Pulling ourselves away from life online, regaining a life fixed on Christ
By Justin Hiebert
As an executive she was smart, practical and successful. As a mother, she was caring, loving and kind. As an entrepreneur she was energetic and passionate. She was also a social media addict.
She had called into a radio show to ask about the necessity of checking email and social media while on vacation. “Isn’t it okay if I just quickly sneak it in while we are in the car driving someplace?”
The next caller voiced a similar concern. He mentioned that it was just too hard to go on vacation and not check email. He found that he was more stressed if he didn’t check email than if he did, so he wanted some affirmation that it was okay to keep checking.
Behind these callers’ questions, even behind their desires to be doing the right thing, was a need to justify something that deep down they knew was wrong. In their questions you could almost hear the pain of their families’ voices that longed to spend significant time with them, to connect with them, to play with them, to even—just for a moment—be seen as more important than email.
And yet they couldn’t pull themselves away. They wanted to feel justified in their importance and worldly worth.
Jesus shared a story once about a man who wanted to justify himself:
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have” (Luke 10:30-35).
Luke tells us that the lawyer was ashamed when he saw that the neighbor was a despised Samaritan. He also saw that his need for self-justification had just been denied. Jesus wouldn’t affirm that desire.
We’ve made it a priority in our own lives to often seek after this self-justification. The need to check email, even on our days off. The need to keep building our social media statistics, to have more followers, more influence and more popularity. The need to show the world that we are right in what we do.
And somewhere along the way we’ve lost what it means to be justified in Christ. We’ve traded our status and security in Christ with the possibility of going viral. It’s time to regain our focus. Consider these three ways to regain a life centered in Christ:
1. Reclaim the art of Sabbath. If you refuse to find a consistent time away because work is too important, I can almost guarantee that others find you negative, judgmental, tired, angry and gossipy. God has intentionally given us time every week to remind ourselves that we only work through the power of his Spirit.
As a pastor, Sabbath for me runs from 5 p.m. Thursdays to 8 a.m. Saturdays. Every Sabbath day I repeat: “I am not defined by what I can make or do or produce, but by who I am in Christ.” I recite this often throughout the day, especially when I am tempted to check email, listen to voicemail or get on my computer.
When we don’t have an intentional rhythm, we struggle spiritually. When we fail to integrate this into the regular practice of our lives, we end up struggling with low spiritual vitality. It is important for us to regain the art of our Sabbath—intentional time to find rest, comfort and solace in Christ.
In his book, Practicing Greatness: 7 Disciplines of Extraordinary Spiritual Leaders, Reggie McNeal challenges us well when he says: “God instituted Sabbath to give people rest, which involves more dimensions than just physical relief. In biblical terms the day is designed to disrupt life’s usual routines to allow people the opportunity to remember and to reflect. We do well to remember that our lives are being lived against the backdrop of eternity, that we are created by God to enjoy him.”
McNeal continues, “Absent the practice of Sabbath in our lives, we wind up captured by the temporal, immediate concerns. We lose our way, our perspective and our center. We forget who we are and why we are here. The loss of Sabbath is one of the major failings of contemporary church life in North America. We are substituting frenetic activity for genuine spiritual vitality.”
2. Plan intentional downtime. If the Sabbath is to be a part of our weekly rhythm, we also need to incorporate more intentional times away from work, technology and the demands of life. We all struggle with that need to unplug and recharge while away.
I blog regularly and early on I could justify posting all the time. “I’m trying to build readers,” I’d say to my wife and myself, and yet after “ working vacations,” I never once came home recharged and refreshed like I had hoped.
We need to be intentional about our time away. We see it modeled in both the Jewish calendar and the life of Jesus. Jesus is purposeful and passionate but never hurried. He relaxes, refreshes and recharges on a consistent basis. He rises early in the morning for prayer, spends time relaxing with his disciples and travels to Jerusalem for significant holy moments throughout the year.
I’ve begun calling this “holy wasted time,” an extended period of time where our only goal is to relax, refresh, recharge and rebuild key relationships. We need to be intentional as we plan our vacations. Vacations are more than just time away from the office. It is a way to connect in more meaningful ways with our Creator, our families and within ourselves.
3. Engage in intentional life-giving activities. This is especially important for leaders, church staff and ministry volunteers. Ministry is hard. It’s time consuming and draining. That’s why it is especially important to regularly do something—preferably something that doesn’t involve electronics—that gives you life. Go hiking, camping or fishing. Spend time outdoors. Put a puzzle together, build something or fly model airplanes. What we do isn’t as important as that we do.
If we don’t have time to invest in ourselves, I’m fairly convinced that we don’t have time to invest in others in any meaningful way. Doing something that brings us joy and delight is a simple way to acknowledge the special and unique way that God has created each of us. And when incorporated into the rhythm of Sabbath and holy wasted time, this is a chance to worship God in deeper and more meaningful ways.
The two radio show callers serve as a great reminder to all of us: Don’t let the technology we use to enhance our lives serve as an idol or tool of distraction. Maybe the struggle isn’t with email but with posting so many vacation pictures to Facebook that you actually forget to enjoy vacation. Perhaps you struggle with the need to never miss what is happening in someone else’s life while missing what God is trying to say in yours.
Maybe what we all notice and fear is that our great common struggle is that we don’t really know ourselves. And in all honesty, we are too afraid to understand ourselves, so we fill our lives with external distractions. The greatest act of courage then is not outward, but inward and upward, to reclaim the titles and status that come with a life in Christ.
Justin Hiebert is a husband, father and pastor. He does his best to follow Jesus with his church in the heart of Denver, is a doctoral student at Bethel Seminary and loves spending his time outdoors. His passion is helping leaders excel and creating disciples to change the world. This essay is adapted from one of Hiebert’s blog posts at http://empoweringmissional.com
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