Are you the average American who checks your cell phone 80 times a day? Are you frantically barraged by information so that you feel numb and burnt out? Are you overwhelmed to the point that your soul needs healing? How can the Bible help you focus on what really matters?
Bible Gateway interviewed John Eldredge (@ransomedheart) about his book, Get Your Life Back: Everyday Practices for a World Gone Mad (Thomas Nelson, 2020).
What do you see that we have lost our lives to?
John Eldredge: The mad pace of life; the complexity of the world and of people’s lives—especially the folks we’re trying to minister to; the tsunami of media we receive every day. The dog-pile effect of it all.
I was chatting with a friend last week who pastors a large church here in town. We were simply trying to schedule a phone call together, and after looking at our calendars, we realized it couldn’t happen for three weeks or more. A simple phone call. This is the madness we’ve come to accept as “normal.” Especially people in ministry. We’re running so fast, buried under so much, harried, haggard. Just compare your average week with Jesus’ description that a life yoked to him is “easy and light” (Matthew 11:30). Or as The Message has it, we will live “freely and lightly.” Would you describe your life as easy, free, light?
What has social media done to our souls?
John Eldredge: First, there’s all the troubling research showing direct correlations between social media use and rising levels of anxiety and depression; not to mention envy. But the deeper issue is that our online media consumption has taken away all our “margin;” all the time we used to read a book, or take a walk, or listen to music. In other words, we’ve lost our souls to a cyber world that does nothing to enrich our lives in God.
It gets worse. Nicholas Carr nearly won the Pulitzer for his book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. We’re physically losing our attention; our ability to give anything lingering attention. The spiritual crisis here is that saints down through the ages reported that lasting transformation and deep contentedness come from giving God our lingering attention.
Psalm 1 describes two lives: one is deeply rooted in the living waters of God; the other is so ephemeral it’s blown away in the next breeze. The difference is the ability to “meditate” on God; linger with him; give him undivided attention. When was the last time you got an hour of unbroken time with Jesus?
You write that God never intended for our souls to live at the pace we force them to. What was his original design? How is it possible to reset in order to live the life God intended for us?
John Eldredge: The things we overlook in the Gospels are all of the in-between times when Christ and his followers were walking from one town to another. When the record states, “The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee” (John 1:43), we project our own pace upon it, not realizing it took the boys three days by foot to get there. Three days just strolling along, talking, or sharing the silent beauty; the pauses for lunch or a drink from a well; the campfires in the evening.
Christ does not move immediately from one dramatic story to another. There was “down time,” transition time between those demands. Time to process what had happened (these are the moments you see the disciples asking questions; “what did you mean by…?”). Time to catch their breath before the next encounter. That was the pace Jesus felt was reasonable for people engaged in important things and wanting a life with God.
Let me add: the core meaning of the Hebrew word shabbat (sabbath) is to “stop,” to “cease.” We don’t stop anymore; not even for a moment. If we have some down time, we’re immediately on our phones. It doesn’t allow the soul to recover, renew, connect with God. The good news is, we can make changes; we really can. We can choose to stop during our day. We can unplug. We can allow for meaningful pauses as transitions between one thing and another.
The first practice you suggest is a One Minute Pause. What is that?
John Eldredge: This is the simple practice of learning to pause during your day for 60 seconds. Simply pause. This isn’t for reflection, or making lists, not even for prayer per say. Learning to pause, and not ask our souls to do anything or be productive. We practice shabbat in a very simple way. (And can I point out: what sort of madness have we been conditioned to when a simple 60 second pause feels odd; even intrusive?!)
But we have to start somewhere; the pause is accessible, it’s sustainable. And the cumulative effect is wonderful. This has become so helpful that every day in our offices monastery “bells” ring out at 10am and 2pm, and the whole staff pauses whatever we’re doing. To reset; to be present to God. “Be still,” we’re invited, “and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10). We use the Pause to “let it all go,” to practice what we call Benevolent Detachment.
What is the practice of benevolent detachment, and why is it necessary?
John Eldredge: We carry far too much; we take on the sorrows of the world and never set them back down. 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (NLT). I know very few people who practice this.
Caring Christians, especially those in ministry, are suffering from empathy overload—compassion fatigue—because we’re exposed to the sorrow of every cause and community around the globe on a daily basis. Delivered hourly on our mobile devices. We have to learn to let it go, give it all over to Jesus. Every day. Maybe several times a day. Only then will we discover what he meant by the easy, free, light yoke.
Slow down and discover the joy of meditating on God's Word with the week-long devotional, 'Reclaiming Biblical Meditation.'
What is the new Tower of Babel and how does it confuse the soul?
John Eldredge: We consume on average 10 hours of media a day; more information in a week than would crash a laptop! Why?
Why are we spending four to nine hours a day on our phones? Because we’re mesmerized, enchanted, addicted to the Internet, and all that’s available there. We want to be “in the know.” We want to feel “connected.” If we have a question about anything—from the best Thai food nearby to the meaning of an ancient word to the scoreline in our league to what the Russian president said this morning—we simply Google it (or ask Siri®). This obsession with knowledge is not a good thing; it borders on idolatry. You shall know them by their fruits (Matt 7:16). When our media life is preventing us from being present to God and the actual human beings around us, we’ve got a serious problem here.
Of all the practices you discuss in the book, which has made the biggest difference for your soul and your relationship with God?
John Eldredge: The practice of union with God. “I am the vine,” Jesus said, “you are the branches” (John 15:5). Our lives are actually meant to be one united existence with his. Apart from this, where will we get our strength? Our resiliency? Especially in this mad hour.
Devotion to Christ is not enough. The worship of Christ is not enough. We’re called into an actual union with God; one shared life. In John 17 Jesus prayed that we would be as one with him as he is with his father (John 17:20-23)! That’s deep union. And it’s the only thing that’ll rescue us in this mad world.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App and Bible Audio App?
John Eldredge: I’m so grateful for Bible Gateway. I use it all the time; maybe every day. What an incredible resource to be able to look up passages, compare translations, do word studies. Thank you so much everyone who makes this possible!
Get Your Life Back is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.
Bio: John Eldredge is the author of many books—including Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul and You Have What It Takes: What Every Father Needs to Know—a counselor, and a teacher. He is also president of Ransomed Heart, a ministry devoted to helping people discover the heart of God, recovering their own hearts in God’s love, and learning to live in God’s Kingdom. He lives near Colorado Springs, Colorado.
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