Our phones now go wherever we go — which is everywhere. And that means most of us sleep with our phones. In the bedroom, our phone wakes us up, tracks our sleep patterns, and makes us available in the event of an emergency.
All these benefits are wonderful. The problem comes when our phone is within arm’s reach and we grab it out of habit to check email and social media in our half-conscious state of sleep inertia — before our groggy eyes can even fully open.
In our survey of 8,000 readers of desiringGod.org, over half of you (54%) admit to checking your smartphone within minutes of waking up on a typical morning.
Then we asked, whether you are more likely to check email and social media before or after your spiritual disciplines on a typical morning, 73% of you said before. Here’s the breakdown by age and gender.
We don’t need charts to know we are quick to Facebook and slow to God, and this impulse is a problem if John Piper is right when he says, “I feel like I have to get saved every morning. I wake up and the devil is sitting on my face.”
That’s a startling way to talk about the daily challenge of the Christian life.
Put another way, whatever we focus our hearts on first in the morning will shape our entire day.
So why are we so quick to check email and social media in the morning, and so slow to spend intentional time with God in his word and prayer? And can we find a better way forward in the pages of Scripture?
I asked John Piper. What follows is an edited and abbreviated transcript of what he said (which will be part of an Ask Pastor John episode next month).
Why are we so prone to click on our phones before we do almost anything else? I thought of six possible reasons, which came out of analyzing my heart and temptations.
It seems to me that all of these six things are rooted in sin, rather than in the desire to serve others and savor God. And I put it like that because I do think the Great Commandment sets the agenda for our mornings and our midday and our evening.
We are to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength when we wake up in the morning. And we are to prepare ourselves to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37–40).
Very few of us wake up with our whole soul spring-loaded to love God and love people. This disposition takes some refocusing — to put it mildly — by means of the word of God and prayer.
So here are my six guesses for why so many of us are drawn almost addictively to consult with our phones when we wake up in the morning. The first three I call candy motives. The second three I call avoidance motives.
Reason 1: Novelty Candy
We simply love to hear what is new in the world and new among our friends. What happened since we last glanced at the world? Most of us like to be the first one to know something, and then we don’t have to assume the humble posture of being told something that smart and savvy and on-the-ball people already know.
Then maybe we can assume the role of being the informer, rather than the poor benighted people that need to be informed about what happened and if they were smart enough they would have been on their social media earlier.
Reason 2: Ego Candy
What have people said about us since the last time we checked? Who has taken note of us? Who has retweeted us? Who mentioned us or liked us or followed us? In our fallen, sinful condition, there is an inordinate enjoyment of the human ego being attended to. Some of us are weak enough, wounded enough, fragile enough, insecure enough, that any little mention of us feels good. It is like somebody kissed us.
Reason 3: Entertainment Candy
On the Internet, there is an endless stream of fascinating, weird, strange, wonderful, shocking, spell-binding, and cute pictures, quotes, videos, stories, and links. Many of us now are almost addicted to the need of something striking and bizarre and extraordinary and amazing.
Piper: “I feel like I have to get saved every morning. I wake up and the devil is sitting on my face.”
So at least those three candy motives are at work in us as we wake up in the morning and have these cravings that we seek to satisfy with our phones.
Then there are three avoidance motives. In other words, these aren’t positive desires for something; these are facing things in life that we simply want to avoid for another five minutes.
Reason 4: Boredom Avoidance
We wake up in the morning and the day in front of us looks boring. There is nothing exciting coming in our day and little incentive to get out of bed. And of course, the human soul hates a vacuum. If there is nothing significant and positive and hopeful in front of us to fill the hope-shaped place in our souls, then we are going to use our phones to avoid stepping into that boredom.
Reason 5: Responsibility Avoidance
We each have a role: father, mother, boss, employee, whatever. There are burdens that are coming at us in the day that are weighty. The buck stops with us. Decisions have to be made about our children, the house, the car, the finances, and dozens of other things. Life is full of weighty responsibilities, we feel inadequate for them, and we are lying there in bed feeling fearful — maybe even resentful — that people put so much pressure on us. We are not attracted to this day, and we prefer to avoid it for another five or ten minutes. And there is the phone to help us postpone the day.
Reason 6: Hardship Avoidance
You may be in a season of life where what you meet when you get out of bed is not just boredom and not just responsibility, but mega relational conflict, or issues of disease or disability in the home, friends who are against you, or pain in your own body in your joints and you can barely get out of bed because it hurts so bad in the morning, and it is just easier to lie there a little longer. And the phone adds to the escape.
Thinking in the Other Direction
So those are my six guesses for why so many of us are drawn almost addictively to consult with our phones when we wake up in the morning — candy motives and avoidance motives.
But think about this. Suppose you open your phone immediately in the morning. What if you are the first one to horrible news? Or what if in your search for ego-candy, you find ego-acid, and people have hated you overnight? And what if you spend five minutes getting yourself happily entertained in the morning, rather than facing the responsibilities of the day immediately, and you find at the end of those five minutes that they have drug you down into a silly, demeaning, small-minded, hollow, immature frame of mind?
Was it worth it?
And what if you take five minutes to avoid the boredom and responsibility and hardship of the day only to find at the end of those five minutes of avoidance, you are spiritually, morally, and emotionally less able to cope with the reality of the day?
Was it worth it?
What we want in our morning routine is to be filled with the Holy Spirit. We want something that gives us a zeal for the glory of Christ for the day’s work. We want to be strengthened to face whatever the day may bring. We want something that gives us joyful courage to resolve to count others better than ourselves and pursue true greatness, like Jesus said, by becoming the servant of all (Matthew 20:26–28). That is our real agenda in the morning.
We Need Our Mornings
Very few of us wake up strengthened to do all of those glorious things. So the new course for the morning, I think, is laid out in the Psalms.
O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch. (Psalm 5:3)
Let the first thing out of your mouth in the morning, while you are still on the pillow, be a cry to God: “I love you, Lord. I need you, Lord. Help me, Lord.” That is the first cry out of my mouth in the morning. I need you again today. Then, prepare a sacrifice and watch. I think that sacrifice is my body and my attention devoted to him.
I watch for the Lord to show up and do what? What am I watching for?
Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. (Psalm 143:8)
So I am on the lookout for the steadfast love of God. And I am on the lookout for it in his word.
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. (Psalm 90:14)
So we watch in God’s inspired word for revelations of his steadfast love and his guidance for our lives with a profound sense of satisfaction in our souls that he is beautiful and he cares for us.
My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise. (Psalm 119:148)
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you. (Psalm 139:17–18)
Before you go to bed tonight, make some choices and some plans to free yourself from the candy addictions and the habits of avoidance that have been ruining the strengthening potential of your mornings.