In my previous column (August) I suggested that being on our phones in public places keeps us from being present to those around us in our community, keeps us from interacting with strangers, perhaps even contributes to the growing divide we feel.
Now I'm suggesting that being on our phones also keeps us from being present to God, from sharing with and listening to God. It hinders prayer in all its forms, not just the head-bowed-eyes-closed kind.
We are encouraged in the scriptures to "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thess 5:17); to be in conversation with God throughout our day. However, if someone could tally up how much time we spend texting, Facebook-ing, surfing the net and so on, versus thanking God and seeking God's guidance and strength to be faithful and actually love our neighbor, it would likely be embarrassing for those of us who claim to be followers.
But the smart phone gives us the world at our fingertips and is so entertaining! We've become conditioned to listen for the beeps and our brains are stimulated and now trained to look at our screens whether it's made any noises at all.
Some are truly addicted - their screen being the last thing looked at before bed and the first thing checked in the morning
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, pastor, theologian and martyr, wrote in his classic book "Life Together": "At the threshold of the new day stands the Lord who made it ... let all distraction and empty talk be silenced and let the first thought and the first word belong to him to whom our whole life belongs."
It's a challenge to give God any of our thoughts and words when we are always plugged in.
Some users are rebelling, aware of the amount of time consumed on our phones, and are seeking ways to self-limit. I saw an article about one woman who decided to go back to a flip phone.
She said texting was more difficult, but she liked not having access to emails, the internet and so on. I've also read that some people are buying watches so that they don't look at their phones as much.
For all the great conveniences of the smart phone (and there are many!), we do need to master it and let it serve us, rather than the other way around.
For ourselves and for our children, we need time for quiet, for daydreaming, for solitude, for praying. How will any of us become more self-aware, more God-aware, and grow closer to each other and to God if we rarely put them away?
The prophet Isaiah reminds us, "Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint." (Isaiah 40:31)
Rev. Christine Herrin is the pastor at Lowcountry Presbyterian Church in Bluffton.