Distraction and Spiritual Growth

August 31, 2018

You’re reading this on a screen. I wrote this blog on a screen. The screens in our lives are the biggest things hurting our spiritual growth. 


In a world with a noticeable population of big, bad wolves, one exercises wisdom in looking out for them. Drugs, violence, pornography, sex, sexual assault all catch the eye of parents looking to protect their kids, teens, and themselves, and rightfully so. We all know the third little pig withstood the wolf by building his house out of bricks. The bricks kept the wolf at bay, and the pig, as far as we know, lived happily ever after. 


Assuming he built the house on a solid foundation, that is.


What if he didn’t? What if something more fundamental, a faulty foundation, got him into trouble in the long run? 


We live in an age of hunched shoulders and bent necks. We do not bear collars or shackles as captives of a foreign power. Instead, our eyes remain fixed on glowing rectangles. We stare at screens on which dance bits of information, assertions, memes, and virtual game pieces. We did not realize we could become experts in navigation of a supercomputer in such a short period of time. We mastered sorting through and endless stream of virtual things with just a thumb, and we found ourselves gripped by bits of technology which fit in the palms of our hands.


We lost the ability to live without distraction. 


Did you know teen pregnancy rests at an all time low, and teen drinking also receded? The information sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Is this not what so much moral instruction sought? The dessert turns, however, when we find the source of these findings rely on distractedness among teens using smartphones. Teens have not arisen in a too-wise-for-their-years voice and declared, “We shall best the mistakes of those who came before us!” Rather, they find themselves constantly engaged with smartphones. Let this sink in: smartphones supplanted drinking and sex. We’re not here to celebrate illicit drinking and fornication; however, when in history have those two things been usurped by anything in any demographic? All a smartphone offers proves more engrossing. 


If a smartphone can dethrone the classical vices of the teen years (ahem, humanity) by offering a virtual substitute, how well do we think our spiritual lives fare when competing against them?

To clarify, the warning beacons of Gondor remain unlit. No call sounds from my lips (physical or virtual) to ask for Rohan's aid in forsaking the smartphones. As with television and the internet before, when used as a tool, smartphones provide many advantages. But when we can scarce take a breath without checking our social media, the weather for the twenty-third time in an hour, or whatever other notifications we have, we need to realize we have a problem.


Just a few days ago Pew Research released a study concerning attitudes toward smartphone usage 54% of teenagers and 36% of parents worry about their amount of smartphone usage. People find they cannot carry on a conversation without checking their phones. Parents notice the phenomenon with their teens, and the teens report the same about their parents. More than half of parents report they at least sometimes check their phone notifications as soon as they awaken in the morning. For teens, the numbers reach over two-thirds of the population.


Renowned swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi, once wrote of a samurai’s ability to fight, and one of the keys of successful swordsmanship proved one’s intention becoming no-intention. He meant the following: to survive a sword fight, one must know combat well enough to react without thinking about one’s actions. The time to process the need to dodge a swing or to counter a blow does not exist. Thinking in such combat yields one result: death. 


Instead of training with swords, we have trained ourselves with gleaming pieces of glass and plastic. Our intention became no-intention. Our phones replaced our watches, and so we use them to check the time. If we check the time, we better check our social media accounts. Make hay while the sun shines, so do a little email while you have the thing out (we do not want to have to go through the hassle of unlocking the phone again, right?). What will the weather do today again? Oh, there’s a text. Before you know it, fifteen minutes passed you by, and you did not realize it. 


We do not so reflexively reach for our Bibles. Often, we attempt to read our Bibles on our phones, and find ourselves woefully distracted. I find difficulty in trying to stare at one thing for terribly long on a cell phone screen, so if I am making the attempt to study a passage of Scripture from a phone, I find myself working uphill already. I do not suspect I am alone. It proves much the same for using a Bible app for the Scripture text during a sermon. 


We let our minds receive training to lack the ability to sit still. Our drug is distraction. We chain smoke unfiltered virtual stimuli. 


How shall we meditate on a single truth of Scripture if we cannot stop and think? 


What’s the biggest thing hurting our spiritual growth? It’s not the wolf of sex and drugs lurking outside the door, snarling and waiting for the time to pounce. It’s the termite in the cellar, slowly eating away at the whole support structure inside the building. The wolf might starve to death outside as he waits for us to make an exit, but we’ll be just as dead if termites cause the house to collapse around us.

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