As my head hit the pillow, my brain sprang into action. Worries I had kept in the back of my mind all day suddenly vied for my attention: What if my dad catches COVID-19 while he’s in the hospital for his cancer surgery? How am I going to homeschool three kids? When will I ever find time to do my own work? Why on earth did my dishwasher choose now to die? My stomach churned. I began to spiral through worry, fear, and frustration—until I cut it short. I can’t think about this anymore, I determined.
So I grabbed my phone.
Before I knew it, an hour had passed. An hour of catching up on Facebook, scrolling through Instagram, and even a few rounds of Wordscapes. When I could no longer hold my eyes open, I gave up and fell asleep to the sound of my favorite podcast. But I wasn’t actually at peace—just distracted.
Now more than ever we are looking for ways to fill the new voids in our lives. Whether that is the loss of a job, the loss of a loved one or loss of time spent with friends and family outside of our homes, every one of us is faced with new stress and looking for ways to dull the ache. And technology, it seems, is ready to rise to the occasion.
Numbing Our Pain—and Our Souls
I’m not saying technology is solely responsible for our avoidance of negative emotions. We have long sought after ways to escape our realities, whether through socially acceptable means like overeating and shopping, or more dangerous means like drugs and alcohol. But with a phone in the hands of just about everyone (96% of Americans own a cellphone of some kind, with 81% owning smartphones, according to Pew Research), technology has quickly become the easiest and most accessible way to numb our pain.
Nir Eyal, author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, writes, “Feelings of boredom, loneliness, frustration, confusion and indecisiveness often instigate a slight pain or irritation and prompt an almost instantaneous and often mindless action to quell the negative sensation.” We don’t even think about it anymore—we simply reach for the nearest device and lose ourselves in our technology, drowning our sorrows in the dopamine boosts we get from scrolling through our newsfeed.
Why is this a bad thing? Isn’t distracting ourselves better than getting swallowed up by our concerns? While distraction can be an effective coping mechanism when used in moderation, I worry we are actually sacrificing something significant when we rely on our devices to numb our pain: our relationship with the Lord.
“I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears,” David writes in Psalm 6. In fact, the Psalms are laden with worries, fears, and troubles. And where do those concerns lead the psalmist? To the only One who can offer true help. “[T]he Lord has heard the sound of my weeping. The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord accepts my prayer” (Psalm 6:8-9).
Poet and priest George Herbert once wrote, “Storms make oaks take deeper root.” When the storms of life come, we can be knocked off our foundation or we can sink our roots in deeper. We can choose to abide in Christ (John 15:4-10) or we can seek the “quick fix” of technology, which prevents us from sitting with our problems and stunts our emotional and spiritual growth.
The Importance of Boredom
And it isn’t only our pain that we numb, but any emotion we perceive as negative, including boredom. We listen to podcasts while we drive and we scroll through social media as we stand in line. We fill every waking moment with media and noise. We refuse to just be bored. And again, we rob ourselves of important opportunities.
Boredom was designed by God to allow our brains to work. When we are bored, our minds get creative. We process, we come up with ideas, and we allow space for God to speak to us. “Being still with yourself can give access to all sorts of ideas and musings that wouldn’t otherwise occur. So perhaps in our quest to end boredom our creativity is being stunted,” says Susan J. Matt, one of the authors of Bored Lonely Angry Stupid. When we constantly consume—devour—media, we don’t allow our brains or our hearts to sit in the necessary silence for this growth to occur.
Inviting Silence In
How do we make room for God’s voice in our minds? Well, it starts rather simply: turn off all of the other noise. That can mean audible noises, like Netflix or podcasts, or just the “noise” of our culture that we access through social media and the internet. In other words, step away from your phone.
A few months ago, I wondered why I constantly felt so discontent. I felt restless and unhappy, and God seemed strangely silent as I wrestled through each day. One morning I felt a little nudge in my soul, as though God were whispering, “And when exactly are you going to listen to me?” I realized then that I had absolutely filled my life with noise. Podcasts, audiobooks, and streaming services kept me company while I drove, folded laundry, washed the dishes—I even listened to podcasts to help me fall asleep! No wonder God seemed silent; I was drowning him out!
Elijah sought God in the wind and storm, but heard him in a still, small voice. God exhorts us through the psalmist to “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Although God can certainly thunder his voice into our lives, he often waits for us to quiet down and listen closely.
Create Intentional Rhythms
Unfortunately, just identifying the problem wasn’t enough for me. I had developed such habits of filling my life with noise, it was difficult to hit the mute button. Sitting in silence had become foreign and uncomfortable, so I would procrastinate. “I’ll have time for that later. For now, I’ll just listen to one more podcast…”
Breaking habits—and forming new ones—doesn’t happen on accident. It takes intention and discipline. But right now, when much of life is already topsy-turvy, is the perfect time to develop new habits. We are already out of our regular routine. What better chance to intentionally shift our practices and perspectives?
What might those boundaries look like in your life? You might choose to drive in silence, so you can pray and think in the car (if you’re still driving every day, that is). Maybe you go for a daily walk but leave your phone at home. Or maybe you set your alarm for ten minutes earlier and spend that extra time with a cup of coffee and the Lord.
Sit With Your Feelings
This might be the hardest part yet. When negative emotions hit, whether boredom, pain, grief, or anywhere in between, resist the urge to immediately turn away. Lean in. Think it through. Feel what you feel.
I’m not saying you just have to sit. Sometimes walking outside can help us process our emotions. Other people find journaling or praying out loud to be helpful. But try not to go straight to distraction via technology. You might even consider setting an alarm so you don’t feel like you have to allow yourself to be steeped in your feelings forever.
Let Your Soul Cry Out
Above all, let your emotions lead you back to the One who made your heart. When we use things like technology, food, and shopping to numb our feelings, it is our way of saying, “I don’t need God for this. I can handle it myself.” God exhorts us, though, that apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:5). We aren’t meant to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, but to see our utter dependence on him.
So the next time you lay in bed and are overcome with emotion—good or bad—resist the temptation to pick up your phone. Instead, let your soul cry out to God. “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7 NLT).