If you’re anything like me, you have a love-hate relationship with parenting advice about technology. On one hand, you sense the need to shepherd your kids faithfully amidst a fraught world—a world dramatically different from the one you experienced when you were a kid, and a world that changes so rapidly you can’t get your bearings. You know you need help.
On the other hand, you’ve tried to cultivate healthy tech rhythms in your home. But they’ve crashed harder than a first-generation iPhone. So you feel defeated.
Yes, you suspect screen time is rotting your kids’ minds ... but you really need 10 minutes without someone pulling on your shirt while you prep dinner.
Yes, you believe it’s healthy for your kids to push through boredom … but you wonder if it’s worth the price of the curtains that fell victim to a pair of craft scissors (again).
Yes, you know all about how dangerous social media can be … but you’re worried that the FOMO your 13-year-old daughter feels might actually reflect missed connections with her peers.
Want to throw up your hands—or drop to your knees? Join the club.
Dealing with technology isn't simple, but it can get better. Even after enduring a pandemic that (among other things) skyrocketed our tech usage, we can reset. We can cultivate spiritual rhythms in our home.
It can start by making it tangible.
Our Tangible God
Knowing our tendency to be easily distracted, God made worship tangible. The word “tangible” literally means, “perceptible by touch.” This probably isn’t the first word that comes to mind when we think of God—and for good reason. God is great, unchanging, eternal, other. He cannot be contained or controlled. We can’t wrap our minds around him, let alone our feeble fingers.
But this is one of the surprises of Scripture: The God who should be beyond our reach consistently makes himself tangible. The incarnation stands as the most obvious and stunning example: In Jesus, God made himself flesh and blood. Tangible, just like us.
Even before Jesus was born, God encouraged tangible acts of worship. In the Old Testament, for instance, one of the most consistent responses people have after meeting with God is to construct an altar (Genesis 8:20; 12:7; 22:9; 35:7; Exodus 17:15; Joshua 4:1–7, et al.). The altar served an immediate purpose—a location for a burnt offering—but it also acted as a tangible prompt for future generations: “These stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever” (Joshua 4:7 ESV).
And then there is the Passover, the most prominent event of the Old Testament. Passover, the annual celebration of God delivering his people from bondage in Egypt, was incredibly tactile. God could have told his people to simply recount the Exodus story. Instead, he made it a rhythm people could touch and taste: Eat this bread; eat this lamb (Exodus 12—13).
Jesus kept spiritual practices tangible too. At his final meal with the disciples, Jesus elevated the Passover tradition, taking the tangible elements of bread and wine and giving them fresh meaning. The bread would be his body, the wine his sacrificial blood. But while providing new meaning, he still kept the practice tangible: Keep eating this bread; keep drinking this wine (Luke 22:14–23).
Jesus knew that we flesh-and-blood creatures would need a tangible reminder of truth. So instead of a treatise on propitiation, he said, “Here, have some bread.”
Start With Something You Can Touch
Just as God gave tangible reminders to aid his people in worship rhythms, we can use tangible reminders in our homes to help our families turn their attention to God and to one another.
All of the objects in our homes nudge us toward something. The challenge is to replace objects that nudge us and our kids into isolation (video games, smart phones) with objects that nudge us toward true connection with God and others. Interestingly, if we place the right items in our home, not only can we cultivate spiritual rhythms for our kids, but our kids can cultivate spiritual rhythms in us.
Now, to be clear, the mere existence of Christian stuff may not prompt you to worship as often as something you have to literally pick up. Take a look at the items in your room, right now. Do they prompt you to turn your gaze to God?
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel here. Start with some tangible practices for yourself:
- Put a Bible on your bedside table.
- Leave a stack of Bible memory verses in a high traffic area, like your front door or in your car.
- Place a prayer jar in the kitchen and write requests on strips of paper.
- Stash your phone under your journal, so you have to physically pick up your journal first—even if only to move it out of the way.
Then involve your kids. Invite their curiosity as you experiment with new objects in the home:
- Invite them to reach into the jar for a prompt and then reach out to God in prayer.
- Add another stack of Bible memory verses—this time in the high traffic area of … the potty.
- Place a pretty kneeling pad beside your child’s bed.
- Create a “treasure chest” in which you can stash your smartphone during Sabbath.
Given the chance, our kids can surprise us by how willing they are to adopt a spiritual rhythm, especially if that rhythm has a tangible element to it. Our kids can even (quickly!) become much more diligent in their spiritual rhythms than us. My seven-year-old daughter, for instance, keeps us far more accountable to our Advent readings than I would on my own.
Cultivating spiritual rhythms in a tech-frenzied world takes time. The good news is you can take a tangible step today. Start with something you can touch.