I’ve been trying to wean myself off my iPhone. Again.
Nothing drastic this time. Just a slow detox. Turning off my mail app. Deleting games. Deleting news apps. Deleting social media apps. Turning off text notifications. Turning off all notifications. I just don’t have the willpower to resist the dopamine rush that a smart phone gives you every time you use it, so I’ve neutered the thing. I’ve made it as unpleasurable as possible.
And it must be working.
Because a couple of days ago, I found myself standing at the gas pump—waiting, waiting, waiting—and I realized I wasn’t holding my phone. I hadn’t even thought to dismount it from the dashboard. So, I hadn’t mindlessly filled myself with data while I filled my tank with gas. I hadn’t compulsively checked messages or news, and I’d gone a few minutes without the craving for entertainment.
It wasn’t pleasant.
Instead of swiping, I found myself thinking. For instance, I thought about someone important who was waiting for a reply from me about something important, and I felt my anxiety about being honest in that reply. Then, I thought about another complicated situation I’d gotten myself into, and how difficult it was going to be to face it with integrity. And so on and so on. In other words, I thought all the thoughts I’d been avoiding thinking.
We prefer our digital life because real life isn’t nearly as easy to swipe away.
When we’re on our phones, if we don’t like something we see, we can change the settings or close the app or mute the friend or block the caller, or just wait a few seconds for the algorithm to realize we don’t like it and never show it to us again. But in real life, problems don’t go away. They wait for us. So, while they wait, we scroll.
A tech detox can be dangerous, because it plunges us back into the complexities of real life.
As I stood there—present to the problems I’d been avoiding—I became aware of something else: I already knew how I wanted to respond to each of the problems. I wasn’t avoiding them because the solutions were hard to identify; I was avoiding them because the solutions would be hard to enact. I’d risk rejection, embarrassment, failure, and disappointment. I’d have to trust that I’m loveable even if I’m unloved. That, I think, is living courageously, and it can only be done in real life.
We don’t sit on the fence of life, staring at our phones, because we don’t know which direction to head; we sit on the fence, swiping away at our digital world, because we already know the direction we want to go in the real world, and that direction is often hard.
Like I said, the whole thing wasn’t exactly pleasant. Or, rather, it wasn’t pleasant at first.
I have some very, very good news to report from the gas pump.
Once we quit turning away from our problems by turning on our devices—and once we quit ruminating about how to get around our problems rather than resolving to go through them—our minds can empty as quickly as a gas tank can fill. Standing at the pump, I suddenly found myself present—for just a moment or two—and I was reminded of something else:
Grace is always waiting for us, but it only waits on the other side of our pain and discomfort.
I was present, and I smelled the aroma of gas all around me, and suddenly I was twelve years-old again, filling up an old lawnmower in an old garage on a summer afternoon, cicadas humming in the trees outside, a month of summer vacation still ahead of me, a month that felt like a year.
Grace collects your most peaceful moments and folds them into this one.
I was present and I locked eyes with the woman next to me and she made a joke about forgetting to close her gas cap. I made a joke back. We laughed. Being human is weird. But we share in the weirdness.
Grace connects the best parts of you to the best parts in everyone else.
I was present and I felt a breeze on my skin and I realized that, for the first time in a week, the oppressive humidity had evaporated. It felt like the air was washing me clean.
Grace welcomes you home, reminding you that while you walked the fearful path, there was beauty underfoot all along.
Beauty has a way of messing with your life. Growing your faith. Stretching your hope. Expanding your love. Stoking your courage. Leading you down scary and joyful and treacherous and blessed paths you never would have walked if you hadn’t become aware that Something good and wise and graceful is ultimately holding all things together, redeeming all things, making all things whole.
Like I said, beware: a tech detox is dangerous.
It could be hazardous to your paralysis.
It could change everything.
One small, courageous, analog step at a time.
In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.
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Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.