“O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.” (Psalm 131:1-2)
I spend a lot of time thinking about the effects of our digital age on our minds, and especially on the spiritual life of the Christian. My primary ministry is with college students, and I see how important technology is to every moment of their lives. However, it’s not just they who are affected: I also breathe in the digital spirit of our age, and what I have been breathing in has changed me.
What I have noticed in my own life is that it is much harder for me to concentrate on just one thing without my mind wandering than it used to be. If I open my Bible to read and meditate for a while, another part of my brain informs me that it has been a while since I checked my email, or I remember that I need to send a text message to somebody about something. If I’m praying it’s even worse: a hundred possible interruptions come to mind when I am trying to seek the Lord.
Much of this cannot be laid at the feet of technology. I’ve always been highly distractible. As a child I was a daydreamer, and had difficulty staying on task, or remaining in my seat at school. We had no ADD diagnosis for me to hide behind back then, so I was left at the mercy of every teacher looking for an infraction of order in the classroom. Digital technology has not improved that for me. I can scan through a hundred blog articles in my RSS feed, but sitting down and thinking deeply about a verse of Scripture, or listening for the voice of God does not come easily.
Writing years before the digital age in his book, No Little People, Francis Schaeffer made the following observation:
“People today are afraid to be alone. This fear is a dominant mark of our society. Many now ceaselessly sit in the cinema or read novels about other people’s lives or watch dramas. Why? Simply to avoid having to face their own existence… No one seems to want (and no one can find) a place of quiet — because, when you are quiet, you have to face reality. But many in the present generation dare not do this because on their own basis reality leads them to meaninglessness; so they fill their lives with entertainment, even if it is only noise… The Christian is supposed to be very opposite: There is a place for proper entertainment, but we are not to be caught up in ceaseless motion which prevents us from ever being quiet. Rather we are to put everything second so we can be alive to the voice of God and allow it to speak to us and confront us.”
If only he had lived to see our generation, with its constant Facebook activity, Twitter postings, email, smart phones, and continual “connectedness” at all hours of the day!
So how do we quiet our souls before the Lord? How do we get the voices of the sirens of technology to still?
The technology is here to stay, so any thought of “disconnecting” will be fruitless for most of us. The Amish don’t want you in their community, and you don’t know how to do anything useful, like care for livestock or build a fence anyway. We have to find ways of retreating from our laptops and mobile phones to meet the Lord, if only for a while.
I find that taking walks helps, especially if there are few distractions like cars and people. For some reason, getting out into nature makes a difference, even if it’s the tiny acre of natural beauty at the little park at the end of my street. Lonely beaches, hiking trails, and (surprisingly) golf courses are good spots. But it’s not about the location.
What really makes the difference is being patient with your tendency toward mental self-distraction. In Psalm 131, David says that he has calmed and quieted his soul. For us, that will take time, and we will face a number of failures as we do so. If you take the time to quiet your soul before God, not kicking yourself every time another competing thought intrudes, but waiting patiently for the voices to subside, you will find that place you need to be in order to hear the voice of God. Cut yourself a little slack; you’re out of practice.
What has helped you? Leave a comment.