By Harmony Harkema
When I sat down to write this post, I thought it would be about–well, not this. But I feel compelled to scrap my original topic and share with you what’s been on my heart these past several days.
About seven months before we launched The Glorious Table, I instituted a rule for myself in the evenings: no Internet between 5 and 9 p.m. every day. Promptly at 5:00, I silenced my smartphone, closed my laptop, and put both devices in my bedroom, out of sight and out of earshot. I made dinner, enjoyed my family, tucked my preschooler into bed with a story–all without interruptions from work or social media. I admit, it felt odd the first few days. My hand almost itched as I fought the irrational need to check my phone in the middle of my dinner preparations. But after a week or so, I began to see those evening hours as a time of relief.
When we launched The Glorious Table, my healthy boundaries crumbled almost overnight. There were constant decisions to make, glitches to work out, contributors to guide, questions to answer, Facebook pages and Buffer accounts to manage. I was “on” 24/7. I was answering messages at 3 a.m. That trend has continued. The other day, I found myself shuffling my infant from one side to the other while she was nursing so I could get to my phone and respond to a post on one of our Facebook pages. I felt like I had to answer before anyone else did.
At that moment, I realized something had to change. Living like this, driven by the Internet like a horse before a whip, was about as far from a place of peace as I could get. Rest–mental, emotional, and spiritual–was nowhere in sight. My ability to be fully present and engaged in the precious moments of my real life, like nursing my baby, was suffering.
For whatever reason, social media seems to create in us a false sense of urgency. We are prone to believe we must respond immediately to whatever email, message, or tweet shows up in our notifications. This crazy pressure reminds me of the instructions we are given as children in case of fire: stop, drop, and roll. Like fire, our smartphones and computers demand we stop, drop, and respond. And we do. We pause in the middle of the aisle at Target. We pull out our phones at stoplights. We tell our children, who are right in front of us–in person!–to wait while we respond to a text or comment on someone’s Facebook post. (What, I ask you, are we teaching them with this behavior?)
Last week, we implemented Quiet Hours on the Facebook group page where we communicate with our contributors. As it turned out, we were all feeling the same pressure to be present when what we really needed was permission to check out. So every night, Monday through Saturday, we “shut down” from 5 to 9 p.m. There are no posts on the Facebook page during those hours. On Sundays we shut down all day. No communication. We all agreed that it felt unorthodox in Internet culture to be “closed,” but we also believed we needed to lead the way, set an example, give people freedom from the noise.
I’ve taken additional steps to incorporate more quiet into my own days. When I wake up in the morning, I spend a few minutes in silence, taking in the first light of morning and the twittering of the birds outside before I pick up a book or my journal. During my daily walk, I’m listening to the wind in the trees instead of my usual podcast. I’m stepping away from the computer for a mid-afternoon cup of tea and a few moments of quiet to rest my mind. And from 5 to 9 p.m., I’m putting away my phone and focusing on the people in front of me instead of the ones on my screen. In the space of just a few days, my soul has quieted. I am beginning to catch the faintest whispers of my Father’s voice, and I desperately want to stay quiet so I can hear what he wants to say to me.
Friends, may I just gently remind you that your devices do not own you? That Facebook is not your boss? That no one is likely to die if you ignore their text for a little while? The world will not fall apart if you set aside your phone for an hour or an evening or even a whole day. In fact, you may feel a renewed sense of ownership over your life. May I invite you to join me–to join all of us at The Glorious Table–in quieting the noise in order to quiet our souls?
Harmony Harkema has loved the written word for as long as she can remember. A former English teacher turned editor, she has spent the past seven years in the publishing industry. A novelist and blogger in the fringe hours of her working mom life, Harmony also has a heart for leading and coaching aspiring writers. Harmony lives in Memphis with her car-loving husband and two small daughters. She blogs at harmonyharkema.com.