A few weeks ago, I sensed God was leading me to fast from technology. To take a time warp back to 1980. I wasn’t sure why, but I have learned to just obey these kinds of leadings even if I don’t know the exact purpose. That meant no television, internet, computer, phone, mp3 player - or anything like that - for a week. I tried to not even be in the presence of people using these things (that was tough). I picked up a small notepad for my back pocket, dusted off my actual bible, set up my schedule with Kathryn ahead of time, and even asked people who met with me during the course of the week to not use their phones or computers while they were with me. It was a wonderful learning experience.
Here are a few of the things I discovered:
1. Technology may be a better fast for the modern heart than food. I can go half a day without eating on a usual day and not even notice. Part of the grace of fasting is the constant reminder of your need for God. Fasting from food has a diminished place in modern life as for better or worse we rush our meals and in general don’t think much about them. Our relationship with technology - and the communication networks they open up - is much more constant. Not having my phone in my hand, on my desk, or in my pocket was a constant reminder that something was missing. If the purpose of fasting is to help us to pray, then this was the best fast I have had in years. Every time I reached for my phone to make a note, check a task, communicate or just pass the time, I was reminded of my desire for God instead. God was present in every moment of broken dependence.
2. Ironically, eating (as well as a dozen other traditional social interactions) became more sacred to me. Not having an ever-present, intangible, looming potential interaction waiting in every moment made me more present to the people I was with. I felt less frenetic and more alert; as if I was actually free to give my whole self to the person sitting in front of me. Even when I was alone while driving, eating lunch, or working on something, I felt strangely focused. It’s like I live with this multi-tasking mind, always working on four or five things at once, and all of the sudden I was allowed to just do the one thing in front of me. I especially felt that while driving. I have never realized how much I try to accomplish while I am moving from one place to another. During this week, all I could do was drive. It was the getting from one place to the other that was my only task. I don’t know how to describe it except to say it was calming. Like some unnamed pressure to seize and demand production from every moment was temporarily lifted.
3. I was worse as a producer, but better as a person. In the half hour leading up to our house church, I was just sitting on the couch in our living room, unable to redeem those minutes for some other task and unsure what to do with myself. Seeing I was free, my two youngest boys pulled me in to a game of Yahtzee. When everyone began to arrive we were deep into the game, having a great time, all of my attention on my two boys. One of the men in my house church would comment in the week following the fast that he had never seen me “just being daddy” like he did that week. He actually mentioned how he always sees me “focused” and “on task” but had never seen me like that, relaxed enough to just play a game with my kids. He was touched by it, but I was (and continue to be) challenged by that statement. I think I was better to the people I was with in part because I simply wasn’t able to get as much done. I was less efficient and had to make peace with that - and the not so remarkable revelation is that the world went on just fine without my hyper-productive behavior.
4. I didn’t actually miss it. I really thought there was going to be some kind of psychological withdrawal. Monica kept asking me if I was missing it all, but I really didn’t. I thought I would struggle with wanting to send a text, to check my email, to watch a movie or just use the internet. I just didn’t. I think I realized that these things are at their best when they serve our lives, our purpose, and our greater desire to serve God and love each other − but they are not ends in themselves. I like something like texting or Twitter because I can know what is going on in people’s lives, but it is the lives these tools point to that have actual value, not the virtual world we access to get to them. It is the people and the reality of my friendship with them that makes reading their thoughts meaningful. These things can never replace actual relationships, but they can augment them. Taking these tools away didn’t diminish me at all. I didn’t actually lose anything of real value. Still, the tools themselves have value inasmuch as they help me to know, and love, and lead the people that make my life precious.
In all, I felt refreshed by the experience and I would recommend it, even if just for a day. I find myself a little closer to Jesus and a little less bound to my technology; a little freer to use it to get me closer to people and not let it dictate the pace and priorities of life to me. Sometimes the only way to make sure that something isn’t in control is to release it completely.