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Faith & Values: Distracted by phones and social media, our spiritual health is in free fall

By Steve Massey For The Spokesman-Review

“Be still!”

All these years later, I still can hear my grandmother’s urgent plea: “Stevie, be still!”

As a youngster, I struggled to accommodate her. After all, there was so much to do – fidget with this, fight with my sister about that, find some new and exciting distraction over there.

To this day, even as an introvert, I struggle with stillness. An awful lot of us do.

Prayer, meditation, purposeful aloneness – all of this is difficult for many of us because we’re so busy inside and out.

So fearful are we of inactivity – the grave risk of sheer boredom – that we neglect the importance of purposeful stillness. Consider the irony: We live hurried lives, often frustrated with life’s distractions, yet seek distraction the instant that genuine stillness is the only other option.

The makers of smartphone apps like Facebook and Instagram know this and are pleased to feed our ravenous appetite for something – anything – but stillness.

This is not new to our place in history. Blaise Pascal, the 17th century mathematician and philosopher, put it this way: “Nothing is so insufferable to man as to be completely at rest, without passions, without business, without diversion, without study. He then feels his nothingness, his forlornness, his insufficiency, his dependence, his weakness, his emptiness. There will immediately arise from the depth of his heart weariness, gloom, sadness, fretfulness, vexation, despair.”

No, our fear of stillness is not new. But our options for avoiding it surely are greater, more effective, and more addictive than ever.

“This is anecdotal, but everybody I talk to seems so busy, and is communicating so incessantly around the clock, that (there is) less and less time where people go into a solitary time or place to pray,” says pastor Timothy Keller in a recent interview.

Is there a consequence?

“Our spiritual health,” says Keller, “is in free fall.”

Lately, I’ve been considering the example of Jesus in this whole matter of purposeful stillness. He was, and is, human like us, though perfect.

Yet Jesus built into his life the discipline of time alone with the Father. Jesus delighted in the Father and gladly disciplined himself to depend on the Father.

“Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed,” says Mark 1:35.

Though he’d been up late the night before meeting the needs of other people, Jesus got up freakishly early – well before sunrise – because it was when he could be purposefully still, alone and undistracted in prayer.

If Jesus, the only perfect man who ever walked this Earth, desired and depended on time alone with God the Father, how much more so do we?

Is it possible that the cure for the very real ailments Pascal lamented – a sense of insufficiency, weakness, emptiness, even despair – is not Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, but purposeful time alone with God?

Jesus’ deliberateness is both simple and instructive: After a very busy day, and before another very busy day got started, Jesus got up, got away, got alone, and got with God.

I have no idea if she intended this, but my grandmother’s plea to her young grandson was an echo of God’s heart for his busy, restless children.

“Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still,” says Psalm 4:4.

“Be still and know that I am God,” says Psalm 46:10.

As busy as we are, as restless as our hearts tend to get, how desperately we need each day to get up, get away, get alone and get with God.

Or as grandma would say, “Be still.”

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