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How to own a smart-phone without it destroying your life 

We are in uncharted territory. 

I’m talking about the ever-advancing age of technology and communication. When I was a young boy no one even had a cell phone. Now everyone’s got them and these things are more powerful than the computers we’ve sent people to the moon with (If indeed that really hapened). Things have changed. 

The exciting thing about being in uncharted territory is you get to be the first to discover wonderful new things. I love my smart-phone and use it for no less than 30 different tasks every day –mostly productive ones too. My wife laughs at me because I can start raving about how incredible it’s been to have so much productivity in my pocket. 

So what’s the down-side of being in uncharted territory? No one’s been there before, so you have no-one’s mistakes to learn from yet. Those in uncharted territory are wise to travel with extra-care since they don’t know what dangers they’re facing. The ‘connected life’ has many wonderful parts but can quickly lead us into a truly ‘disconnected life.’  

I think you all know what I’m talking about: People sharing meals together without a word while they’re staring at their little screens. Kids begging for attention and asking questions to parents and grandparents who’re distracted on social media. People losing sleep because they were up too late online.  People not being productive because so much time is wasted on their device. I work in an underground mall area where I watch people all day. It makes me sad to see how many seem to have lost the ability to have a real conversation and enjoy relationship.  

If you’re like me and these thoughts sober you up a bit, let’s grow instead of beat ourselves up about it. What’s the solution? Yes, we could build a bonfire and burn them --but it’s not good for the environment to burn electronics and when it burns down, we’ll still be living in the modern world. For some, it may be wise to get a ‘dumb phone’ because it’s gotten way out of hand. But I’d like to make some practical SUGGESTIONS to developing intentional boundaries --so our phones are things we own instead of things that own us.  

1. Memorize this statement:  

“GOD IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN PEOPLE and 

PEOPLE ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN STUFF.” 

I saw this hanging in someone’s house I visited once and it always stuck with me. This is the principle behind all the following suggestions. It’s about how we prioritize every moment. That’s why Jesus told us the two greatest commands were to love God with everything, and then to love others like we love ourselves. (Mt.22:37) 

2. Get the ball rolling God’s way.  

I’ve noticed that every morning is like a ball on the top of a hill; whatever direction you push it first, it tends to carry momentum on throughout the day. Try to make a practice of not allowing yourself to look at anything on your cell phone until you’ve had time to read the bible, talk with God and eat some breakfast. We need to focus on His kingdom and His will being done. On that note: 

3. Read a bible made from a tree. 

Of all the books to have a physical copy of, let your bible be one. I know, I know, there are times when it’s awesome to have it on the phone when you’re out and about and that’s all fine and well. But whenever you can, use a bible that won’t have a million things to distract you all the time. Sometimes you won’t even make it to the bible app because you saw something and forgot what you were doing!  

4. Go in your room and shut the phone.  

There’s a reason Jesus said when you pray you should go in the room and close the door. You regularly need times when you’re alone to seek God undisturbed. The problem is, your phone’s also like a door to the world. Find time to be alone and leave it on silent in another room or go on a walk.  

5. Notify your phone that it doesn’t need to notify you. 

99% percent of the time we probably don’t need to know who just posted to facebook or twitter or _____. Turn off your notifications and just check in on these social networks when it’s a good time to take a few minutes. This includes e-mail. There are, of course, occasions when you’re waiting urgently for a message, but usually you can wait ‘till a time when you’re available to plow through some mail.  

6. Chat when you’re ready to chat.  

Unless it’s a slow day where you’re just unwinding, you probably should be focused on being productive and not getting drawn in to too much random chatting. If you’re on something like facebook, only turn on your chat availability if it’s a good time to be available to connect. 

7. Share meals with PEOPLE.  

Phones don’t like food anyway (yet. –there may be an app developing.) Whether eating with those in your home or out to eat with people, put the phones away and talk to each other. Our family is trying to build a habit of no phones at the dinner table and I’ve heard of some friends making the rule that the first one to check their device at a restaurant pays the bill!    

8. Excuse yourself if you have a good excuse to interrupt a conversation. 

An older, wiser man once taught me that I should try to develop the habit of giving someone undivided attention until my conversation with them was at a close. It shows respect and makes people feel loved. If you need to interrupt or leave the dialogue (even to answer or check something important on the phone) you should apologize and explain why it demands your immediate attention. If it’s not that important, then wait ‘till later to get to it.  

9. If something is brought up, set it down.  

If someone comes and asks you a question or starts to say something to you, turn your screen off and set it down until you’ve been able to hear them, answer them or talk to them. If something on your phone is urgent, explain why it is and ask them to give you one minute so you can wrap it up. This is huge with kids. We really need to hear what they’re asking and saying and they need to know that they can depend on us to love them, help them and teach them. Remember people are more important than stuff, set it down if there’s a chance to connect. 

10. Explain Yourself. 

We’ve all heard how many problems are generated from lack of communication; sometimes it helps to let people know what you’re doing. After all, everyone around you doesn’t know if you’re working, playing, reading, being social, studying or trying to figure something out on your phone. Kids need to know that it’s not alright to play all day on a phone. They need to know when we’re doing something productive for work or reading a book. Likewise, we might spare some offenses to our spouses and friends if they know we’re trying to send an urgent e-mail and not just ignoring them while we cruise facebook.  

11. Figure out how much time you have to kill. 

My wife and I always joke about how going to an IKEA store is like entering a time-warp where you’re going to lose at least 6 hours. Social media can be much the same, so you don’t want to stumble into a time-warp danger zone unaware! If you struggle with clicking into social apps without thinking, try something like putting the apps in an inconvenient folder on your phone. That way you have a little longer to think about what you’re doing before you get in. I’ve heard there are also some apps that track and alert you about how much time your using. We will answer to God for how we used our time and probably aren’t going to be so glad if we spent piles of unfruitful hours bumming around online.  

12. Give it a rest.  

I read some articles on cell phone addiction and nearly all were written by people who had lost their phone, broken their phone or were forced to take a break because of serious problems. Stepping away from things (on purpose or by force) tends to give us perspective. I’m a fan of learning anything without crisis being my teacher. Take times to step away from your phone and maybe specifically social networking. This week I had some time in public commute where I just sat and observed, and left my phone alone. I found myself praying for people and thinking about things I often forget.  

13. Say Goodnight. 

There are obviously some good things you can use your phone for when it’s time to sleep; listening to the scriptures or worship music can be a blessing. But if it’s not something that’s helping fellowship with God and sleep, then get it out of the room. Just as we need to start our day with God we need to end it with Him and meditate on what He’s doing and teaching us. 

14. Ask the Spirit to lead you.  

Of course, there will be so many exceptions to all these suggestions and so many different kinds of lives and needs. Ask God’s Spirit to give you His ideas and point out things that need to change or develop for you. You’re life is to be spent for His purposes. Invite Him to show you what’s working towards that and what’s not. And remember, a life controlled by the Spirit will produces self-control –that’s something you’re will power can’t do.  

15. Bank on the benefits.  

Don’t forget these things aren’t evil; it’s how they get used that matters. Try to use your phone to capitalize on the things that help you love God and people better. Use them to listen to sermons and help you make the most of your time and care for your family. Spread words of life and truth through the communication highways. Learn how your culture is thinking and what God has to say to them. Let the information lead you in praying for your culture.  

16.  If all else fails, go ahead and light the bonfire.  

Remember Jesus said if your hand or eye causes you to sin, rip it out and throw it away? Well, He obviously was speaking hyperbole, but He wanted to say it as strong as possible. If something is causing you to sin (which includes things like wasting time, not loving people around you and not carrying your weight in life,) then take drastic measures even if it’s a loss. If you cannot master learning to draw boundaries with the ‘connected life,’ then you’d be better off dealing with the loss of letting it go. Still the burning of electrical equipment is a problem for the environment but that’s for another blog ;). 

Let’s keep God first, people second and stuff third. Let’s be aware enough of life to see God, see this beautiful world and see the people and needs around us. Let’s enjoy the adventures of these uncharted waters and sail with wisdom so we don’t miss our God or wreck ourselves, our children or those around us.