It seems to me that my prayer life has never been one that I would have hoped for. It’s not that I don’t recognize the importance prayer in my life, I simply don’t find or make, nor do I prioritize, time for daily prayer. It’s not that I don’t pray, I just don’t feel that I do it nearly enough.
In 2017, I made it a point that, when I saw a Twitter or Facebook post asking for prayer, I would stop whatever I was doing at that moment and say a prayer on behalf of the person asking. Prior to that, I would often simply type the words “praying” or “praying for you” and then go about my business without fulfilling that promise.
After making this adjustment to my prayer life, I found myself praying many times during the day. It also became evident to me, that I was spending an awful amount of time on social media!
As a result, I decided to read one of the books that I have had on my Kindle account for several years. The book is Adam Thomas’s book “Digital Disciple.” (Thomas, Adam. Digital Disciple: Real Christianity in a Virtual World. Abingdon Press, 2011.) In this book, Thomas writes that, because of advances in technology, we are more connected to others than we have ever been before. But these connections are made remotely. I can’t help thinking that, since 2011, when this book was written, there have been even more advances in technology that have allowed us to connect with others all around the world. These advances would include greater access to the Internet in most places that we go. Restaurants, coffee shops, grocery stores, hotels, and even well were sitting in the pews of our local congregation. We readily access communication via Facetime, Skype, email and text with a few clicks on our smartphones to anyone, anywhere. Thomas refers to this new type of connection “oxymoronically as remote intimacy.”
I have “friends” that I have never personally met. I chat with them on Messenger, we share political and theological ideas and debates on Facebook. We trade recipes and DIY ideas on Pinterest, and, although I don’t do it (often), we send random photographs of ourselves (or what we happen to be eating in a restaurant) through various means of social media. We have relationships with people we have never personally met and likely, will never personally meet. We have become, as Thomas writes, “virtual people.” In the process, we have lost some of our filters, civility and humanity.
Thomas also opines that; all this use of technology has created a society in which “Internet isolation” has become the norm and not the exception. It is through these easily found friends and Internet relationships that we have become more and more distracted from our relationship with God.
It has become quite evident to me that I am becoming more and more isolated as I have created a bigger and more diverse digital footprint in that ethereal world that is the Internet. Considering that I read “Digital Disciple” on my iPad and will be posting this writing on my blog, I’m not quite ready to give up my digital existence cold turkey.
But Thomas describes what seems like a relatively simple means of detaching one’s self from the digital world and its attendant Internet isolation and take time to be in communion with God. Thomas writes about his prayer regimen, modeled on St. Ignatius’s “Examen.” It is a five-step, structured method of journaling one’s thoughts and prayers. The author repeats the process daily as a bedtime ritual. It is my intention to adopt this ritual starting on this, the start of a new year. The process is as follows:
In Step One, Thomas states that he, simply writes “Yes, Lord, you are here” in his notebook and suggests to the reader that he or she does the same. As a Wesleyan, I accept the concept of prevenient grace. Prevenient grace is that presence of God’s grace that is always around me, independent of the fact that I often don’t recognize it, nor do I acknowledge it. As Thomas points out “these five simple words – “Yes, Lord, you are here” not only grounded him in the “reality that God moves in and through everything, [Thomas’s] distractions included.” After taking the time to breathe and listen, Thomas states that “something, one huge or tiny thing, detaches from [his] consciousness and [he] write[s] it down.”
In Step Two, the author gives thanks for all the ways in which he was blessed that day. This is a direct result of having opened himself up to God’s presence. By writing these reflections in a journal, they become more than an ephemeral petition to God, but become eternal within our own personal history and relationship with Christ. Speaking for myself, I have enough trouble remembering what I had for lunch yesterday, much less, what God did for me and those around me today. This step will help me internalize God’s impact in and on my life.
The third step revolves around those things that occurred during the day that ether brought one closer to God or pushed a person farther away. These things can be either “mundane” or “extraordinary” events. I usually find myself too wrapped up in the immediacy of the things that are before me that I take no time to reflect on the presence of God in all that I do, all that I say, and among all those whom I meet. This is where, because of all the things I must do or choose to do during the day, I become isolated from God. Thomas points out that the distractions are not necessarily caused by our “Internet isolation” but maybe that the nature of our relationships with others have changed so much through our digital presence that we may not be as socialized as our parents and grandparents were. I think back just a year or two ago when I believed that texting was the most horrible way of communication imaginable. If one had to take the time to type in a message, why not just call me? Now with Siri, Cortana, and all the other voice-to-text capabilities of the modern smartphone, my number of actual phone conversations has dropped dramatically. It’s awfully difficult, if not impossible to make a disciple of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world via SMS (standard rates may apply).
Step Four is a reflection on “a particular encounter or conversation with an individual during which [one] did or did not fulfill [his or her] promise as a disciple of Jesus Christ. This step becomes a distillation of the prior three steps. I think this is the step that will cause me the most frustration. I like to think of myself as a “Red-Letter” Christian but, I am sure, without a doubt, that others would never see me in that light. But what I do know is that I strive to follow the pathway that Jesus has set before me. Christ’s instructions are clear: Love God. Love my neighbor. Serve the poor. Serve the marginalized. In the simple mandates that Jesus has given us in those “red-letter” verses of Scripture, my own distractions become my greatest obstacle to that person Christ would have me be. In this step, I could read of putting my shortcomings in this area by committing them to writing.
The fifth and final step is, in my mind, the most critical. Thomas suggests reading what I have written and then write a sentence about what I will do tomorrow considering what happened today.
The first four steps require centering and objectivity in reviewing one’s actions and inactions during that day. But as Thomas correctly states, “this work is incomplete without seeing past the reflection to the future beyond. And so, the final step collects the day’s blessings and reflections and distills them to a few words of discernment about tomorrow’s walk with Christ.” As I filter the reflections, blessings, and discernment I have written, I will find myself detached from all the things that impeded my spiritual walk through and focus on where God was working in my life and where I was keeping God away at arms-length. And through this process, a prayer is formed.
As I find myself bombarded by work, family, social media, news, television, events all around me (both locally and globally), and yes, even church, Thomas’s methodology appeals to me as I find a greater need to be centered in my relationship with God. And to that end, to my family, to my friends, to my neighbors, and to myself, I will strive to become less isolated by all the things that really aren’t as important as I have unintentionally inextricably prioritized in my life.
I will go to the park with my children. I will take my wife on a date. I will visit my family more often. I will meet an old friend or make a new friend and share a cup of coffee or tea. I will hand write a letter regularly to someone I care about. I will turn off the phone, shut down the computer, and turn off the television. I will read a book. I will strike up a conversation with a stranger.
And tonight, before I go to bed, I will write down these words in my journal: “Yes, Lord, you are here.”