The Real Reason You Are Distracted When You Pray


The scene goes like this.  You arrive at your local parish church for Sunday Mass and you have 2-3 minutes before the celebration begins.  When I grew up, this was fairly typical and it provided a few moments to look around and check out the folks in your pew or a few seats in front of you.  


Before you knew it, Mass would begin and you were off and running.


Today, the scene plays out differently.  The arrival is similar.  The pews feel the same, hard as ever.  Nothing has changed about the Mass.  It’s what’s in your hand that has impacted those few moments before Mass.  


The supercomputer, known affectionately as a smartphone, has invaded our churches and more importantly, our minds and hearts.  What used to be a few minutes of boredom or curiosity before Mass is now just another time when we pull out our phones.


God forbid we would miss an email, text or Facebook post from one of our hundreds of friends.


It seems, sadly, that we’ve begun worshiping our phones when we should be praying to God.  Smartphones have tapped into every buffer in our days- waiting in line at the grocery store, pausing at a red light while in traffic, and unfortunately in the few moments before Mass.  


I know, I get it- we need our phones to schedule things and communicate and get our email.  The problem is that our iPhones and Samsung Galaxies (with “infinity displays”) have sucked all of the oxygen out of what used to be moments of ordinary life.  


The real danger isn’t so much that we are tethered to our phones with our hands and portable chargers.  No, the more subtle invasion reveals that our phones have begun to influence our prayers.  Let’s be honest in saying that it’s more interesting and dopamine-inducing to check our Twitter feed than pray to a God we cannot see and rarely hear. 


The prayer challenge for all of us isn’t to put our phones down completely but to calm the noise they produce in our heads.  The good news is that a steady diet of “less”, marked by strategic days off from technology can break the chains that currently bind us.


Some apps can help with using our phones less during the day.  Apps like Self Control (for Mac) and Moment (for your phone) can monitor your phone usage and report back to you in terms of how often you’re using your phone.  Just seeing that you picked up your phone 45 times on Monday is a powerful motivator to use it less on Tuesday. This is similar to having a weight scale in your bathroom- an occasional weigh-in is a powerful motivator to eat just a littlebit less.


Apps are only part of the solution. What I’ve found to be the most effective means of breaking our addiction to our phones is to take a day off from them each week.  By using a “digital sabbath”, we reintroduce ourselves to a simpler time and marry our busy lives with the ancient practice of sabbath.  I’ve been using a digital sabbath for several years and have found it to be deeply spiritual.  


A digital sabbath gives us permission to reconnect with people offline. Conversations seem richer.  Naps find a way back into your schedule. Twitter and Facebook can wait.  


Best of all, a digital sabbath gives license to time with the Scriptures and time alone with God. By temporarily pausing your use of technology, you are giving God space to do what God wants to you in and through your life.  That’s a wonderful thing.


Technology isn’t a bad thing.  With a little practice and some useful tools at the ready, you can regain focus when you pray and be at peace with God.