Should I Take a Digital Sabbath?



Could you go a day without digital technology?

Not a chance! That was my answer too. And we’re not alone. Parents spend an average of nine hours and 22 minutes on screens (phones, computers, TV, tablets) every day - eight of which are for personal reasons, not work. The average person spends more time on their phone than sleeping. No wonder we feel drained all the time!

The morning I reached for my phone first thing instead of reaching over to kiss my wife, I knew I had a problem. I was spending too much time on my phone, on my computer, on social media, catching up on my Netflix queue and not enough on my family, my friends, my Saviour.

That’s messed up! And my “rest” days? They turned into a blur, and I didn’t feel recharged or renewed.

Making the (Temporary!) Break

I had read all the stats and heard all the heartbreaking stories yet nothing was moving me into action. Nothing was causing me to make the required sacrifice to put technology in its proper place. So I decided to go one day without digital technology.

I felt naked and free, shame and relief, all at the same time. I caught myself going for my phone or turning to my computer. The draw to get back to that digital connection was surprisingly stronger than I would like to admit.  

I made it. Barely. Yet it tangibly taught me just how significant my issue was. Then I decided to do it again the next week. Again, it was difficult. But powerful. I felt compelled to get back to other connections, ones that I’d put aside for technology too often; family, friends, God.

I started asking my friends if they wanted to join me in a day of rest; a day away from our phones, our computers, our messaging apps. A few friends turned into a few more and then a few more. That was the genesis of the Digital Sabbath Experiment.

Be Still and Know That I Am God

When was the last time you left your phone at home and took a walk? Or sat with a friend and had a conversation without being distracted by constant notifications?  Or waited in line at the bank or store and did some people-watching or daydreaming?

When was the last time you were bored?

Do you even know how to be bored? Recently, I stopped at a coffee shop and was waiting in line behind 12 other people. I looked up (...from my phone…) and saw that every single person was on a device. Every. Single. One. Waiting in line is boring, right? So we fill up that void, that momentary discomfort, with technology.

We are missing out! Boredom is great. It gives us the chance to look around and be inspired. Research shows that boredom sparks creativity; when we’re bored, our minds thirst for stimulation. If we can’t find it right in front of us, we’ll create it within us.

I get pastors who ask me, “How can I be creative?” My first question back is, “When was the last time you were bored?”

We’re so desperate to avoid boredom that we layer technology on top of technology. Over 70% of Twitter users say they use Twitter while watching TV. The average person checks email 74 times a day and switches tasks on their computer 566 times a day. One thing to the next: mind-recharging boredom has no chance.

Pausable Lives

Alone Together author Sherry Turkle writes, “Once we remove ourselves from the flow of physical, messy, untidy life… we become less willing to get out there and take a chance.” Without realizing it, technology – or our use of it – has made us pausable. We’re not in the here and now. We’re not able to focus. And we’re not able to listen.

In The Bible Project Quarterly, Jon Collins concludes, “Listening in the Bible is about giving respect to the one speaking… Real listening takes effort and action.” We’re not putting in the work when we listen with half an ear on the speaker and half on YouTube. Half our mind on the conversation and half on the message notification we just received.

So, when was the last time you consciously left your phone in your pocket while you were waiting? When you went the washroom? When was the last time you stopped to listen to the sounds of nature? When was the last time you asked your child, your spouse, your friend about their day and really heard the answer?

It’s probably been a while! Somewhere along the way, we forget how to listen. And to rest.

Facade Rest

The Sabbath is one of God’s many gifts to us. It’s about rest. About putting down our loads and our work and taking the time off to reflect, relax, and reconnect with that which fulfills us. Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Technology sends a (seemingly) similar message. When I pull out my phone, it’s usually because I need a quick break. Social media, a video or two — they offer a reprieve from my life. From my burdens. From my boredom. My phone’s saying, “Come to meand will give you rest.”

But is this true rest or simply an illusion?

Facade rest is watching two hours of unplanned YouTube. Facade rest is having Netflix ask you, “Are You Still Watching” because you’ve been streaming episode after episode without pause. Facade rest is being under the impression we’re relaxing or unwinding. Facade rest is a sham.

It doesn’t give us rest. It doesn’t restore energy or peace to our minds, bodies, or souls. If you can’t remember the last time you had actual, good, restful rest, you need to do something about it.

The Sabbath Was Made for Man

There is a great Jewish proverb that says, “Those who work with their minds should sabbath with their hands. And those who work with their hands should sabbath with their minds.” I love that! When we work with our minds, we need to give them a break and stimulate the body, and vice versa. Sabbath is for our entire being – mind, body, and soul.

And those who work, play, and communicate with digital technology should give themselves the gift of disconnecting. Just for a day. Try it. Stimulate your mind, your body, and your soul. Make space for God, prayer, real, personal relationships. Make space for what really matters in life.

I once had someone ask me to make a list of all the areas of life that drain me, that tire me out. For me, that’s looking at a screen for hours at a time, it’s staying up too late. Then, he asked me to make a list of areas that genuinely fill me up and give me rest. It’s reading a book in a  peaceful environment, it’s hanging out with the my kids between work and dinner, it’s playing sports and going out for coffee with a good friend.

Finally, I had to circle my top three from each list. He simply said, “Focus on doing less of Group A and more of Group B.” Game changer!

As it says in Mark 2:27, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” This is our gift from God. Let’s use it to recharge, to rest, to rebuild relationships, to reflect on the blessings in our lives.

Join Us!

We challenge you to join us in the Digital Sabbath Experiment. Can you convince your family to do it? Can you start a group at work? At church? Join the growing community on Facebook. Find one or two others to join you.

If you’re like me, you hear all the stats and all the stories and its convicting. But then you do nothing. Do something this time. Take up the challenge and let God reveal to you the fruit of your decision.

Get some rest.

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