Digital Well-Being: Sabbath as a Circuit Breaker

October 29, 2019 Katy Crawford

blog-Sabbath as a Circuit Breaker

About six weeks into my DCE internship, I was planning to leave town on my day off for the first time. There was an event taking place at the church while I would be gone, and though I had carried out my responsibilities and left the day’s tasks in more-than-capable hands, I felt anxious, almost guilty, about leaving.

Amid my worried scurrying, our dear church librarian came in. As a longtime member and a retired
teacher, she had just the perspective I needed.

“Katy,” she said, looking me square in the eye and placing a gentle hand on my shoulder. “This church existed for more than sixty years before you were here, and it will continue on long after you’re gone. I think everything will be fine if you’re not here for twenty-four hours.”

Her words have stuck with me for years—as I hope they always will. They were both humbling and freeing,
reminding me of a commandment I was failing to keep (and continuously fail to keep). It never ceases to amaze me that God has sewn rest into the fabric of His creation, even practicing it Himself. “And He rested” (Genesis 2:2, emphasis added). Even just typing these words brings about a sense of relief.

We Need Rest

In a recent podcast interview, author of The Tech-Wise Family Andy Crouch said: “Sabbath is a circuit breaker for idolatry.” Along with that comes the same reminder my wise church librarian shared: it doesn’t depend on me. If the Creator and sustainer of the universe on whom all things depend rested, then there’s no self-righteous justifying that should keep me from resting too.

Now, of course, Sabbath doesn’t mean shirking responsibility. Rather, it's the opposite: If we are to take the command, gift, and necessity of rest seriously, we must also take the call to work seriously.

As those involved in church communications, whether that’s a dedicated role in your congregation or a piece of your bigger picture of responsibility, resting from digital media isn’t an automatic practice. We might step away from the office, but our devices come along, more often than not.

In resting from our work, we release the load we’re called to carry, admitting that it’s really resting in God’s hands and has been all along. In turn, as we work from our rest, we do so from a place of fullness and clear(er) perspective.

Study after study confirms what we know from Scripture: rest is a necessary part of life. This applies generally, but also digitally. Our minds and bodies were not created for constant screen time and never-ending notifications. Yet that is the reality of life unless we make a conscious effort to turn down the noise and step away from the blue light.

We need a switch that automatically interrupts the current of an overloaded electric circuit. We need the circuit breaker that is Sabbath.

In all of the pieces and conversations on digital detoxing I’ve come across, interestingly, the one that really caught my attention came in a free magazine I picked up at the grocery store. As I paged through the delicious recipes, the word Unplugged in bold typeface caused me to pause. Below that striking word were the following sentences: “Being continually connected can do a number on physical and emotional health and run roughshod over relationships. Maybe it’s time we took a break from technology, so it doesn’t end up controlling our lives” (Hy-Vee Weekly Circular [8/1–31/2019]).

Learn to recognize unrealistic expectations, whether you’re the one putting them on yourself or they come from outside sources. Busy and swift are badges of honor in today’s culture, but are they really synonymous with reliable and healthy?

As we collectively mull this over, here are a few simple changes, or circuit breakers, to ponder. These are
suggestions you’ve likely heard before, but consider them now in relationship to God’s command, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8), and Jesus’ invitation, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Time to Disconnect from Technology

  • Take a day away from your devices. If there are family members or friends who may be concerned with a lack of a prompt response from you, give them a heads-up and explain why you won’t be checking your messages for twenty-four hours.
  • If the first suggestion seems too extreme, Pastor Daniel Ross suggests a “mantle/shelf challenge.” Select a time of day to turn off your phone and place it on a shelf or mantle in a room outside of the one in which you’ll be. Leave it there for an hour or two and “focus more on the people God has placed in your life and on your relationship with Him.”
  • Go for a walk, hike, or run without anything in your ears.
  • Delete social media and other time-sucking apps from your phone for a weekend.

Leverage Technology to Create Healthy Rhythms

  • Use your device’s built-in screen-time features. Sometimes, the problem can help with the solution. Both iOS and Android devices offer the ability to place boundaries on the length of time and time of day we use them. Check out this article from the New York Times for more tactical ideas. Android devices can even set a “work” filter, disabling notifications during specified hours.
  • Create a rhythm for checking and responding to social media pages throughout the day. This can also apply to text messages and emails. Taking five- or ten-minute blocks every couple of hours keeps your response time reasonable while also protecting the rest of your time, whether it be for focused work or intentional rest.
  • Set reasonable office hours and include them in your email signature. A colleague of mine does this. As I communicate with her frequently via email, this gives me a healthy model for email communication and a realistic expectation of when I’ll hear back.

Rest is a gift as much as it is a command. In Mark 2:27, Jesus’ words to the Pharisees remind us of this: “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.” Let’s eagerly embrace what God is giving us, confident that He is at work in us and through us, but not dependent on us.

Ready, set, rest.

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