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Seven Simple Ways to Sit Still

It’s not easy to sit still. Think about it. When was the last time that you sat comfortably and just looked out a window, day dreaming about something?

If you’re like most of us, the urge to check your phone can quickly overwhelm what might have been a quiet moment. That daydream? Out the window with another glance at Facebook or Instagram.

It may be deeper than this. Sure, we’re addicted to our smartphones. What if there are other things at play besides this?

In this post, we’ll examine the causes of our difficulty in sitting still for prayer. Then, we will map out seven simple ways to help you become an expert when it comes to sitting still.

The Causes

When you want to have a quiet time, it’s important to be able to sit still. No fidgeting. No distractions. This is of course, harder than it sounds. From my experience, there are four causes to our inability to sit still:

  • Distraction: if you’re home alone, it’s much easier to sit still. If you’re in a church full of hundreds of people, not so much. If there’s a lot of noise around you, sitting still will be difficult.
  • Access to gadgets: what’s close by? Is your phone in your hand? If so, you may be tempted to check your email quickly. Social media might be calling out your name. To the degree that your devices are within hand’s reach, you may find sitting still difficult.
  • Lack of transitions: most of use need time to “ease into” prayer. Don’t assume that, just because you are trying to sit still, that it will come easily. In our solutions list (see below), I’ll help you with this.
  • Fear: prayer involves vulnerability. When you go to sit still and have your quiet time with the Lord, you’re entering uncharted territory. God may speak to you. You may have a thought that is unformed. An inspiration may come to your heart. For most of us, this is scary.

With the causes of our discomfort with sitting still in hand, now we can turn to seven simple solutions (or ways) that will help you to sit still. This list is not meant to be exhaustive but purely practical. I personally use these “tricks” and believe me, they work!

The Solutions

  1. Begin with a phrase. A transition phrase, even if said only in your head, can be a useful “nudge” into sitting still. Using the same phrase can trigger your brain and heart that you are entering into quiet time. I like to use the ancient formula, “O God come to my assistance, Lord make haste to help me.”
  2. Notice your breathing. Just taking notice of your breath will let you know if you are anxious or calm. Pay attention to your body and begin to breath slowly and with intention.
  3. Use a countdown. If sitting still is very (read, VERY) difficult for you, you may try to simply close your eyes and count down from ten to one. This has nothing to do with hypnosis and everything to do with calming your busy mind. There’s something about an old-fashioned countdown that contributes to a peaceful mind.
  4. Set aside your devices. As Jesus says in Matthew 18:8, “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away.” Could the modern day “hand” be your iPhone? I’m not advocating for you to throw away an $800 device. I am saying that your smartphone is probably too tempting and should be set aside while you pray.
  5. Use a journal. A journal is a powerful tool when it comes to sitting still. It helps get things out of your head. It maps progress. It lets you know that you are thinking through issues. It can be a way to write out your prayers.
  6. Fix your eyes. Some of us benefit from a visual focal point when we pray. This may be a crucifix on the wall or an icon on a table in front of you. You might have a Rosary in your hands that you can look at. If you are a “visual prayer”, try to increase your ability to sit still with a focal point for your eyes.
  7. Close your eyes. This may seem counter to #6 but there are just times when you need to close your eyes. I find this particularly true when I’m trying to pray in church or at a public event (i.e. a conference). Closing your eyes is an act of surrender to God, letting Him bring you deeper into intimacy and stillness.

For a bonus strategy, consider using your Bible as a tool for helping you to still still. A short passage can provide context for your quiet time. If you’re familiar with Lectio Divina, this technique can work quite well, making sense of a passage and integrating it into your prayer. It’s always a good idea to have a Bible close by when you are trying to sit still. 

You Can Do This

Sitting still isn’t easy. With some practice however, it is within reach. God desires a rich and fulfilling prayer life for each of us. By sitting still, you’re giving God the space he needs to transform your life and build confidence in your heart. You can do this. God can do this in you.

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Four Things You Can Do When You Feel Overwhelmed

I signed my kids up for basketball this week.  Here’s a snapshot of how it went:

1. Daily emails from the school reminding me of the signups.  
2. Creating an account online.
3. Confirming my account via email.
4. Paying for the two kids to play basketball.
5. Capturing my password and login credentials in 1Password.
6. Marking on the calendar the key meetings and events that go with signing two kids up for basketball.
7. Creating a project in OmniFocus so I can “park” all of my basketball-related items in one place.

If this was the only thing in my life, it wouldn’t be a big deal.  Two kids playing basketball… sounds great right?

Except that it’s only one slice of the pie.  Life as a forty-something dad with four kids has become exceedingly complex.  The basketball signup process is just one thing that I’m managing.  

Other (similar) projects include my daughter’s Fall Drama rehearsal schedule and what role parents need to play.  There’s winterizing the house before the first frost.  Then there’s the committee that I should never have signed up for but did out of guilt.  The conference calls for that commitment add another layer of stress.  

I could keep going… but I won’t because you probably have similar things on your project list.  We all add more complexity than we’d like to our lives.

Noise is our accumulated list of projects, tasks and todo’s that need to be managed.  It’s life really.

And complexity equals one thing and that is noise.  

Noise is our accumulated list of projects, tasks and todo’s that need to be managed.  It’s life really.  Nothing more, nothing less.  

The key is this- do we have a system that is capable of helping us manage all of these projects?  Does a person really need to use a productivity app to manage basketball signups?  Can’t life be simpler than this?

Sadly, no it can’t.  Sure, when you’re about 10 years old life is simple.  You wake up and do whatever comes to you during the day.  But once you hit middle school and beyond, you’ve graduated to Project Manager status.  

Your system needs to keep up.  

The “problem” I have (and maybe you do too?) is that I get tired.  On some days, I just don’t want to have to manage projects in my personal life.  I don’t mind it at all in my “work life”- we use Nozbe for that.  

But it’s the Saturday morning kind of thing that bothers me.  It’s a tension to manage- having projects for my kids’ commitments and my non-work activities.  It just gets overwhelming at times.

You could just say, “the heck with it” and toss up your hands and hit delete.  This might be effective for a short while but is probably irresponsible or reckless for the long haul.

Instead, here are four creative strategies for when you feel overwhelmed by your system:

  1. Visit with a spiritual director on a regular basis.  Visiting with my spiritual director, a Catholic priest, has been the most impactful decision of my adult life.  Without someone to talk to about deep things, most of us are left to wrestle with our internal world on our own.  Overwhelm is definitely one of the things that a spiritual director can help with.
  2. Take an intentional hiatus from social media.   More and more studies show that the more time you spend on social media, the unhappier you are.  By hitting the pause button on your Facebook and Twitter usage, you’re making more time for simpler things that matter much more.
  3. Reclaim your Sabbath.  When do you take “sabbath”?  When do you stop picking up socks around the house and sticks in the yard?  When do you enjoy doing something that truly makes you smile?  By reclaiming your Sabbath, you’re not escaping your overwhelming list of projects and todos.  Rather, you’re giving them a context of the rest of your life.  I recommend Terry Hershey's Sabbath Moments as a place to start if you want to reclaim your Sabbath.
  4. Cut it out.  At a certain point, you just need to do less.  Which project can you cancel or delete? Which committee can you gracefully bow out of?  Which event can you skip?

We all get overwhelmed.  The real key is to respond with patience and calm.  Be compassionate with yourself and realize that you have much more agency than you think.  

You’ll get through it!

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.

The Eight Elements of a Digital Sabbath

You’re at the grocery store and what do you see?  People on their smartphones, walking down the aisles.  You go to the restaurant and what do you see?  Whole families sitting near one another but not really being present to each other.  Even at church, with just a few spare minutes before services, you’ll see smartphones pulled out of pockets and purses.  Just in case I miss something...

The smartphone cometh and has taken us to places we never imagined.

Consider the following:

  • Did you know that, according to Pew Research, only 15% of teens do not have a smartphone?  That means that the kid next door to the kid next door to the kid next door... all using smartphones.  I can remember just a few years ago when smartphones were kind of a luxury.  Today, not so much.
  • There's more- the average person, according to AOL News, unlocks their phone 80 times per day.  Think about that for a moment.  We unlock (and then use) our phones 80 times per day.  What else do you do 80 times per day? I can't think of anything if I'm honest.

When I first read that last stat, I didn't believe it.  Then, I tested out an app called Moment.  I realized that I was picking up my phone way more than I realized.  Dozens of times per day to be exact.

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Can you relate to all of this?  Do you pick up your phone more than you’d like, feeling tempted to check it even in the thinnest moments of your day?  

What can you do if you are starting to feel as if your phone is taking over your life?  I suggest one simple thing and it’s called The Digital Sabbath.  

The Digital Sabbath is a technique borrowed from ancient Judaism and Christianity whereby believers would take a day out of their week to rest.  The concept was deeply baked into the DNA of adherents: no work, just rest, play, enjoyment and renewal.  That sounds good, doesn't it?

To most of us, this idea sounds cute.  I used to think this too until I started to take it seriously. I figured I had nothing to lose so I picked Sunday as my day of the week.  Since I’m a Catholic Christian, this also made lots of sense.  Sunday would be the day when I would try not to use my phone.

After doing this experiment for several months, I’ve found the following to be eight key elements of a successful digital sabbath:

  1. Define what “digital” means to you.  To me, it’s mostly my phone + Twitter + Facebook.  I don’t feel tempted to check Instagram or LinkedIN any more so those didn’t make the cut.
  2. Decide why you want to do the sabbath in the first place.  For me, it’s a break, a breather and a barrier.  I need rest from digital usage.  I want to breath a different pace of life and finally, I want to gradually create a healthy barrier between me and my technology.  A day off helps me to do that.
  3. Don’t beat yourself up.  If you mess up and suddenly check your phone at a point in the day, be gentle with yourself.  Put it down and get back to whatever you were doing.  It’s ok.
  4. When with others, keep gadgets out of sight.  Fight the urge to place the phone between you and your partner when you’re eating a meal or having a conversation.
  5. When watching TV or a movie, keep gadgets far enough away that you’re not tempted to reach for them.  This might apply to a tablet or your phone or your laptop.
  6. Pick up a book. Grab one that you really enjoy and have been looking forward to reading.  Give yourself permission to read something analogue (a book, newspaper, etc.).
  7. Include nature or leisure.  By going outdoors or to a museum or street fair, you’ll “trick” your brain and distract yourself.  To the degree that you can divert your attention to truly beautiful things (art, music, nature, etc.), all the better.
  8. Celebrate the end of the sabbath.  It’s ok to enjoy checking Facebook or email at the end of the day.  Like breaking a fast, this is when you can reconnect with whomever you need to online.

These eight elements can make for a happy and productive digital sabbath.  Why not schedule your next digital sabbath?  When can you put down the phone and take a day for yourself to unplug?

FOMO and What You Can Do About It

FOMO, or the “fear of missing out” is more pervasive than we’d like to admit.  While the internet certainly enhances our vulnerability to FOMO, I can remember being in college and wondering what others were doing on a Friday night.

What if, my thinking went, other students are doing something more fun than what I am doing? 

I was left with a feeling of not only being left out but maybe that I wasn't as valuable as others.  

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Social media makes FOMO more of a reality than ever before and you might not be aware of its effects on your psyche. If you're consuming large amounts of social media, it may be impacting you more than you realize. 

  • A recent BBC article detailed the experiences of British teens who accepted the challenge to lay off social media for a week.  (Source)

It didn’t go so well.  The students struggled mightily during the week to stay off Facebook and Snapchat.  They actually felt as if they were missing out on life while staying off the internet.

  • This NPR piece explored the effect of too much Facebook on a young woman’s desire to be happy.  She explained that Facebook allowed her to post the good and the beautiful and avoid the ugly aspects of life.

Talking about the view outside of her home, she put it this way, “If you looked only from the porch, you could see mountains straight, but if you looked to the left, you could see this huge factory. But, of course, I didn't take pictures of the factory because why would you do that?”  

The result of Rachel’s savvy use of social media revealed an awareness of its inherent bias towards posting only what’s good.  Beyond that, she realized that she didn’t want to be posting everything for the world to see.  Sure, life is good when it’s good but sometimes things can go south, like when Rachel’s marriage fell apart.  She didn't feel like posting much of that aspect of her life.

FOMO increases anxiety.  We feel somehow “less” than the others we see online, especially if what they're posting looks exciting.

The good news?  It doesn’t have to be that way.  First, from a posture of how you use social media.  I suggest using it in the way that you want it.  There are no set rules to how often you should post to Facebook.  If you feel like posting, go for it but never feel pressure to stay up to speed each and every day.

Related to this, if you feel like social media has been getting the best of you, take permission to ditch it altogether.  

After all, the world won’t stop if…

  • you don’t post to Instagram
  • you don’t check Facebook for a week
  • you miss someone’s new pin board on Pinterest
  • you can’t stay on top of everyone in your Twitter feed
  • you go "off the grid" for a week or two

It’s ok.  Put the phone down. Look around and be with those that you are with.  As Jim Eliot famously said, “Wherever you are, be all there.”

What My Non-Smartphone Taught Me About Life

I'm a techie.


I admit it- if it's new, shiny and requires a power cord, I'm interested.  If Apple makes it, I'm looking for my wallet.


For better or worse, this "trait" has been passed on to my children.  They know the value of data.  They routinely look for wifi in public places.  They are a chip off the old block...


And then something serious happened about a month ago: we ran out of data.  This was cause enough for a Family Meeting, which of course the kids hate.  Bear in mind that not ten years ago, this concept (losing data) would have made no sense at all but in 2016, data is a big deal.


We see data as a right, an entitlement and a part of everyday life.


I was traveling for work that month and needed to use a lot of data and returned with two weeks left in our billing cycle with (gasp!) very little data to spare.  Since we have a family shared-data plan, this became a family problem.


We shut down almost everything that would consume data and by the end of the month, just made it with .07GB to spare. Phew!


But you know what?  Those two weeks with basically zero data taught me a few things.  First, I learned that most of the stuff I do on my phone is kind of lame and going without it was no big deal.  So I can't check Facebook?  Ok.  So I can't see Instagram updates when I'm at the grocery store?  No big deal. 


And, even better, I learned to daydream.  I learned to be bored again.  To stare out the window and watch stuff.  It was nice.


As it turns out, my not-so-smartphone without data taught me a great deal.  It made it easier for me to unplug and just be with my family and friends.  It taught my kids the value of margin and open space. 


One final thing: it taught me that Facebook and Instagram aren't nearly as interesting as I had previously thought. 


Here's to the simple things in life... With or without data.