What a dumb phone taught me about resting in reality

About six months ago, I ditched my iPhone and bought a dumb phone, which, in the age of home internet, tablets, computers and smartwatches, honestly isn’t saying much. I still get into the bad habit of pulling out a screen to numb myself at the end of a long day. I say this to admit that, yes, there are still screens in my life, and I consume them with more compulsivity than Jesus desires for me.

That being said, I can’t think of one other purchasing decision that has changed my life so dramatically.

When I got rid of my smartphone, I looked forward to getting back hours of free time, hours I had supposedly been squandering on a screen. I’ve heard everyone, from habit guru YouTubers to Christian writers, lamenting the amount of time we waste on our phones. With three small humans at home and a never-ending to-do list (i.e. figure out where that smell in the kitchen is coming from, scrape boogers off the wall, clean the sheets full of urine, etc.), I was ready for a productivity boost.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, I started napping. At first, it seemed like a fluke (I have always been a notoriously bad napper). Even as a new mom, the trite advice to “sleep when your baby sleeps” never worked for me; I could never seem to turn off my brain and rest. Often, by the time I finally found sleep, one of my kids would wake me and I would end up more irritated than if I had foregone the nap altogether. But then I got rid of my smartphone, and all of a sudden, minutes after hitting the couch to “take some time for myself,” I would fall asleep.

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Back when I had a smartphone, there was always something to research, some future vacation to plan, Facebook marketplace to peruse, or Instagram to scroll through. Now, there was nothing but myself. Before, when I thought I was giving myself time to unwind, I was actually just numbing myself. Numbing from the stress of trying to love my children well. Numbing from the reality that my day-to-day life didn’t, and still largely doesn’t, look the way I want it to. I numbed from arguments with my husband about initiating intimacy, and I numbed myself from my own sinfulness. When something got hard, instead of sitting in it, I numbed it.

I don’t want this to sound more dramatic than it was. My eyes weren’t glued to a screen, my children weren’t neglected, and my husband still loves me enough to make me baked goods. I don’t think anyone outside my family would even think I had an addiction to my phone, but I’m not sure what else you call something you compulsively do against your best interest. The fact that it was something I did in private doesn’t make it any less insidious. I find that many of my sinful behaviors are like that — they lurk in isolation. I found it easy to ignore my phone while I was surrounded by friends, and it was only when they left that it became difficult to properly respond to reality.

I was attached to my smartphone because there were parts of myself that I didn’t like, parts that I didn’t really want to confront. Getting rid of the smartphone didn’t make me like myself any more, but it did open my eyes to my own discontentment. And as someone with clinical depression, that’s not a fun place to sit. But responding to reality, even when reality feels hopeless, is the only way I know how to live in communion with God and ultimately find peace (and apparently rest).

Ditching the smartphone forced me to sit in the discomfort of myself, my family and all the expectations we weren’t living up to. I had the mental quiet to name the things I didn’t like, the things my depressed brain was avoiding: Why am I still yelling at my son? Why can’t I be the mother I want to be for my children? Why is marriage so difficult when I love this person so much? Why can’t I shake this chronic depression? When is Jesus going to take this cross from me? I gave myself the time to lament and, even though it didn’t change a single thing about my life situation (as far as I know I’m still cleaning boogers off the wall… ), it gave me peace.

As a friend of mine (Connor Danstrom from the “Three Dogs North” podcast) says, “The smartphone isn’t the problem, it’s me.” A lot of us look at screens throughout the day for work, and that doesn’t make us feel guilty. It’s because that time on a screen serves a purpose and we are using the tool the way it was designed. Yeah, sure, it’s terrifying the amount of time we look at screens, but we don’t know the full effects of compulsive screen usage, and reading one more fear based article isn’t going to get us any closer. More than that, Christ speaks to us in the language of true freedom, not fear. I’ve found that the real problem is anything that removes me from reality, which for this time in my life is a phone with internet access. Maybe one day it will be a glass of wine at night, being too consumed with romantic fiction, or an unhealthy relationship. And when I become aware of that addiction, whatever it might be, I need to address it and maybe even take it out of my life completely. Because, God help me, if I just numb myself, I will never be able to fully rest in the peace of Christ.

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