Follow Me – Biblical Practices for Faithful Living
Practice Spiritual Disciplines: “Unplug”
Decatur Presbyterian Church
April 3, 2022
Genesis 2:1-3; Mark 6: 30-34
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
The context of our passage from the Gospel of Mark is that John the Baptist had recently been beheaded. Jesus was grieving. And the disciples had been working hard, meeting the needs of many people, so much so that they had no leisure, even to eat.
Hear the Word of God from Mark 6:30-34
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Tired as he was, in the midst of his own grief, Jesus had compassion on the crowd. He did not send them away, but began to teach them many things. And after he taught them, he fed them, the whole crowd, there in the wilderness. And then, when the crowds dispersed, Jesus went up on the mountain to pray.
Did you know that the average North American adult spends 11 hours a day looking at a screen or engaging with technology?
Of course, these 11 hours include work time, and entertainment time, and even communication with family time, especially when the family is at a distance. What a gift Zoom has been to allow folks to work from home.
What a gift smartphones are to be able to communicate from nearly anywhere you travel.
What a gift Skype can be to communicate with a fiance or with grandkids on the other side of the country.
I remember some years ago when Hannah Wickman was in India and her parents were able to Skype with her in real time. She gave them a tour of the apartment where she was living. At the time that seemed amazing. Now it just seems normal.
Just last Sunday, we had a conversation in the church parlor with Olya from Ismail, Ukraine. In real time, 4 o’clock in the afternoon for her, we heard about the displaced families that Olya is supporting through our donations to thischildhere.org.
Technology is wonderful. Technology is amazing.
Technology can enhance our relationships and our businesses.
Technology can open new worlds for us.
One of our shut-in members has a large television in her apartment. Though she is not able to travel physically any longer, she regularly takes scenic tours through the Scottish countryside or along the Great Barrier Reef on her large television. What a gift that can be.
Through various apps and websites and online conversations, technology can teach us, enlighten us, entertain us, connect us, encourage us. And through many popular apps, technology can increase our faith, strengthening our ability to worship, to meditate, to pray, to learn.
Even so, we must confess that sometimes our amount of time with technology becomes unbalanced.
Technology, or screen time, can begin to dominate our lives, so much so that we fail to spend quality time with others or time outdoors in the sunshine. Did you know that absorbing Vitamin D from sunshine is important to our mental health? Doctors in Alaska have long prescribed 45 minute walks during daylight hours as a treatment for depression.
Debates have raged within school districts about the various benefits of getting children outdoors for physical movement and physical connection with one another during the course of a school day.
While technology is an amazing tool, there comes a time when it becomes advantageous, even necessary, to unplug. The conscious act of unplugging from technology just may be the spiritual discipline we need to practice this Lenten season.
Perhaps it could benefit your spiritual life to spend less time watching television?
Perhaps it could benefit your physical life to spend less time in front of a computer?
Perhaps it could benefit your relationships if you spent less time with your nose in your smartphone?
The purpose of unplugging would be to connect more deeply with God and others, to make space amidst the distractions to hear the voice God, so that we can be transformed by God’s grace.
I confess that I am more plugged into my phone than I was five years ago. I have found the iphone to be extremely efficient for texts and emails and phone conversations, and sometimes even for hour long zoom calls.
I have found the iphone to be my source for morning Bible reading and meditation. I rarely leave the house without my phone and, to be honest, I feel a bit disconnected when I do. I can probably tell you within 20% what the current battery percentage is on my phone. I discovered recently that my injured hand was not healing properly because of the way that I hold my phone. I had to tape my fingers together.
How many hours do you spend a day connected to a screen or engaged with technology?
Are you satisfied with the time you spend or would you like to cut back on those hours?
How about your children or grandchildren? Would you like to see them spend more time unplugged?
Much has been written over the past ten years or so about the availability of workers to their managers, and the availability of managers to their VPs or to their CEOs.
It is unhealthy to always be available.
Everyone needs some unplugged time, some time when you not available to others, some time when are fully present in the place and moment where you are, such as dinner time with family, or spending quality time with your kids, or when you and your spouse or friend need to sit down and talk.
Unplugging allows us to be fully present with others, fully present for others. While in some homes the television is turned on nearly all the time, in other homes, the television is only turned on for designated hours. While some will constantly check news reports or emails, others will unplug intentionally and only check their emails or news programs once or maybe twice a day.
Some of the 24 hour news channels have truly gotten out of hand. I have heard that some people watch Fox News or MSNBC all day long.
I can promise you that you will enjoy a calmer and more contented lifestyle if you turn off that constant barrage of messaging. The messaging on these news channels is structured to claim your attention, heighten your anxieties, and keep you watching through the next round of commercials, so that those who own the networks can make more and more money.
I have claimed for years that everything we can ingest into our eyes and our ears affects our minds, just like everything we ingest into our mouths impacts our bodies. Some have chosen over the last few years to take a reprieve from social media; others have sought to balance what they ingest through seeking multiple and diverse sources.
Did you know there’s a broad effort called the National Day of Unplugging? Their website encourages an annual day free from technology in order “to elevate human connection over digital engagement.”
The National Day of Unplugging is an awareness campaign that promotes a 24-hour respite from technology, usually at the beginning of March.
For more than a decade, schools, religious institutions and businesses have used this resource to encourage healthy life/tech balance within their communities. This year the day was observed from sundown on March 4 to sundown March 5.
Another website, Sabbathmanifesto.com, lists 10 principles for practicing unplugging. Many are advocating these days for digital diets, giving up something, some form of technology, for a set period of time, or setting a time limit on how much screen time one has in the day.
I imagine that many of our parents limit the hours of screen time for their kids. Some families will always unplug during meal times – no phones, tv’s or screens of any kind.
Some families will commit to setting aside one day a week to unplug. Some will decide to schedule a regular hour or two during the day in which to unplug.
Over time, unplugging from technology can feel less like fasting and more like a lifestyle. Of course, the point needs to be made that the spiritual discipline of unplugging can quickly move beyond screen time and technology.
In order to pay closer attention to God and others, we may need to unplug from a variety of pursuits that consume our attention. Certainly, there are many whose work schedules or volunteer schedules could use more balance.
There are others for whom books, not screens, keep them from relating to those around them.
There are some who actually need to unplug from exercise.
Whatever the activity that has become consuming, people will do it more hours than is reasonable, or they will fail to give their minds and bodies a sabbath rest, or they will use the activity as a way to avoid interactions with others.
Many of us need to unplug not from technological distractions but from expectations and obligations. We can quickly become servants either to inner expectations, what we expect of ourselves, or outer expectations, what others are expecting of us.
Sometimes, when we have said “yes” too many times, our obligations become overwhelming, and there is no time for sabbath rest and renewal.
We spend so much time “doing” that there is insufficient time for “listening” or simply “being”. During the pandemic, many persons began to understand their commitments from a different vantage point and ended up resigning – the Great Resignation – not only from their jobs but from other commitments as well.
The pandemic taught many of us to be more intentional about creating healthy boundaries in our schedules and calendars.
Unplugging has something to do with receiving grace. We cannot receive grace from God if there is no space in our lives for grace to enter. We cannot receive grace if we are so busy doing, watching, focusing, being entertained… that we are not receptive to the presence of God.
Jesus often went off alone to pray. He walked for hours on the hillsides of Galilee. He found quiet spots in the Garden of Gethsemane to kneel and pray. In our text for today, Jesus urged his disciples to join him in a deserted place so that they could unplug from the many demands upon them to rest, to have leisure to eat with one another, to reconnect with each other, and to listen to God.
What activities enable you to rest your body, your soul, your mind?
Which activities enable you to reconnect with God and listen for God’s voice?
What practices help you reconnect with your true self, get in touch with what is weighing heavy on your heart or what is causing concern in your thoughts? You may find a practice of weekly Sabbath refreshing to you. A ten minute power nap in the middle of an overy busy day may refocus your attentions.
An unplugged walk around the block or through a local park or even your own backyard, whether it is for five minutes or fifteen minutes or even fifty – could be a great way to clear your mind, open your heart, and refresh your soul.
When we learn to “unplug” as a form of spiritual discipline, we open ourselves to hearing the beckoning of God‘s voice. And we just might, amidst all the distractions of a modern world, hear once again God’s still, small voice, beckoning us with truth, and wisdom, and guidance.
To God be the glory as we seek to unplug from whatever distracts us this Lenten season, and seek to practice that which reconnects us to God and others.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
April 3, 2022