Work. Family. Technology. Relentless demands on our time. The 24/7 onslaught of life with its constant distractions has left us ragged, rung-out, and empty. Yet there is hope.
I recently spoke to John about focusing on what matters most, how God can deliver us from our personal chaos, and some helpful tips on discovering the restorative power of God’s beauty in our everyday walk.
You are at the point in your literary career where you could write about anything. What led you to want to write this book, Get Your Life Back?
It’s a personal confession, I guess. I burned out. I fried a couple of years ago. I just found myself unable to enjoy my life. I was not able to pay attention to simple things like what my wife was saying to me. Stasi and I are grandparents and our grandchildren are cute. They’re little ones, three and two years old. And I could play with them for about five minutes and then I wanted to check my phone and see what was going on in the grownup world. In other words, I couldn’t be present for my grandchildren. I was just noticing these symptoms and others like it. A friend would text me and say, ‘Hey, you want to do something?’ And I would flinch. No reason. I got nothing. I hadn’t intended to write this book. What I intended to do was go get my life back. I knew that I needed a recovery process. I needed some sanity. That’s what it is. I needed to get some sanity back in my life. Of course, as a therapist, I’m watching this completely repeat itself with all the people that I’m serving. And I’m saying to myself, Oh man, this is everybody. And, so I got a year and a half into kind of a new way of living and it was working. That’s the good news. But it was work. I was enjoying things again and I was able to be present in relationships, enjoy my grandkids and stuff like that. Then I thought, Okay, I think this would be helpful for others. And so, a new book was born out of it.
Research indicates the average American checks their phone 80 times a day, 70 percent keep their mobile device within arm’s reach while they sleep. What affect has social media had on our lives … and I will take it one step further, what affect has it had on our souls?
Let’s broaden it to technology because social media is a piece of that. We’re consuming 10 hours of media a day … YouTube, binge-watching on Netflix or whatever. Here again, I was noticing the symptoms before I knew the cause. I used to love reading but I found it very difficult to read books anymore. I didn’t have the attention span for it. I enjoy music but I wasn’t listening to much music anymore. And then I came across Nicholas Carr’s book, the one he almost won the Pulitzer Prize for. It’s called The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brain.
In his book, Carr begins describing the exact same experience I had personally. Then he reaches out to a number of PhDs and academics and informally polls them. And they report the same thing. These are people whose world is knowledge and information. They read lengthy books. These are professors in university settings and to a person, they were admitting the exact same thing, that they couldn’t read anything longer than a blog post and that they weren’t reading anymore. And I’m reading this going Gadzooks! What is happening to us? I felt the shallow fixation of my soul. I think what’s happening is it is pushing us into the shallows. We live at the speed of the swipe. We can’t pay attention to much of anything for very long anymore. It really is a shallow finding the soul, which is a very dangerous thing to do. The soul is meant to be saturated with God. The soul is like a sponge. In Psalm One, this is planted by streams of living water and it bears fruit. Whatever the weather is, in all the seasons. I’m thinking, Wow, that is not the people I know. The people I know are fried. They’re running on fumes and it’s pushing us all into a very dangerous condition of the soul.
Based on that, is it possible to turn back from where we’ve gone with technology to live the life that God intended for us?
The really good news is we’re not in concentration camps. This isn’t forced internment on us. We’re not in prison. These are actually choices we have. We have freedom still. This is a persecution which does terrible things to the soul, but that’s a different thing that’s thrust upon you. These are choices we’re actually making. When people spend between four to nine hours a day on their mobile devices, that’s not just for work. These are choices. And that’s the good news. The good news is that we can begin to make simple tweaks in our life that begins to get some of the real estate back. I felt like I was fighting for the real estate of my own soul. I just want some ground back … to take a walk, to watch a movie, to read a book again, to plant a garden. I don’t want to fight back. The good news is you have a lot of liberty in this, right? There’s lots of margin that frankly we can choose.
Speaking of tweaks, very early in your book, you mention something called the One Minute Pause as a means to get your life back. What is this pause, what does it look like, and what type of effect can it have?
We’ve got to be realistic about this. People think that to make major life changes, they have to quit their jobs, go to a monastery, or move to the South Pacific. And when we create those expectations, nothing changes. So, here is a very simple and accessible change. What I realized was the Hebrew word for Sabbath is actually not about rest. The word is Shabbat and it doesn’t, it doesn’t mean rest. It doesn’t mean worship. It literally simply means stop. To Shabbat is to stop. And I realize I don’t ever stop. In my day I just go from phone call to meeting to email to text. Then on my commute, I’m listening to podcasts. When I get home, it’s straight into whatever the family needs are. I never stop.
And so I began to implement was a 60 second pause in my day. When I pull into work in the morning before I charge into the day, I turn my engine off and stop everything for 60 seconds. And I say, I give you the day, God, I give you the day, everything that’s coming at me now. And then I do it again at night when I got home. You can do this anywhere. You pull into the driveway and stop. Before I jump out of the car, I take 60 seconds let it all go. Just learning to give it over. In those moments of pausing, here’s the fun thing. There’s brain research that shows if you do this, it resets your brain and you move into the next task with a greater level of attention than if I didn’t do that. If I pause before I walk in the door, I found that I was able to be present to my wife. In doing this I found that I could actually listen.
You have always been a strong proponent of the outdoors and appreciating God’s creation. To that end, what role does beauty play in healing our souls? Where can we find this healing beauty?
God saturated the world with beauty. Beauty is everywhere. It’s in sunlight. It’s in music. It’s in your neighbor’s garden. It’s literally everywhere. It’s in human faces. The beauty of the world is all over the place. And I asked myself, why did God do it so extravagantly? We literally swim in a beautiful world. In looking at some research, and then as a therapist working with some of my clients, I began to discover the healing power of beauty in my soul.
Did you know that people in hospitals recover faster and need less pain medication if they simply have a window that looks out on nature? Wow. Isn’t that cool? I love that. Nature heals. Beauty heals. The Christian understands this because we were made to live in God’s creation. Beauty was all around me. I was just moving too fast to receive it. You jump in your car and there’s raindrops on the windshield. You just pause for a while to watch this. That is so extraordinarily beautiful. You begin to notice beauty in your day. Beauty heals trauma and assures us of goodness. It’s why we send flowers to people who are ill. It’s really fascinating. We know this kind of instinctively. We send beauty because it’s comforting. It’s reassuring. Beauty is filled with the promise of the goodness of God. So, this is one of those very simple practices of saying, Folks, let a little beauty back in your life.
What encouragement do you have for those who feel they can’t slow down?
Use technology. We developed an app. It’s free. It’s called the One Minute Pause. You can get it on your iPhone or your Android device. It’s a one-minute pause from Ransomed Heart Ministries on the app store and it will guide you through a 60 second process. You can honestly make that happen in your day. Sixty seconds. That’s it. Use technology, use your phone. It will notify you and say, ‘Hey, take a pause.’ Then there’s some beautiful music, there’s a prayer and it will guide you through a very simple restorative experience.
After people have read Get Your Life Back, what would you like to see readers/audiences take away from the experience? What is your greatest hope from the book?
Happiness. I think you’re going to be a happier person. As it goes with your soul, so it goes with the rest of your life. In Psalm 23, the promise is that He restores the soul. As your soul begins to experience a little bit of restoration, you will honestly be a happier person. And a happier person is so much more enjoyable to be around. The people in your life are going to really thank you for this.
Watch a trailer for John Eldredge’s Get Your LIfe Back: