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What Jesus, meth, and my smartphone have in common


It was back. The voice in my head was pestering me again.

I'd just finished posting on Instagram five minutes earlier, and had turned my attention to other things. That's when the voice started.

  • "I wonder if someone's liked your photo yet. You should check."
  • "Maybe you have a new follower. How many do you have now? Just peek real quick and see."
  • "It's been a ton of time (lie--it had only been 5 minutes). You probably have a few likes by now."
  • "I wonder what kind of other new posts are up. You should find out."
  • "That recipe you saw earlier looked good. Maybe you should go back to it and then also see how many new likes you have."
  • "I think so-and-so is on vacation right now. I wonder if they've posted any new photos. I'll just look to see."

Eventually I gave in to the voice. Interrupting what I was doing, I popped back into Instagram where I was delighted to find a dozen new posts to look at, plus a few new likes. The process took less than five minutes and then I was back to what I was doing.

The voice started again a few minutes later.

"Maybe there's something new. You should check and see."

The temptation I can't say NO to

They say that the devil tempted Jesus with food when he was fasting in the wilderness for forty days and nights. Amazingly, Jesus resisted the temptation. Honestly, sometimes I feel like that would be easier than resisting the temptation to check my smartphone. Is there a new text? A new email? A new status update? I'll just check and see.

Forget bread--the devil would totally have me giving in at the ping of every new message alert.

So what's the deal with this temptation? After all, I survived years of my life without a cell phone, much less a smartphone. I managed to occupy my thoughts and time just fine without texts and status updates. So why can't I seem to control the impulse to check my smartphone every 3 minutes now?

The answer, interestingly, has to do with meth. Or at least it kind of relates. Here's what I mean:

This is your brain on a smartphone

Thanks to science, we've learned a few things about how the brain works, including the chemicals that drive our emotions, instincts, and appetites. The pleasure center, for instance, is believed to release opiods that give us a satiated, warm and fuzzy feeling--like the stupor you feel when you pull warm laundry out of the dryer. Or, you know, after doing other stuff. This is the same chemical that makes heroin so enticing and dangerous.

Another chemical, called dopamine, controls our drive. Unlike opiods, dopamine stimulates us. It makes us seek satisfaction, and pushes us until we find it. This is the chemical response aroused by meth. It's also the response triggered in our brains when we're using digital technology.

Of course dopamine has a very important job. It motivates us to...say...find food. It also drives us to pursue new ideas and try new things. Without dopamine, we stagnate and eventually die. But dopamine also leads to addiction, which is why it's hard for me to resist the temptation to check emails and texts and status updates every few minutes. Like a junkie, I'm always craving the next hit.

"It's not like checking my phone is the same as doing meth"

Arguably this craving is no big deal. It's not like checking technology is the same as doing meth. One rots your teeth and poisons your insides. In contrast, I'm pretty sure that no matter how often I visit Instagram, my teeth aren't going to rot. In terms of addictions, my smartphone is pretty safe.

But here's the rub: Jesus wants to be my master. The more other things control me and monopolize my time and energy, the more he's crowded out.

The question that's changing my perspective

Here's a question that's turning my perspective upside down: what if I replaced Jesus for my device in this dopamine scenario? I think it would look like this:

  • I'd be checking in with him through prayer every few minutes.
  • I'd be constantly curious to see if he has something new to share--always looking for his latest update.
  • I'd interrupt whatever I was doing when a new message from him came through. And I'd respond back immediately. I wouldn't be able to help myself.

When I look at it like this, I realize that THIS is the kind of relationship Jesus wants with me. He wants me to interact with him the way I do with my smartphone. And because he's jealous for my attention, he genuinely grieves when I choose alternatives over him.

The thing about Jesus is that he isn't pushy. He won't break through my day with pings and alerts the way my technology will. But he absolutely will speak if I give him the opportunity to say something. And when he speaks, I'm transformed. It's like a dopamine hit, only better.

So between meth, my smartphone, and Jesus, I'd like to choose Jesus more. Addiction to him is the best kind of all.

Try it:

The next time your phone or inbox alerts you to a new message, pause and turn your thoughts to Jesus before you check your device. Give him a chance to share his "status update" with you and see what he says.

Related! Catch this podcast about why cutting back on media is harder than it seems (but also good).

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  • Rainbow

    This was really helpful. I think the more I try to do this the more natural it will come. I feel like part of me has a hard time because I can’t see Jesus and soon as I start praying I have a hard time focusing and sometimes even almost fall asleep if I’m alone in a private place taking time to pray (versus just talking to him as I’m doing other things). We crave social and visual interaction so since I can’t see Jesus it makes it hard to focus for very long and not zone out and also makes it hard to choose to pray over checking Facebook etc. I’ve found that praying as I go about my day, continually works best for me and then I do sit alone and pray as well.

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