I have come to the realization that I have had an unhealthy relationship with my mobile phone for some time now.
It first came to my notice with the irritability that arose when I left my phone at home. How was I to stay in contact with the world (gasp!)? When I did carry my phone, notifications in the form of banners, badges, pings, and red dots cried out like a petulant child and provoked a Pavlovian response, requiring immediate action. While my phone handily made social media ever more accessible, scrolling through my newsfeed elicited anxiety, sadness, envy, and anger in my heart. I would wander through my days responding to the little narcissist’s commands: remaining ever vigilant, ever available, ever ready to somehow respond to the most recent notification. My days would close with a brain that felt exhausted, shattered, and fragmented, and sometimes even unable to finish a coherent thought. Sleep did not address the problem as cell phone fatigue set in. I needed a different kind of rest. I needed to unplug.
If my phone were human, I would have long ago told myself to break up, move out and break free from this toxic relationship.
Now I ask you: Am I alone in this?
And so, I began to pray and journal, asking how this device which was supposed to be good now felt like it issued unreasonable demands of my time, and still, it needed to be surgically removed from my hand.
I recalled the purchase of my very first iPhone over a decade ago. I named him Bob, and we quickly bonded. Perhaps I ought to have noticed the intensity of my emotion when one day, Bob slipped out of my hand on the subway, falling between the train and the platform onto the tracks below where the rats scurried about. Bob waited bravely below as train after train went by, and I panicked, momentarily considering jumping off the platform to make a daring rescue. Thankfully, a helpful subway attendant intervened to retrieve him. Bob was my one and only then, but he has since been replaced by many other models who have remained nameless.
My relationship with these other phones was normal, or at least I thought, but my dependence subtly grew, app by app. Then, during COVID, something strange happened. My world immediately got smaller, and I struggled with the isolation so many of us faced. My phone became an even more powerful means of staying in touch with my extended network of friends and family.
I am a people person and a mercy girl, and I soon became accustomed to being present with others through social media, texts, apps, emails, and good old-fashioned phone calls. I knew the pain of loneliness, and I did not want others to know that pain. I read articles about the looming mental health crisis even as I compulsively checked my phone 24/7. I scanned social media, emails and texts first thing in the morning, and even read my devotionals and Bible reading on the Bible app. Unsurprisingly, symptoms of cell phone fatigue set in early in the day.
As my family responsibilities increased, bad habits and unhealthy boundaries with my phone stubbornly persisted, especially after I moved forty miles away from a community I also consider as family. A device that promised to make me more productive and help me stay connected was moving me fast toward burnout. I needed rest, and there was not a mobile app in the world that could provide the rest I needed. And so, I unplugged.
I sought God’s will and guidance in prayer. I journaled what a healthy relationship with my phone would look like. I sought wisdom from others. When I read the Bible in the morning, I ditched the app and picked up a print Bible. I selected some new devotional books from my bookshelf. I made time for God. Well, okay, it might be more truthful to say He gave me a powerful nudge.
I took more drastic action. I left my phone behind when I left the apartment. Rather than compulsively checking for missed calls or messages, I turned my phone off. I used an alarm clock. I started wearing a watch. I reviewed my phone settings and turned off all notifications or set them to “quiet.” I deleted social media apps. I declined calls and ignored text messages, opting instead to pray for the person who was trying to reach me. I returned the call or message at a later time.
I deliberately became less productive and less connected with others in the short term, and I found rest. And guess what? The world did not fall apart, nor did the connection to my network. My mind became clearer, and I felt less mental fatigue. The weight of the world lifted off my shoulders, and I rested in God, trusting Him with the outcomes of all my ceaseless striving for productivity, connection, and incessant worry that were at the root of this unhealthy relationship.
So, here’s the funny thing that I remembered in this. Relationship and productivity require rest before the work begins. They also require God in the planning, the doing, and the outcome. King Solomon, unarguably one of the wisest kings in history, tells us in Psalm 127:1-2, “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves.”
The world did not rest on my shoulders. I did not need to respond to every outreach whether by phone, text, or email. I did not need to scroll through social media to catch up with friends.
I could choose to simply pause and be present with the Lord.
I haven’t exactly broken up with my current phone, but I have set firm boundaries. It now sits in the backseat of my life where it belongs.
How is your relationship with your phone? Do you find yourself unnaturally attached? Have you found other ways to stay connected with others? How can you take back control of your cell phone usage?
Photo credit: Zyabich on istock.com.