Time away is an important part of who we are. In the first creation account in Genesis, God sets aside an entire day for the very purpose of rest, reflection, and renewal of the whole creation (Genesis 2:1-3). We are made for both work and Sabbath, and in our busy lives in the twenty-first century it feels harder and harder to practice taking time away –especially with our access to technology. Often we use a day off of work to catch up on the chores around home, or scurry off to activities that demand just as much from us as the rest of our lives. Now we use any moment during the day, any day of the week on every day of the year – to check messages, emails, text message and participate in social media. It is enough (no matter how in shape we are) feeling like we are constantly out of breath.
On Saturday I returned from vacation in the Midwest. It was a joyous time to reconnect with friends and family and even send our kids to the camp where Tammie and I met. Over a weekend with friends we declared a “technology free zone” so we could focus our attentions on spending time together rather than our smartphones. There was one exception. We did allow the chance to check once a day just to see if there were any “urgent” messages that needed to be tended to, but overall the idea was to turn the smartphones off completely and take that Sabbath that so often eludes us.
I have to admit it was difficult at first. I am a person that is somewhat addicted to my phone and all amazing things that can be done on it, and I enjoy using all those tools so handily at my fingertips. Yet I have reflected before (and have often been reminded by my family) that these tools can consume us so greatly that we are working for our little machines rather than the other way around. As I have stated on other occasions I try (and I emphasize the word try because I find it rather difficult) to take a technology hiatus when I come home at the end of the day until the children are in bed. Monday night I was reminded while sitting on our deck for dinner, “Papa – no technology at the table!” Busted.
Throughout that weekend I spent with my friends I found that leaving my phone in my room was the best strategy to alleviate temptation. At first I felt disconnected from those little updates I am constantly checking, but yet I walked a little lighter without that weight in my pocket. I felt a lot more present with my friends and my family members. By the end of the day I felt a little more rested too. I liked taking this technology hiatus so much, that for the rest of my vacation I tried to stay off my phone as much as possible. I confess I did check things occasionally and even made a few calls, but I did stay completely off Facebook and Twitter, I didn’t text and I only looked at the subject lines of emails rather than opening most of them. I did read and responded to a few messages but only a few that I thought were necessary. All the others could wait. I only sent one picture – and we took some great ones. I put the phone away and enjoyed my new-found freedom.
Now that I’m back at home I find myself back in the struggle. How often do I check my phone? How often is necessary? What did I learn from keeping my phone off and put away – and can I implement that back home? Is the phone my tool or am I the tool? (Please don’t answer that.) Maybe you struggle with some of these same issues. As connected as we are becoming through the use of technology, I fear there is something more important that we are losing in the process.
A recent television commercial showcased a group of young men traveling across the country and one of them kept checking to see if he had cell service. The scenery around the driving vehicle continued to get more desolate every time he checked. (My initial thought was that this was an advertisement for a cell phone company showcasing how connected they were. It ended up being a commercial about the vehicle.) At the end of the commercial the young man checking his phone no longer had any reception. He was no longer connected, and he told his friends. The vehicle stopped and it was there in a technology free zone that they started pulling out their camping equipment. They found a technology hiatus. Sabbath could now begin.
A technology hiatus is difficult, but I am convinced that in the midst of technology’s ever-present impact on our lives it is also an essential part of taking any time away. God calls us to set aside a day of rest. With our phones still vying for our attention it can be hard to step away for five minutes.
Here are my suggestions for taking a technology hiatus – and keep in mind, I am still working on this myself…
1. Set aside some time each day without a screen. Maybe it could be at dinner, or in the morning, or over a break during the day. But put it into your calendar to unplug, and be intentional about it.
2. Find someone to keep you accountable. “Papa – no technology at the table!” was a perfect reminder.
3. Think about a bigger block of time that you might spend offline and off the phone. Maybe this isn’t an issue for you, but it is for me. I’m thinking about spending Friday afternoons (on my day off) as laptop, smartphone, and TV free – a technology hiatus. If I can do it consistently maybe I’ll even expand that time.
4. If the amount of time we spend doing things is a form of devotion, then many of us worship those little devices we cling to so dearly. It is worth asking, and continually asking – whom do I serve? It is my technology or is it God? Technology isn’t evil, but it certainly can win our affections easily. Asking which one is the tool – ourselves or our devices? – seems like a good place to start.
5. Never underestimate the power of confession and forgiveness. Sabbath is for rest, but it is also for renewal. To be renewed often takes an act of repentance, a literal – turning around, an about-face, a moving a different direction to reorient our lives back to God and in service to others. God who is good and gracious is also slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
What do you think? I’m ready to try it. It is time for me to hit “send” and log-off. As I am writing this it is Tuesday afternoon, the rain has not yet come, and I have a boy at home who is ready to shoot some baskets outside on our hoop. There is no app for that – only the opportunity so often missed by what so easily consumes us; but it is also our opportunity given to enjoy and seek refuge in the moment as a gift of God. Enjoy that blessing and breathe.
“Work six days, doing everything you have to do, but the seventh day is a Sabbath, a Rest Day – no work: not you, your son, your daughter, your servant, your maid, your ox, your donkey (or any of your animals), and not even the foreigner visiting your town. That way your servants and maids will get the same rest as you. Don’t ever forget that you were slaves in Egypt and God, your God, got you out of there in a powerful show of strength. That’s why God, your God, commands you to observe the day of Sabbath rest.” (Deuteronomy 5:13-15- THE MESSAGE)