Last night, my husband and I were winding down our day, watching our favorite Netflix show. He was scrolling Linked In and Face Book, and reviewing email correspondence on his iPad, while I was playing Words with Friends on mine, scanning blog posts between turns in three different games. I was also texting with a friend and checking email from time to time. During the course of this 50-minute show, I am sure that each of us picked up a device of some kind at least ten times. Perhaps some of you can relate, having experienced an evening or two like this. If I’m honest, this is typical of how my husband and I spend the last hour or so of most days.
Recently, I’ve noticed that it is getting harder for me to spend long periods of time reading. I have many good books on my list, but each time I sit down to read one of them, I begin to think of other things I could be doing, and I have to really discipline myself to read even one whole chapter before heading off to do some other important thing, to which I will probably also have difficulty attending. I’ve developed a habit of listening in order to learn, instead of reading. There are podcasts, Mp3 books, sermons, and many other offerings online. These allow me to (half) listen as I drive, clean, exercise, or cook.
The result of all this is that I have lost my ability to sit quietly and do only one thing. The “one thing” that is suffering the most is my private Bible reading and prayer. I no longer use a printed Bible (I read on my Kindle because the lighting is better for my screen-spoiled eyes) or concordance (I have an app on my phone). Once I tap on that icon, my mind is in a different gear, and I’m not really focused on what I was looking up because of the distraction of having that phone in my hand. Email notifications and pop-up ads can distract me from what I came to do: Spend a quiet moment in fellowship with the Lord, meditate on His Word, and pray for my friends and loved ones.
This is a problem, my first-world friends! Spiritual growth and a deepening relationship with the Lord require a time commitment that is simply not compatible with the attention span of a goldfish, and I don’t believe the admonition of Joshua 1:8 has lost its truth in the present age. If any of what I’ve said so far resonates with you, I’d like to invite you to think with me about some changes we could make to regain the attention span we had a decade ago, and begin to see the growth and deepening of spiritual maturity that we all want. Here are a few new habits I’m planning to adopt:
Do my daily Bible reading in a printed Bible.
That’s right, I’m going to buy myself a lamp with a nice, bright bulb and dust off my vinyl-bound MacArthur Study Bible. While this is the same version I read on my Kindle, I do believe that my mind will get to a quieter place if it is not in “electronic mode.”
Don’t look up answers to questions during quiet meditation.
Though I do have an inquiring mind that wants to know (and has grown accustomed to getting immediate answers), I’m going to resist the temptation to Google questions that come up in my mind about what I’m reading. Instead, I’ll jot a note (with a pen on a piece of paper instead of in Microsoft OneNote), and look it up later.
Spend “down time’ doing just ONE thing.
I hope to discipline myself, during those quiet evenings, to pay attention to the people in the room instead of the screens. We are having some lovely spring twilights here in the Midwest, and I think I’ll invite that dear hubby of mine to sit out in the patio room and enjoy the breeze on some of these evenings.
Leave media out of “social.”
I’ve also noticed that coffee and lunch dates with friends often disintegrate into disjointed bits of conversation, punctuated by text and email notifications. We’ve all gotten to where we can’t resist “just a quick look” at that message. This often ends what might have been an edifying time of real fellowship, as our respective trains of thought derail at the bell.
Take back my commute.
I’m going to eliminate phone calls, radio, Pandora, Spotify, Sermon Audio, and Audible from my drives to and from the places I go each day. I believe that an important part of regaining attention span, at least for me, will be the discipline of just being alone with my own thoughts. I don’t plan to eliminate these things forever, because I do believe there is encouragement to be gained from listening as I drive. For now though, these things are on the shelf.
Just do it!
Like any habit, we must practice quietness and focus in order to get good at it. I have a little free time this afternoon between grocery shopping and a counseling appointment, so I think I will choose the book at the top of my list and read a chapter or two. But, before I do that, I will silence my phone, put away my iPad, and find a comfy chair in a room where the only screens are the kind that keep the bugs out!