Eyes Up Here
Why putting your phone away matters for you and those around you.
One thing I’m passionate about is taking abstract ideas and making them concrete. I like practical applications, especially when it comes to theology. Let me see this thing play out in real life, in real time. This is probably why I’m a good fit for Perishable Goods—we’re all about words becoming flesh. (I also like theological puns.)
That being said, today we’re kicking off a new column called “Elbow Room,” in which we provide some examples of ways we’re trying to practice embodied living. What is “embodied living,” you ask? Put simply, embodied living is the pursuit of off-screen, in-person activities that require physical presence and attention. The phrase “embodied living” is, of course, redundant: there is no living without our bodies. Yet in the current age, wherein screens dominate daily life and the body is made out to be an antagonist, living off-screen and in accordance with our bodily limits becomes counter-cultural. If we as Christians want to live with the grain of reality in a world that tells us to make our own realities, it will require some intentionality—and probably a little sweat.
In essence, our goal for this column is to demonstrate what it looks like to practice the theology of embodiment we’re seeking to articulate at Perishable Goods. What might this look like in the day-to-day? As you’ll see from these posts, it often comes down to making different decisions about how we use our bodies, and, over time, forming new habits. So, without further ado, here’s your first installment of “Elbow Room.”
A couple months after I had my first child, I realized that I was spending a lot more time on my phone due to the new routine of feeding my baby throughout the day. I had formed the unintentional habit of bringing it with me every time I sat down to nurse, and just… scrolling. The problem wasn’t that I was always wasting time on my phone—some of that time was spent listening to audiobooks, listening to the Bible read aloud, reading edifying articles, and meal planning. What concerned me was that I was rarely doing just one of those things at a time, and as a result, I was becoming more distracted and anxious (and yes, I was also wasting time reading Twitter threads and watching YouTube videos). I’m sure no one can relate—it’s not as though countless studies have shown that smartphone usage decreases our attention spans and increases our anxiety. In truth, I was getting bored too easily, and I was uncomfortable with the stillness. And I did not want either of these things to describe me.
Soon after I noticed this, I started trying to form a new habit of leaving my phone elsewhere while nursing. Instead of spending that time scrolling, I’d read a book, pray, or just sit quietly, look at my baby, and remember that this season of life would be short. This is a habit I’ve continued with my second baby. It’s not always easy, and I’m not always successful. But I know that if I want to rebuild my focus and learn to pay attention to moments of stillness, I can’t let my phone claim my gaze.
I also think often about the fact that my kids are learning from my habits. I don’t want them to see a mom who picks up her phone every time she finds herself in a dull moment. I want them to see a mom who is present, who is comfortable with stillness, and who uses her downtime not to scroll idly or “check out,” but to rest and enjoy the world in which God has placed her.
This same practice could be applied to other periods of solitude or stillness: when riding public transportation, sitting in a waiting room, resting between sets at the gym, waiting for friends to arrive at a cafe, or standing in any kind of line whatsoever. Everyone else may pull out their phones—and you may even feel like you have “permission” to pull yours out, too—but you don’t have to. Might there be a way to reclaim these moments for fruitful contemplation, observation, or even personal connection? How might you attend to the particular place in which you find yourself, or the particular people around you? It may be uncomfortable. It may even be boring. But if we really want to live in tune with our bodies, we need to learn to put away our phones and look up.
I’d love to hear from you, our readers, on this topic. Is this a habit you’ve noticed yourself falling into? How have you responded? What are some things you do when you feel tempted to pull out your phone just to kill time? I invite you to comment below.
Until next time!