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Take Some Time Away from Technology This Lent

Posted by Teresa Tomeo on 3/9/17 7:00 AM

Does technology create a barrier between us and God?In John 4:1–26, we read the story of Jesus meeting a Samaritan woman at the well. This woman provides us with a great example of humility. Deep down she knew she was living a sinful life, but she was still willing and open to hear what Jesus had to say about her search for happiness, which had so far left her empty.Does this resonate with you? Do you ever catch yourself in a moment of supreme self-centeredness and suddenly realize that what you need most is a good serving of humble pie? Don’t be afraid to bring this to the light…perhaps even in the sacrament of reconciliation.

Jesus didn’t reject the woman at the well—he revealed to her everything she had ever done, and loved her anyway. In the same way, you can bring your most embarrassing, self-centered thoughts to him and know that he will strengthen you to try again. Why is it important to recognize and root out the tendency toward self-centeredness and cultivate humility? Catholic evangelist, author, and international speaker Matthew Kelly says the way we see the world is the way we live our lives.

Whether it’s at Christmas time, on vacation, or in our day-to-day lives, if we’re continually spending a good chunk of our time integrating some piece of technology into everything we do, then Houston, we have a problem. Looking at the images of ourselves on our phones, on Facebook, or incessantly tweeting what we had for lunch or what we’re wearing to the party means our world isn’t going to go much further than me, my selfie, and I.

And this is a very skewed, very limited view. How often, for example, have we seen pictures of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square struggling to get some sort of a selfie shot near or with the pope? Instead of enjoying the spiritual experience of being at a papal Mass or audience, they spend
their time trying to insert themselves into the picture, quite literally missing the real meaning of the event. 

For Dominick and me, that cable ride was a mini retreat, a private little pilgrimage. God’s by no means through with us yet, but because we spent so many years oblivious to God and his creation, we now try to be more acutely aware of the grandeur all around us, expressed so beautifully in the book of Psalms:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have established, what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? (8:3–4)

It’s worth thinking about, isn’t it? How many times do we fail to recognize God in the world around us, thanking him for the creativity and intelligence within us? How often do we praise and thank him for making us in his glorious image and likeness, and for the marvelous beauty of his creation, the “work of his fingers”?

And how often are we more like the couple on the cable car, oblivious to everything but ourselves? What does it take for God to get our attention, like the Samaritan woman in John’s Gospel who came to the well in the middle of the day? As she approached the well to draw water, she had no earbuds or smartphone to distract her; she could hear the Lord speak to her very clearly: “Give me a drink” (John 4:7).

Imagine what she must have thought of this strange man who had broken into her reality, talking to her. What was more, he said the most extraordinary things—he offered her living water! And somehow (she wasn’t sure quite how) he knew all about her. “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband” (John 4:17–18).

Jesus wasn’t saying these things to be cruel. He wanted to shake her up, to get her attention, to make her truly see herself for the first time the way God saw her.

He wanted her to know that she was made for something more. He wanted her to recognize just how valuable she was in his eyes. She was born to witness to the truth. And she saw!

A new awareness began to seep into her consciousness. “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” (John 4:29).

And so it is with us. In a way, selfies—like every other aspect of social media—are not intrinsically evil. They are a form of communication; tools we can use to share what is important to us. Selfies are popular because they are meant to be shared among friends and then more friends. It’s that old Faberge shampoo TV commercial on steroids: “You tell two friends… and they’ll tell two friends…and so on, and so on, and so on.”

However, for many people, using social media has turned into a compulsion. One study released by Baylor University in 2014 showed that 60 percent of college students admit they’re addicted to their cell phones, with most of that time spent on Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter.

Another study from Baylor estimated that female college students use their cell phones as much as ten hours a day, and eight hours for male students. That same study reported that many participants experienced a great deal of anxiety when separated from their phones for seventy-five minutes.

Spending as much time on our phones as we do at a full-time job can impact our relationships, our choices, and our view of the world, as Pope Benedict XVI highlighted back in 2011.

The new technologies allow people to meet each other beyond the confines of space and of their own culture, creating in this way an entirely new world of potential friendships. This is a great opportunity, but it also requires greater attention to and awareness of possible risks.

Benedict warned that we can easily lose our perspective when we focus on ourselves. If we view the world based only our needs or interests, we create a “virtual reality” that becomes increasingly
distanced from the real world and the needs of others. Who is my “neighbor” in this new world?

Does the danger exist that we may be less present to those whom we encounter in our everyday life? Is there is a risk of being more distracted because our attention is fragmented and absorbed in a world “other” than the one in which we live? Do we have time to reflect critically on our choices and to foster human relationships which are truly deep and lasting?

It is important always to remember that virtual contact cannot and must not take the place of direct human contact with people at every level of our lives.

Check out our Lent page for a wealth of spiritual resources!

Whether it’s Italy, Ireland, or Idaho, it’s important to take time to appreciate the glory all around us, and to approach life ready to experience it all unfettered by the need to plop ourselves and our wants in the middle of every single frame. If we don’t put down the camera and aspire to something better, we’ll soon suffer the consequences of a selfie-centered cable car ride to nowhere.

The Samaritan woman, for example, is known as one of the first evangelists. Soon after her encounter with Christ, she left her water jug behind and went into town to tell the people about
Jesus—the same people she was trying to avoid in the first place.

Think about that for a minute. She came to the well at high noon in the scorching heat because she wanted to steer clear of the crowds and the stares. Everyone else would be inside at that time of day, so she could do what she needed to do and get back to her life. She was living in isolation, closed in on herself.

Once she discovered who she really was in Christ, everything changed—not only for her but for the people to whom she witnessed.


Put Down the Phone and Be a Positive Influence

The story of the woman at the well demonstrates how one person making a change can have a far-reaching and long-lasting impact. Never underestimate how your own actions might positively
influence your circle of family and friends.

Here are a few suggestions to help yourself and those you care about be more than just passersby on the digital highway.
• Invite some friends over for a phone-free get-together; kindly insist that if they do bring their phones with them, they leave them turned off. Build your time together around great conversation, food, wine, and maybe a fun game or two, with no one allowed to check e-mails or texts.

You’d be surprised how much fun live interaction can be. (Recently there was actually a series of public service announcements on TV encouraging just that. It’s hard to believe it’s gotten to the point where we need to see actors have a great time just being together and talking face-to-face sans phones, but it’s a catchy campaign with an important message.) Who knows, you might start a new and positive trend!
• If you’re a parent, encourage phone-free family time. Author, speaker, and pediatrician Dr. Meg Meeker, a frequent guest on my radio show, made this a daily rule in her house.

After school the cell phones went in a basket on the kitchen counter and could not be retrieved or used until the kids were heading out to school the next morning.
• Family meals should be a definite phone-free time slot—and not only while everyone is sitting around the table eating.

How about encouraging your children to help with meal preparation, making it another family activity? You might get some push back at first, but eventually the kids will come to cherish
that special time together.

Despite what you may think, children still look to their parents for guidance, encouragement, and yes, discipline.
• During Lent or Advent commit to fasting from social media one day a week with the intention of incorporating more quiet time and more prayer time in your life for the long term.
• Use the time you would have spent taking and posting selfies for Scripture reading, journaling, or listening quietly to what God might be trying to say to you.
• Make a serious effort to spend time in silence in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Eucharistic Adoration might feel intimidating at first and frustrating at times because our minds tend
to wander.

Saint Teresa of Avila, a great mystic and doctor of the Church, struggled with concentration in prayer, so don’t worry—you’re in good company. But just get to the chapel and listen; listen to God and listen to the beautiful peace and quiet.

• After incorporating one or more of these suggestions, reflect upon the impact the added quiet has had on your life, your outlook, and your relationships, especially your relationship
with God.

In order to find what we’re truly searching for, we need to first find out who we really are. This begins with discovering—or rediscovering—God.

But how does this happen in a world that doesn’t recognize God anymore, a world where people live apart, wrapped up in themselves and their technology? This question has been nagging me for some time.

If we are willing to silence ourselves and our phones and share the truths we discover about who we are in God’s eyes, we can become powerful witnesses to the truth. The choice is yours.

Beyond Me My Selfie and I by Teresa Tomeo

Topics: What is Lent?, Technology