I phone therefore I am: Switch-off Sundays

Matt rounds off our seven ways to #LiveDifferent series with possibly the toughest challenge yet: going screen-free for an entire day.

My name is Matt and I’m a phoneaholic.

I love my smartphone and the way it opens up ideas, learning, connection and opportunities. but maybe it’s possible to have too much of a good thing? I mean I also love ice cream, love it, but if I have too much of it, I will burn a hole in my wallet, rot my teeth, and get more overweight than I am now. Ice cream is good, but in moderation. Maybe it’s the same with my phone?

During Lent this year I did a really unusual thing for me. I went for a run of screen-free, proper switch off Sundays. I didn’t use my phone, watch TV, fire up my laptop or read anything on my tablet for six consecutive Sundays.

At first I hated it. I found it really hard to not grab my phone from my pocket. I was in the park with my family, enjoying the sunshine and playing a game of outdoor table tennis and yet all I really wanted to do was take a photo and tweet it. That moment stopped me in my tracks and shocked me a little. Was I more interested in capturing a moment and sharing it, than I was in actually being fully present, and enjoying it for what it was?

As the day rolled on, and then the next Sunday came around, despite having to wait an extra 24 hours to watch The Night Manager, I began to slowly move from resenting my choice and restriction to enjoying the fact that I had more time to talk face to face, play games, listen to the radio and read an actual book. Best of all, I actually slept better at night! I even had more time to reconnect with God’s creation and spend time helping out at a local community garden project.

Switching off on Sundays is not just about it being good for ourselves and our relationships, but also for God’s earth and everything in it (Psalm 24). Flying less, eating less meat, switching our energy and reducing our waste are all crucial to reducing our impact on the planet, but so too is our use of gadgets and technology. If we switched off once a week we could save our souls and help save the planet.  

However much we love something, or are passionate about making a change, taking a rest and having a break from it all is not only good, but very life-giving. Jesus regularly created a rhythm of rest and withdrawal from the crowds. Jesus, Yes Jesus the Son of God, a man with a vision and a man on a mission, took time out to withdraw, rest, retreat, to recharge, to enable him to be the best he could be in the times he was serving. We read no less than nine times in Mark’s Gospel that Jesus took time away from the crowds to pray and be alone, including this example from Mark 1: 35-38. If it’s good enough for Jesus, it surely has to be good enough for us.

The idea of Sabbath and resting is one that is profoundly biblical and inextricably linked with the rhythms of creation and caring for God’s beautiful created earth.

I love what former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says in his book, To heal a fractured world. ‘During the six weekdays, we think of ourselves as creators. On the seventh, we become aware that we are also creations – part of the natural world order, whose integrity we are bidden to respect.’

I would encourage you to take the time one Sunday to have a rest, to switch off from your screen and be fully present with a book, a game, a friend or something else that you love and cherish and that can so easily not happen in the age of distraction. You could even take the time to volunteer or get involved in an activity that takes care of God’s creation, or simply enjoy God’s good earth and getting out in it and away from your screens.  

Could it be that in taking that time to switch off you can be more fully present and more fully re-energised to be the whole-life disciple that God has lovingly created you to be?

Go on take a risk!  It might be the most life-giving thing that you do today, not only for you, but also for God’s creation.