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7 Symptoms of a Distracted Life and How To Break Free

“Mom! What are you doing? This isn’t a road!!!”

“Oh my goodness! What have I done??”

I hit the brakes hard darting my eyes swiftly to see how many people were watching me at this most embarrassing moment. Leaving a soccer game many years ago when my boys were still in booster seats and car seats, I’d taken a right instead of a left. A left led to the main road. A right led onto a walking trail. Through the woods where cars don’t fit. A walking trail wide enough for walkers and runners, not minivans in need of turning around.

One would think I might have noticed something as branches scratched and banged against my car. But no, it took the shriek of my ever-cautious first born to bring me back to attention.

I was on the wrong path and needed to get out quick. I needed to get back to the place I’d started.

I find myself facing these situations in life. Most of us can relate. We find ourselves disciplined, living purposefully in a particular area. Over the course of time, we let a thing or two go. Then another. Slowly, we find ourselves slightly off course.

At times we don’t veer too far off course, and it takes only slight adjustments to make our way back. At others we feel near lost, and it takes great effort to find the path we should be on.

The encouragement is that it is never too late to start again. Often it takes reflecting on the beginning of something. Remembering where we once started, our hopes and dreams for that thing, and where we’ve missed the mark.

Do the thing you did at first.

Revelation 2:5 “Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

While this verse is to the church, it applies to our spiritual lives as well. When we start out on our spiritual walk with the Lord, we walk with intention, closely following His direction. But over time we listen a little less to Him and a little more to the world. And if we spend a good deal of time on the internet, especially social media, we will surely hear the world louder than we hear His voice.

I try to remind myself in these seasons to do the thing I did at first.

What was/is our vision for our family. What did we do at first to accomplish this that we aren’t currently doing? How can we make small adjustments and get back on course?

“Mom, can you stop bouncing your leg? It’s making it hard for me to read.”

“Hmm? Oh, yeah sure,” I replied bringing my attention back to him.

Teaching a struggling reader to read requires stillness and patience. And total presence.

My far-off thoughts and nervously bouncing leg brought to my attention something I’d been attempting to ignore in my soul. I’ve been living distracted on the inside.

While I may be physically present with my family, my mind and soul can be far away. Symptoms begin to present themselves to me hinting that something is wrong. I can ignore them to a point, but eventually I must make a choice.

7 Symptoms of the distracted life:

1- Irritability – little things begin to annoy me. Normal childhood and adolescent interruptions bring out frustration in me rather than compassion, understanding, or a sensitivity to work through them.

2-Impatience- My mind races and jumps from one thing to the next. Therefore, when things don’t flow according to my expectations, I’m quick to react with impatience. The words “hurry up” and “come on” seem to be the most frequently used. As my kids tell stories I find my mind telling them to hurry up.

3- Anxiety – Everything begins to feel like a worry or concern. Settling into sleep is difficult. Waking in the night becomes common. A running to do list is ever present.

4- Loss of train of thought – Lists are everywhere because I find myself mentally incapable of keeping track in my mind. I’m relying on my smartphone for everything. Reminders, lists, schedules. I find myself forgetting what I started to do.

5 – Fatigue, exhaustion – I lack energy to do the things that once brought joy. All I want is sleep or escape.

6 – Procrastination- I find myself putting off even simple tasks. Daily duties mount creating more anxiety.

7 – Constant reach for the phone- And because it all feels too much, or I’m too grumpy, I reach for my phone every few minutes. Just a quick scan of newsfeeds. A quick check on what I might be missing. And this begins the cycle all over again.

Break free in order to live free.

I tell my boys a key to growing in wisdom is to know yourself well. Know God intimately, and know yourself. I need to know my weaknesses, my temptations, my inclinations.

The 7 symptoms above I don’t need a doctor to diagnose for me. I have a Great Physician and a Helper. If I seek Him, He promises to be found. If I desire truth, I will find it. And if I want to truly deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Him, then I must do something different than the world.

For me this often looks like removing myself from social media completely for a time. Honestly, I would love to leave it completely most of the time. I’ve noticed that social media creates cynicism in me. The constant opinions wear me down. The lack of reverence for God in our culture disgusts me. It causes me to lose my love for people.

Matthew 22:36-40

“Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest?”

He said to him, Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

If the greatest command is to love the Lord and the 2nd is to love others, then I should pay attention to the things that make me love people less.

When I see the opinions and beliefs of people, I see causes and issues rather than the person. Jesus always looked to the person first. The lifestyle of the person that was in opposition to God changed AFTER Jesus looked into their hearts, showed them love for them, and revealed the truth.

Our culture twists love attempting to separate truth and love. Culture tries to make everything “ok” by holding the love banner. Jesus didn’t do that. He spoke truth always, yet He showed love at the same time.

Jesus met people where they were, but when they truly encountered the Messiah, they didn’t stay where they were. The love He had for them was so other-worldly that following Him took the place of their once sin-filled life.

The love of Jesus compels me to love in a way that makes no sense. And when I find myself lacking love on the inside, something must change. Because God is love.

Our family has practiced the discipline of screen fasts for many years. When we started taking electronics fasts, it was directed by my husband and me. We simply set a family fast for a week, a month, or however long the Lord led. By instilling this practice in our home with joy, our children now recognize in their own souls when a fast is in order.

At this stage, our children direct the course of their own fasts. They are learning to lean on the Lord rather than us. They are learning to listen to their own souls and tune into the whisper of the Holy Spirit.

Often one of us will begin a screen fast and it encourages another family member to do the same. Then another. It contagiously spreads, and the entire family benefits from it.

Our screen fasts have been accepted with joy because we’ve always made a practice of replacing what we remove with something even better. In the case of a screen fast, we remove what is a poor substitute for life and replace it with the real thing. It’s like taking a diet that has consisted of chips and soda and replacing with a banquet of juicy steaks, colorful vegetables, juicy fruits, and desserts of every kind. It’s feasting on what we didn’t even realize had been missing and wondering why it took us so long to find true nourishment.

Here are a couple of posts I’ve written on taking a break from screens.

5 Benefits of Electronics Fast

Why Shutting Off Electronics Is Good

Taking a screen fast as a family requires a little planning and intention, but I promise you it will return more to your family than you can imagine.

The family comes together again as family. We work together and we play together. Dinner prep is done together, chores we all do. After dinner we all clean and then play. We read aloud together, have family devotions, play games. Sometimes we simply sit on the sofas together with no agenda at all. Just like in the “old days” as my boys say. We sit and have nothing at all planned. We allow space and time for conversation to form and move naturally.

I’ve realized how much families are missing out on simply sitting together and talking. Face to face. No screens, no dings, no distractions, no lectures, no to-do lists. Just time together.

This post went longer than I expected. It happens when I write on screen topics. I’m passionate about the family and this is an area I feel the enemy uses against families everywhere.

When my husband recently decided to take a social media break, I decided to follow. At first I felt it was impossible considering I write online. My audience is on the internet. But as I prayed, I could sense God telling me to simply trust Him.

I worry about offending people. Will they wonder why I’m not “liking” their posts anymore? Will they think I’m mad at them? Should I announce a social media fast? (John Crist had a hilarious tweet about this)

All of these worries I can’t really concern myself with. I can only hope that friends don’t take offense. But that can’t be my primary concern.

My family is my first ministry. They deserve my absolute best. My soul is showing me I need a break. And since removing myself from social media I’ve noticed a drastic difference in our home and in my own heart.

I’m truly present with my kids. I’m not thinking about sharing any moment in our home with the social media world. The moments feel more sacred now. I’m more patient, less easily frustrated. I’m laughing more with my kids. My daily duties bring me delight again. The clock is less bossy now. My heart rate has slowed. My thoughts are clear. I can keep track in my own head rather than 20 different lists. I see the eyes of my kids. Truly see them. I hear God’s voice clearer. My love for humanity is returning because I’m not listening to the news and the issues at war against each other.

Is it possible to live in this state forever? I don’t know. I’m learning to quit trying to figure out the future and simply live in step with the Lord one day at a time.

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Parents – If you can’t put your phone down, why would your kids?

For the audio version of today’s post, click play.

I began writing on the dangers I saw regarding the electronic addiction plaguing our children a few years ago. The first post I wrote on this issue looked from my perspective as a mom wanting to cherish real life rather than watching life slip away lived with heads buried in screens. This post reached viral proportions multiple times reaching millions of people. I realized with this post I wasn’t alone.

Since beginning to write on screen addiction and parenting in an electronic age, this topic has escalated to limits I prayed we’d never see. Studies are revealing the devastation happening to our families and our children.

I read an article this week where investors in Apple are calling on the company to solve the phone addiction epidemic in kids.

The company that has made much of its money on addicting us, we are asking to take the responsibility of curing our addicted kids?

My initial thought when I read the title was, “Wait. Where is the personal responsibility here? Are we now living in a world where we make choices for our family that bring consequences and then we can’t fix them ourselves, so we place the burden elsewhere?”

I’m the parent of my children. It’s my privilege and my obligation to protect them, guide them, nuture them.

It is my job to prevent them from becoming addicted when they are too young to know the danger.

I would never put a cigarette in my child’s hand, or a beer, or a hit of a drug. Yet, we put something in the hands of our babies, toddlers, and children that is equally, if not more, as addictive.

Here are a few excerpts from an open letter sent to Apple by two of their biggest investors:

  • “According to an American Psychological Association (APA) survey of over 3,500 U.S. parents, 58% say they worry about the influence of social media on their child’s physical and mental health, 48% say that regulating their child’s screen time is a “constant battle,” and 58% say they feel like their child is “attached” to their phone or tablet.
  • The average American teenager who uses a smart phone receives her first phone at age 10 and spends over 4.5 hours a day on it (excluding texting and talking).
  • 78% of teens check their phones at least hourly and 50% report feeling “addicted” to their phones.  It would defy common sense to argue that this level of usage, by children whose brains are still developing, is not having at least some impact, or that the maker of such a powerful product has no role to play in helping parents to ensure it is being used optimally.  It is also no secret that social media sites and applications for which the iPhone and iPad are a primary gateway are usually designed to be as addictive and time-consuming as possible, as many of their original creators have publicly acknowledged.
  •  According to the APA survey cited above, 94% of parents have taken some action to manage their child’s technology use, but it is both unrealistic and a poor long-term business strategy to ask parents to fight this battle alone.”

But here’s the thing, a lot of attention is being given currently to the addiction of our kids, yet it’s the parents I’m most concerned with. We are addicted.

The addiction is coming from many angles, but if we would be so courageous to look into our souls, we will find the root issue driving our addictions.

For adults, particularly women, social media has become a lonely, isolated place of seeking identity. In the social media world we receive affirmation in the form of likes. We feel seen and known, yet it comes from people who really don’t know us at all, leaving us emptier than before.

We use social media as a platform to be heard. It’s a place to put our opinions out there, to use the mistakes of others to elevate ourselves. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just watch how fast people post how “good” they are when a public figure messes up.

We are desperately seeking love in all the wrong places. Social media offers instant gratification to a soul. But it is a lie which doesn’t sustain us.

Our souls were meant for authentic connection and genuine relationships. When we reach for this on social media, we receive the dopamine surge that will drive us back for more and more. But it’s when we are off, just like a drug, that the lows creep in.

Our social media addiction is depleting our souls of real life. It’s killing our joy, growing discontentment and jealousy. It’s creating an escape from our real worlds that are often painful. It allows us to leave the pain of life.

While much attention continues to focus on curing the addiction of our kids and teens in regards to social media or phone use, if adults are addicted, why don’t we start with ourselves?

A drowning person can’t help another drowning person. If I live my life hours a day scrolling online, I can’t possibly save my kids.

We are feeding a monster. It’s insatiable. It can’t be quenched, this appetite. This desire to be known, liked, accepted. Or the appetite for information. To know as much as possible. Yet the information available has no end.

Where is this leading us? And where are we leading our kids?

Be the leader they need

A mentor mom once told me I could only lead my kids as far as I myself have gone. If my Bible knowledge is surface level, Sunday school stories, that is how far I can lead them. However, if I am disciplined, spending time in His Word, I will lead them by example and with wisdom further toward the knowledge of the heart of God.

This tip applies to much in life as far as parenting goes. It doesn’t mean I’m responsible for their choices or their level of faith. I’m responsible for my choices, including how I choose to lead.

Recognizing that I’m a leader holds me accountable for my own growth.

True leaders never stop learning and growing. Leaders never reach a place of arrival. Room for growth is always available.

Parents, we are leaders who must rise to our higher calling.

Characteristics of strong parent leaders –

  • choose not to follow the masses
  • resist temptation to jump on bandwagons
  • concerned little with what others are doing because they have a vision for their family
  • wise
  • discerning
  • thoughtful
  • long visioned
  • critical thinkers

How can we lead our kids to be different?

We are living in a culture that seeks to devour our kids. I want my kids to be different, to be set apart. I don’t want them to mold and fold into our current culture.

I want my kids

  • to value people
  • connect well in relationships
  • maintain eye contact
  • think for themselves rather than being told what to think
  • push back and challenge ways that are opposed to a Biblical worldview 

To lead my kids to be different in a world addicted to smartphones and social media, I have to lead by example.

If I don’t want addicted kids, I can’t be an addict.

I need to lead my kids with head up, eyes trained ahead. 

How to break the addiction to social media or smartphone usage:

  • set limits and boundaries for yourself and ask a family member to hold you accountable
    • set specified times each day to check your phone. Don’t hop on each time you feel like it.
  • delete social media apps from your phone. Make your phone a tool of necessity and not pleasure or escape
  • create “no phone zones” in your home or family
    • dinner table- no phones allowed
    • car time is for talking
    • watching a movie means watching a movie – no second screening (scrolling while watching tv)
  • Go on a fast. Any fast and increase over time. If you are heavily addicted. Take a one day fast. Then increase to a one week fast. Later take a one month fast. Here is a post on 5 benefits of an electronic fast.
  • fill the time once given to social media with something better. Anytime we remove an addiction, we are wise to fill that space with something else. If we don’t we will run right back to the addiction.
    • rather than scrolling social media while feeding the baby in the high chair, use that time to talk to him/her. Laugh, giggle, be silly. Have fun again. This moment holds more than we could ever know. What we miss out on in the social media world is not lasting like connection with the ones we are called to serve and love.
    • rather than filling carpool time or homework time with scrolling take a real life book or magazine.
    • start a new hobby and fill the social media time with something that is life giving
    • when you are waiting in line, resist the temptation to fill your boredom with scrolling. Talk to someone. Make eye contact. Smile. Ask about their day. Connect in the real world.

God desires to give us life abundantly. Yet we are reaching for the imposter.

How to know if you are addicted to social media or your smartphone:

  • It’s the first thing you reach for in the morning
  • You can’t start your day without seeing what you missed while sleeping
  • You pick up your phone in the cracks of your day. Each downtime you fill with scrolling.
  • You find yourself thinking about people you don’t know day to day.
  • You begin to feel discontent in your real life. A sense of restlessness masked as a desire for more.
  • You feel jealous or cynical towards people you see online.
  • Your mind feels scattered and spins.
  • You have a hard time sitting still with your people.
  • You have trouble making eye contact because your mind is elsewhere in a virtual world.
  • A ding sends you reaching instantly for your phone.

 

What you will gain when you break the addiction:

  • benefits that can’t quite be measured because they fill areas of the soul that have been dying
  • trust and connection with the people we are called to love and serve in our real lives
  • a reliance on God for our worth rather than the empty likes of the world
  • moments that matter. A smile from a stranger you wouldv’e missed head down. An opportunity to help someone right in front of you rather than watching what everyone else is doing
  • active participation in life
  • an opportunity to lead our family well

 

Friends, social media we know is here to stay. Smartphones will never die. These companies have capitalized on our weaknesses, but we were created for more.

I want to challenge you to take one small step today. Don’t look at the massive task of breaking the addiction overnight. Start with one thing today and build on it. If that means you choose to turn your phone off at 3:00 when the kids get home from school, let that be the step you take today. Build from there.

Choose discipline. A disciplined life is a free life. A person of discipline isn’t controlled by their phone, instead they have chosen to be in control of that which seeks to control them.

Self-control is priceless. The example we are for the kids we are called to serve holds more power than we realize.

Let’s do real life well. Let’s choose to live free.