“Christ has not conquered my affections if he has to compete for my attention.”
Every once in a while, I catch a glimpse of just how much our phones are changing our daily lives. One such glimpse happened a few weeks ago when after dinner, my daughter checked her phone to find over 200 unread texts. My annoyance at this stream of middle-school consciousness invading our family time was obvious. But more than that, it worried me how this constant level of social interaction and phone buzzing was training her affections. It left me wondering how to turn down the volume (both sound and quantity) of technological noise that was on the rise in my home.
For all the conveniences technology affords, I sense it takes more than it gives. I weigh its merits against its drawbacks as they sit on opposite sides of a scale. Is this useful? Yes. Is it always beneficial? No. Should I allow my teens to enjoy this tool even though its tentacles reach far past usefulness and extend into the realm of invasiveness? I wish there was an easy answer to this question, but sadly, there’s not.
Where the failure lies
If you’re a parent of teens or pre-teens, my guess is that you feel this tension too. The world our kids are inheriting is vastly different than the one we grew up in, and so many of those differences can be traced back to technology.
But what’s at stake here is not that my family time is often interrupted by teen texting drama, but that if this incessant noise is left unchecked it will have dire spiritual consequences for us all. If too much technology challenges our interpersonal time together, how much more does it oppose the disciplines we need for our vertical engagement with God?
While it’s tempting to focus on the external measures to turn down the volume of technology in our homes, I’m convinced this is more of an internal heart issue. As much as I want my kids to abide by my parental controls, I’d rather focus on encouraging them to be Spirit-controlled.
Our religious affections
Puritan Jonathan Edwards is credited with coining the phrase “religious affections” in his book by the same name. Our affections are the strong inclinations of the soul that manifest themselves in how we think, feel, and act. Everything we do is an overflow of what our souls love. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”
So how do we get our kids to change their technology habits? Even though rules have their place, more rules won’t change hearts, only new, higher, more redeemed affections can do that.
One love needs to be superseded by another, greater love. Therefore, we need to expose them to a bigger, more magnificent vision of who Christ is.
We may not be able to change their affections, but we can create an environment where those affections are nurtured and encouraged to grow. When they see us loving Jesus, and daily pursuing him through prayer and Bible study, the needle of their affections can’t help but move.
Not because my daughter’s phone was blowing up with text messages, but because I sensed her affections were lopsided, I wanted to offer something better. So for the past couple of weeks, we’ve been shaking things up around here.
Moving the needle one pot of Earl Grey at a time
Without advanced warning (so there would be no protests) I woke up my two teenage daughters 30 minutes earlier than usual and told them I had a surprise for them downstairs. I had prepared a teapot of Earl Grey, lit an aesthetic (teenage word) candle, and unveiled new spiral-bound notebooks and colored pens.
My goal for our group quiet time was to make it enjoyable, and something they’d want to keep doing. I may not be able to dictate their religious affections, but I do want to create an environment where that can’t help but rub off. Waking up 30 minutes earlier is no small ask for teenagers, but this is the best time for our family to set aside time for the Lord in a technology and distraction-free zone.
The results so far…
I know God’s Word never returns void, but fruit takes time to grow. While my daughters have professed faith in Christ, I’m praying our early morning meetings will create sweet memories and change their appetites and affections long term.
Surprisingly, they don’t complain when I wake them up at 5:30 am. Even though we’ve missed a few days, we’ve been able to pick it back up, affirming that perfection is not the goal, but progress is. This intentional time helps me steer what their reading, answer questions, and keep the conversation going throughout the day. Even though we all yawn a lot in our early morning meetings they thank me every time.
Change our affections, Lord!
Technology doesn’t ask much of us, but only that we be passive observers. God’s Word, on the other hand, requires us to be engaged hearers and doers. Reels, shorts, and TikToks are designed to be fast, entertaining, and visually stimulating whereas cultivating spiritual disciplines, like meditating on God’s Word requires us to slow down, be contemplative, and examine our hearts. One is easy and generally painless, and the other requires work and self-denial.
For us to choose the hard narrow path over the broad and easy one, is evidence of changed affections. It’s countercultural to pursue God in his Word, and even more so, to invite our teens to join us. But as we imperfectly model this practice, we trust that by God’s grace, our holy affections for Jesus and his Word will be caught as much as it’s taught.
As we intentionally turn down the volume of tech and amp up our devotion to the Lord, we pray he does his Spirit-empowered work and changes our affections. One pot of Earl Grey at a time.
P.S. Download this free front-and-back bookmark with 2 prayers to begin your quiet time. This is a great tool for learning how to pray scripture and readying your heart for being in the Word. On the front is the I-O-U-S prayer by John Piper and on the back the A-C-T-S prayer.