not instantly connected to every single message that I receive.
This fast has challenged me to look at how my mind obsesses in a way that it never did in the 80s. Yes, I obsessed if a boy liked me or if a friend might be mad at me, but I wasn’t connected to the issue 24/7. I couldn’t google people online or google all the possible reasons that I was tired and convince myself that I had some severe illness and would probably die young.
I suggested to my oldest that she join me in a phone fast, and she looked at me like I had three heads. She told me she would miss way too much stuff and that she saw no reason to do that. Her generation doesn’t have any memories of the 80s. This is all they have known and that worries me.
But I can’t expect her to embrace this idea if I can’t do it myself.
“Be still and know I am God, but feel free to look at your phone every three minutes while you are listening for me.”
I am quite sure that isn’t what that verse says.
I am not saying that we should all throw away our cell phones. I just know I need to let go of my attachment a bit. Your phone might not be an issue for you, but is something else? Is something else taking up a lot of your time and thoughts and energy?
If you care to join me in a little phone fast this week, ask yourself these questions. They have been helpful for me to think about:
- Can you stand in line at the bank or the store and not check your phone? Can you simply observe those around you or maybe start a conversation with the person next to you in line?
- When you wake up in the morning, can you wait to check your email or text messages?
- If you are having a conversation with a friend or spouse or child, and your phone buzzes, can you continue the conversation and not look at your phone?
- Ok, rule followers like me don’t text and drive, but can you sit at a stop light and not even glance at your phone?
- Can you leave your phone in your car when you go into church or into a restaurant?
So what does all this have to do with seeking God in a deeper way this Lent? For me, this fast challenged me to consider where my mind spends so much of its time. It has actually been good for me to be honest in my prayers and admit to God all that I have seen in this process, including the fact that being so connected makes me feel like I have more control over my life than I really do.
In Revelation 3, John writes two things: “And buy medicine for your eyes from me so you can see, really see.” And “Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches.”
I want my ears to be awake and my eyes to really see. I want to listen to the truth and the things God wants me to hear. I get so distracted by the instant gratification of the internet and text messages that I have almost forgotten how healing the quiet can really be. And in the quiet, I am reminded of Isaiah 58:6-9 that says,
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”
This is the fifth post in the current Lent series.