Restoring the Sacred Silence {in Spite of the Internet}

I sat in the dark room with my feverish toddler sleeping restlessly in my arms and my ipad resting on my knee. That piece of technology was dark and dumb... a useless brick. The battery depleted, it had shut down abruptly with a dead sort of blackness. It was done. And I? I was stuck in the silence and darkness with a growing sense of frustration. I tried to think of ways that I could transfer my sick child to the couch without waking her and felt a prick of irritation that she whimpered a bit when I started to move. I felt eager to get away and read... or something. That's what I told myself but I knew that what I really wanted to do was to reconnect with that device. 

As I sat in the darkness and silence, I was alarmed by the state of my soul and consequent lack of compassion for my daughter; and I was alarmed by my urgent pull toward that ipad. Closing my eyes, I tried to pray but was met by a mind full of white noise and scattered ideas and images... and still that lingering desire to be reconnected to the buzzing world behind that mocking black screen. I was startled. What have I become? 

There was a time in my motherhood when my days were full of silence and my nights were completely dark with the possible exception of a small lamp or nightlight. I didn't have a device or a laptop. We didn't have network or cable TV. There was no ipod in my pocket and earbuds attached to my head. Instead, it was hours and hours and endless hours of silence while I rocked and nursed, nurtured and comforted. My mind and soul were raw, unrefined versions of my more mature self and I often marvel that my husband (normally so prudent) chose to invite me, of all people, to walk with him forever. I like to believe that I've improved over time but... there was something very simple and beautiful about our first years together.

It has always been my guilty pleasure to read books while nursing my babies and putting them to sleep. I used to strain my pinky finger trying to hold open the larger hardcover books with one hand and then laugh about what I called my "reading injuries." I can't deny that I was delighted by the introduction of the kindle and the ease with which I could now hold an ebook with one hand! Then two years ago, I upgraded again to an even lighter device. My pinky finger healed well... but my soul was another story...

A light pierced my darkness and it wasn't the light of Christ. It was called an ipad mini. We've been slow to jump on the techno-bandwagon in our house and I never had an iphone or a tablet device before. I assumed I would easily handle the addition to my life and unfortunately, was mistaken. The first year was fine since my knowledge was limited and my apps were few. I slowly learned how to put the technology into service for my family. It has certainly allowed me a greater degree of productivity in areas of my life but on the whole, it has dismantled my peace of mind and brought more noise to my soul than I thought I would ever allow. 

It frightens me somewhat to consider the younger moms out there who have never known what it is like to have silence and darkness without that small rectangular light shining. How can this be good for our world? Many precious things that have come into my life have come because of the extended and unavoidable periods of stillness and quiet. When I first got married, I could not read more than a chapter of a book on theology or philosophy without falling asleep; but over time, I developed that ability through the long lonely hours. I learned to think. I learned to connect with my children. I learned to pray. And I learned to be comfortably alone, quiet, and silent. I grew in very important ways that I am doubtful I could have if tethered (as I am now) to the disquieting world of the internet.

It was for my 37th birthday that my husband purchased the refurbished ipad mini for me (at my request). And as I approach my 39th birthday, I am feeling the urgent call to reclaim my soul from the disruption I have allowed in. It's not going to be easy. I am addicted just like half the free world is. I justify and excuse and find that my will power is in a pitiable state. It doesn't matter that I'm a blogger and can explain my time online to some degree. It doesn't matter if I stay up-to-date with friends and family and the world on Facebook. It doesn't matter if my inbox is full. It doesn't matter if I have work to do for our homeschool or books waiting to read on my kindle app...

None of these things justify the extent to which I have sold my mind and soul to that device.

I consciously embraced this desire for renewal as I recently sat in the quiet dark and rocked my sick girl. But as I tried to go back to the mental silence I had even a couple years ago, I found that I could not. My brain was different. My mind lazier. I seemed to have a bizarre form of acquired ADHD. It was like trying to get a 4-year old to recite Latin conjugations while holding a bowl of ice cream in front of his face and whacking a tambourine next to his ear. Impossible. My prayer life has changed. My search for Christ Himself has changed.

After my daughter finally fell into a deep sleep, I laid down in bed and tried to return, not to the rote prayer that I had recently become used to rattling off, but the prayer of the soul that knows the person of Christ. Several hours later, as the sunrise peeked over the trees, I finally fell asleep... overcome by the mental and emotional fatigue of that strain... and the sadness of soul that knows complete failure.

I was not looking for emotional consolation. I was looking for silence and connection. And the hard truth is that I could not shut off the noise. I could not shut off the noise that I had ushered into my mind and soul and nurtured for the last two years. And all I want now is to go back. I want to be near to Jesus. I want to rest in His Sacred Heart, place my head on His holy chest, and hear nothing but the beating of His very life.

Practically speaking, I can not realistically toss technology out the window. It is useful and necessary in our current culture. As the primary educator of my children, I need to be able to mentor them online as well as off. We use technology daily. But it is clear that I need a concrete plan for personal renewal and healing. The damage is deep and my will is weak. I know I must begin with baby steps or else I will fall back into bad habits. So I have outlined a general plan :

1. Reclaim Sunday
2. Bedroom as Sanctuary
3. Internet Fast on One Week Day
4. Reboot My Intellect and Spiritual Life
5. Be in the Presence of Christ
6. Increase Accountability

1. RECLAIM SUNDAY

This should always have been non-negotiable, but the internet has woven it's way into every sacred space. It is a holy day. A reserved day. So this is my plan to return sacred silence to Sunday...

No ipad unless I'm using it to take photos of a special event (birthday, sacrament, etc.). It is my primary camera so I need to make that allowance. But no ipad internet.

No work on the blog on Sundays. Period. I will never forget the story that Scott Hahn tells about his commitment to honoring the Lord's Day when he was in seminary. He resolved to do no academic work on Sunday even if he had a Monday test or paper due. He planned so that his work would be done during the week so that he could honor the Lord as he ought. The result was that his grades actually improved. My husband has always led our family according that principle by example and rule and we have flourished under it. Recently, I have strayed from that example and used the day to catch up on my obligations. No more. 

No isolated internet leisure on Sundays. I have also used Sundays to justify "leisure" time on the computer in the evenings. Half of the family plays volleyball on Sunday evenings and I have been struggling with envy since I am no longer able to play. I justify "me time" while I watch the younger kids and what that often looks like is me on the computer and kids in front of videos. No more.

“Leisure is a form of silence, not noiselessness. It is the silence of contemplation such as occurs when we let our minds rest on a rosebud, a child at play, a Divine mystery, or a waterfall.”
— Venerable Fulton J. Sheen

2. RECLAIM MY BEDROOM AS SANCTUARY

No internet in my room. When I reclaimed my bedroom sanctuary after years of neglect this past year, I forgot one important aspect because I did not see it as a disruption to my relationship with my spouse. What I failed to recognize was that everything that negatively impacts my spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional health always affects my spouse.

Internet use in bed is easy to slip into with a nursing baby or toddler, because large periods of unoccupied time can pass before release is secured. But for most of my motherhood, I have survived long periods of silence and quiet. For over a decade I have used that time to think, to pray, and to rest. That is until recently when I chose to give it away. I am reclaiming that space. Starting immediately. I have a suspicion that I will find myself sleeping more soundly as well.

3. INTERNET FAST ON ONE WEEKDAY

Fasting is healthy and holy. It strengthens us and gives opportunity for reparation. It helps us define who we are and who we are not. I am not counting Sundays in this number because they are already set aside for the Lord. I am reclaiming that day for Christ because I am obliged to but I am also going to add one day of internet fast to my week. No blogging, no Facebook, no Instagram, no Twitter, no feed reader, no news sites, nothing that isn't a part of the essential work of the day (possible exceptions could include bill paying, scheduling, homeschool, etc.). To reclaim my mind, to reorder my life, and to make reparation.

4. REBOOT MY INTELLECTUAL AND SPIRITUAL LIFE

I love the ease of eBooks (and don't intend to eliminate them) but part of this reclaiming has to involve reconnecting the senses to the surrounding world. Touching real books. (The kinds that strain my pinky finger when I try to read with one hand.) This will require setting aside time to be still and purposeful. A reasonable goal for me is one book per week in addition to Scripture and spiritual reading. This has generally been my practice but I have fallen away from it recently in the mad rush to fit internet reading in. The internet is full of valuable resources but sometimes I am guilty of spending more time looking for those gems than actually using them.

My family owns a large library of resources. There is more here to explore and learn than I could hope to absorb in a lifetime. If I never saw the internet again, I would be no poorer for it intellectually and spiritually speaking. Incidentally, I recently received a reader request for some reading material and I hope to share my go-to bookish soul food here soon. (The quotes in this post should give some clues as to which author holds a high place in my study and my heart!)

5. BE IN THE PRESENCE OF CHRIST

Eucharist. In spite of my intentions, I have decreased my time spent with our Lord in the Eucharist and I want that time back. I want to be with Him at Mass and make the time for a regular Holy Hour (it's amazing how life with a big family constantly provides excuses to miss). The last few times I have gone to adoration, I brought reading material or a notebook. The next few times I go, I will go empty handed. I just want to reconnect with Jesus. I want to relearn silence.

“Silence in the Hour is a tete-a-tete with the Lord. In those moments, one does not so much pour out written prayers, but listening takes place. We do not say: “Listen, Lord, for Thy servant speaks,” but “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.”
— Venerable Fulton J. Sheen

6. INCREASE ACCOUNTABILITY

For those of you who are wondering why on earth I am dumping all of this here, I want to share with you one of the most valuable tools that a Christian can have: Accountability. I already have it to a high degree with my husband, excellent friendships, and good confessors. Those relationships are so fundamentally Christ-centered that I can be assured of gentle but firm correction when I need it. I need the friend in California to text me and tell me to "Get off Facebook and go read to your kids." I need the man I married to lovingly remind me of who I am made to be. I need good priests to show me how to place God first and to fight for virtue. In addition to those sources of accountability, I also value this little blog, where I can come and publicly affirm my commitment to a dynamic and authentic life in Christ... knowing that it will be seen and noticed when I succeed and when I fall. That stripping of pride is painful... but the healing and growth is always worth it. 

Perhaps some of you would like to begin again with me...

Because we live in a world where the internet is pervasive and integral to our community and professional lives, it is essential that we learn to live within that context while still retaining our ability to return to sacred silence. Without that, we begin to slip away from love of those things which lead us to Christ Himself... and to lose the ability to hear His voice. 

Our salvation is at stake. I don't write this because I am doing it better than others... but because I am not. I need to change. Will you join me on the journey to spiritual health? What is one way that you can return sacred silence to your soul this week?

Posted on July 17, 2015 and filed under blogging, Family Life, Spiritual Life.