The quiet kitchen looks blurry as I struggle to focus my eyes this early in the morning. As the timer measures four minutes for my French-press pot of coffee, I stand in my bathrobe waiting.
Do I turn to the window to awaken my vision with the growing daylight in my backyard? Do I still my heart in anticipation of the time of scripture-meditation for which I am making the coffee in the pot?
I flip open the notifications collected on my phone’s screen during the night: an email from my kids’ school and a notice that someone “liked” my sister’s family photo. And oh, wasn’t I wondering about causes of canker sores? Let me Google that.
All before morning prayers.
It takes longer than four minutes, since a post about raising teenage girls distracts me, but finally, coffee in one hand and Bible in the other, I step out to the patio to meet with the Lord–with my phone in my bathrobe pocket. Yes, where it will vibrate if someone texts me.
Why do I do this?
I treasure quiet. And I supposedly value my time with God enough to set my alarm for it. My actions so blatantly contradict my values, I feel embarrassed writing this.
Why am I lured away from quietness with God by the small, shiny screen with the colorful squares in my palm?
Google, Instagram, and our Deep Needs
It’s not a coincidence that I experience this conflict just when I seek to quiet myself with the Lord. In this moment I yield to the temptation to substitute the phone–instant, orderly, glossy answers to my questions and contact with friends–for an awareness of the presence of the Holy Spirit.
This temptation touches more hearts than mine.
I read a story about a mother whose son was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan. Late one night in her grief she Googled, “Where is my son?”
Her heart screamed a question so searing only a word or touch from God could assuage the heat of its pain. But she asked Google.
She did what I find myself doing.
God made us so our hearts need connection like our bodies require oxygen; this is why solitary confinement tortures our souls. And God has compassion on this need. He says, “I will never leave you” (Hebrews 13:5) and “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20).
He offers us unbroken intimacy, so close He says He is in us and we are in Him (John 17:21-3).
Watching for God
But cultivating awareness of His presence requires quiet watchfulness.
The psalmist says, “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning,” (Psalm 130:5-6).
Picture the watchman in his cold tower, scanning the dark horizon for a hint of morning, hour after silent hour. The psalmist paints this picture of our soul anticipating the Lord: waiting in faith-filled tension.
Perhaps this is necessary because the voice of the Lord is often like a “gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12).
But it is hard. Stillness can make me restless.
It’s easier to sidestep the work and the difficult emotions and check for a text or Google my question–to reach for the immediacy of the smartphone instead opening myself to the unpredictability of the Holy Spirit.
The smartphone offers to meet our needs for constant companionship and wisdom from outside ourselves, needs that are meant to point us to the Holy Spirit.
Think if that ancient watchman had a smartphone. What if he passed the night skimming Instagram or reading news stories? Would he see the sun rise?
The phone goes everywhere with us: to the beach as we walk at sunset (I’ll snap a photo); into the car where we get an email response as we sit at a stoplight (Should I glance at it before the light changes?); to bed with us (I’ll pick up that book tomorrow night); even into our times of devotion (I long for connection, but intimacy with God can prove elusive.)
Everywhere we could practice awareness of God’s presence–noticing creation, breathing prayers at stoplights, confessing the day’s sins at bedtime, asking Him our questions in moments of quiet– the internet offers a lustrous, speedy substitute for the ministry of His Holy Spirit.
I am guilty of taking the bait. Will I and my culture with me forget how to hear from God, how to cultivate awareness of His presence?
Making Sacred Space
Maybe you are already better at this than me. But if you hear me here, will you join me in a challenge? I feel urged to make sacred space in my life.
I plan to plug my phone in at night far from my bed and not to look at it until after my devotions in the morning. What will I miss? Absolutely nothing. What do I stand to gain? Beginning my day waiting for the Lord, alert to the Holy Spirit. Beginning my day in a sacred space.
I hope this will shape the rest of my day, like yeast makes dough breathe.
Where in your day could you make sacred space? Will you join me? Will you let me know how it goes? Or, if you already have disciplines like this, will you share them with the rest of us?
May I, may we, learn to resist the substitute Holy Spirit, turning the phones off or leaving them behind. May we awaken more and more to the presence of the Lord and to the gentle whispers of His Holy Spirit.