If you read my article last week, you know about the May 2013 Internet Trends Report that revealed that the typical smartphone user checks his or her phone 150 times a day. I finished writing the article on a Saturday, and the following Monday I met with “Tim,” a 27-year-old man who was in need of legal assistance. During the first five minutes of our meeting, Tim received four text messages on his iPhone. Since he was holding his phone in his hand, he immediately read the messages. On two occasions, he stopped talking to me so he could respond to the messages.
When he received the fourth message, I abruptly said, “When I meet with people in my office, I don’t have my cell phone with me and I tell my receptionist not to interrupt me with any client calls. The reason I do this is because I want to focus all my attention on the person I’m meeting with. I don’t want any interruptions. I expect the same courtesy from the people I meet with. If you want to continue having a conversation with me, you’ll have to silence your phone and put it away until we’re done with our meeting.”
I was surprised by Tim’s reaction to my statement. He was visibly shaken. He started stammering and stuttering in an attempt to come up with an excuse for his behavior. I’m probably the only stranger who has ever challenged his rude and inappropriate behavior.
I always forget how intimidating I can be when I confront someone. When I saw that Tim was stuttering, I tried to make him feel at ease by telling him that whenever I sit down with my college-aged daughters to watch a movie, I require that they silence their phones and put them away so they cannot see any calls or messages that come in during the movie. The statement about my daughters didn’t help.
Tim did what I asked. He silenced his phone and put it away. We were able to have an adult conversation for the next 30 minutes. He asked several intelligent questions and did his best to be courteous and attentive. Most people who have become addicted to the constant activity of checking and reacting to calls and messages have either never learned basic manners or have forgotten what they were taught when they were growing up.
If you and I were having a face-to-face conversation and a stranger barged into the room, rushed over and stood between us, and then started talking to me, you would probably be irritated with the person’s behavior. In my opinion, there is no difference between a stranger rushing over to interrupt a conversation and the owner of a cell phone interrupting a conversation to answer his or her phone.
Before the invention of the mobile phone, the Internet, and cable and satellite television, there were times throughout each day when life would slow down enough to provide people an opportunity to pause, think about what they were doing, and mentally recover from any stress or anxiety that they had experienced.
During the late 1920s, one of Coca-Cola’s marketing slogans was “The pause that refreshes.” At that time, most families did not own a vehicle, there were no televisions in peoples’ homes, there were no fast-food restaurants, and, of course, none of the modern communication devices that we have today were available.
Without the interruptions and distractions associated with these modern-day conveniences, people frequently paused to cook and eat meals together. They paused to read books and write letters. They paused to spend uninterrupted time with each other. They paused to go on long walks. And they paused to get a good night’s sleep.
Every time one of these pauses took place, the minds, souls, and bodies of these people were refreshed and rejuvenated.
Over the past 85 years (1930 to 2015), the natural pauses that were in everyone’s lives were systematically snuffed out. During this period of time, the pauses that our grandparents took for granted vanished.
When I was growing up, there were only three television stations that we could watch. All three stations went dark by 1:00 every morning. Most people were in bed long before 1:00 a.m., but for those who stayed awake, their only options after the television was turned off were to read a book, visit with someone who was still awake, exercise, or go to bed.
Today, nothing ever goes dark. At any time of the day or night, we can access hundreds of television stations, streaming videos, and social media sites. We can go on the Internet and get lost for hours or play games with strangers who live on the other side of the planet.
But we humans need downtime. We need pauses in our life — quiet, uninterrupted times that are set aside each day for prayer, thinking, reflection, relaxation, and rejuvenation. During our pauses, our devices must be turned off. Most of us have been conditioned to believe that we have to always be doing something, so we run around like chickens with our heads cut off, believing that we’re accomplishing something by always being busy and connected with the world.
We are not computers that can run for months without breaking down. I believe that one of the primary reasons we are seeing an increase in anxiety and depression in our society is because there are no longer any pauses in our lives. Many of us are exhausted, burned out, defeated, and depressed. If we fail to develop habits that force us to slow down and pause, before long we become anxious, angry, frustrated, fearful, and defensive.
When I turned 40 (more than 17 years ago), I realized that I was experiencing increasing frustration and anxiety over things that did not previously affect me. That’s when I decided that I was going to pause every day for an hour in the adoration chapel. In my mind, there was no better place to pray, think, reflect, and relax.
Coca-Cola sold its carbonated drink on a promise that it was the pause that refreshes. Can I share a secret with you? There are two pauses that will always help to refresh your heart, mind, and soul. The first pause takes place when you attend Mass and receive Holy Communion. The second pause takes place when you set aside the time to visit with our Lord in the adoration chapel.
I challenge you to restructure your life this year so you can work these two pauses into your daily routine — Mass and a visit to the adoration chapel. You will find that these two pauses will do wonders for your spiritual, mental, and emotional health.