There’s a madness to our moment, and we need to name it for the lunacy it is. Because it’s taking our lives hostage.
First, there’s the blistering pace of life.
I texted friends an announcement that was really important to me; they replied with little thumbs-up emojis. I think to myself, That’s it—you can’t even answer a text with a text? Email felt so efficient when it replaced the letter; texting seemed like rocket fuel when it came along. But it didn’t make our lives more spacious; we simply had to keep up. Now we’re living at the speed of the swipe and the “like,” moving so fast through our days that typing a single sentence feels cumbersome. Everyone I talk to says they feel busier than ever. My musician friends aren’t playing much anymore; my gardening friends don’t have time to plant; I currently have eight books I’ve started to read, and I haven’t made it past the first chapter in any of them.
We’ve been sucked into a pace of life nobody’s enjoying.
Then there’s the deluge of media coming at us in a sort of mesmerizing digital spell.
We’re spending three hours a day using apps on our phones, ten hours viewing media, consuming enough information each week to crash a laptop (!).1 We talk about unplugging, but we’re enchanted—by the endless social media circus of love and hatred, the vapid, alarming, sensational, and unforgivable. We’re snagged by every new notification. And while we’ve always had our individual struggles and heartbreaks to deal with, now we have the tragedies of the entire world delivered to us hourly on our mobile devices.
This is all very hard on the soul. Traumatizing, in fact. Exposure to traumatic events can traumatize us, and we’re getting lots of it in our feed.2 It’s like we’ve been swept into the gravitational field of a digital black hole that is sucking our lives from us.
So there’s all that. But everybody’s talking about that. What got my attention was what was happening to me as a person.
I found myself flinching when a friend texted and asked for some time. I didn’t want to open email for fear of the demands I’d find there. I had a shorter and shorter fuse in traffic. I felt numb to tragic news reports. It made me wonder — am I becoming a less-loving person? I had little capacity for relationships and the things that bring me life — a walk in the woods, dinner with friends, a cold plunge in a mountain lake. When I did steal a moment for something life-giving, I was so distracted I couldn’t enjoy it.
Then I realized — it wasn’t a failure of love or compassion. These were symptoms of a soul pushed too hard, strung out, haggard, fried. My soul just can’t do life at the speed of smartphones. But I was asking it to; everybody’s asking theirs to.
I’m guessing you’ve experienced something similar. It’s likely why you’ve picked up this book — your soul is looking for something. Are you aware of what it is? How would you score your soul these days:
Are you happy most of the time?
How often do you feel lighthearted?
Are you excited about your future?
Do you feel deeply loved?
When was the last time you felt carefree?
I know, it’s not even fair to ask. Our souls are bleary, seared, smeared. Still able to love, yes; still able to hope and dream. But at the end of any given day, most people come home in a state of exhaustion. Numb on our good days, fried more often than we admit. “I feel all thin, sort of stretched,” as Bilbo Baggins said, “like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.”3
The world has gone completely mad, and it’s trying to take our souls with it.
Now, if we had more of God, that would really help. We could draw upon His love and strength, His wisdom and resilience. After all, God is the fountain of life (Psalm 36:9). If we had more of His lavish life bubbling up in us, it would be a rescue in this soul-scorching hour.
But this frantic, volatile world constantly wilts the soul, dries it out like a raisin, making it almost impossible to receive the life God is pouring forth.
That’s called a double bind.
I tried to find more of God, knowing if I only had a greater measure of His life in me, I’d be able to navigate this rough terrain. I was practicing the usual stuff — prayer, worship, scripture, sacrament. But still I felt… I don’t know… shallow somehow. Sipping God with teaspoons, not drinking great gulps; wading, not swimming. My soul felt like a shallow rain puddle. But I know the soul isn’t a shallow puddle at all; it’s deep and vast, capable of symphonies and heroic courage. I wanted to be living from those deep places, but I felt trapped in the shoals.
It’s no coincidence that one of the most important books on our world, and what technology is doing to us, is called The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. We’re losing our ability to focus and pay attention longer than a few moments. We live at the depth of the text, the swipe, the “like.”4 This isn’t just an intellectual problem; it’s a spiritual crisis. It’s pretty hard to hear “deep calling unto deep”5 when we’re forced into the shallows of our own hearts and souls by this frenetic world.
Jesus heard even my surface prayers; He came to my rescue and began to lead me into a number of helps and practices, what I would call graces. Simple things, like a One Minute Pause, that were accessible and surprising in their power to restore. Learning “benevolent detachment” — the ability to let things go. Allowing for some transition in my day, instead of just blasting from one thing to the next. Drinking in the beauty God was providing in quiet moments. My soul began to recover, feel better, do better — however you want to describe it. I began to enjoy my life with God so much more; I was finally experiencing the “more” of Him I’d been wanting so much. I began to get my life back.
Then I connected the dots….
God wants to come to us and restore our lives. He really does. But if our soul is not well, it’s almost impossible to receive Him. Dry, scorched ground can’t absorb the very rain it needs.
As C. S. Lewis explained in the Problem of Pain, “The soul is but a hollow which God fills.”6 In place of hollow I like the word vessel, something beautiful and artistic. Our souls are exquisite vessels created by God for Him to saturate. I picture the round, curved basin at the top of an elegant fountain, with water spilling down all sides, running over with unceasing life. Wasn’t that the promise? “As Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them” (John 7:38).
And so it follows that if we can receive help for restoring and renewing our weary, besieged souls, we’ll enjoy the fruits (which are many and wonderful) of happy souls and also be able to receive more of God (which is even more wonderful). We’ll find the vibrancy and resiliency we crave as human beings, living waters welling up from deep within. And then — we’ll get our lives back!
But the process needs to be accessible and sustainable. We’ve all tried exercise, diets, Bible study programs that began with vim and verve but over time got shoved to the side, lost in the chaos. I have a gym membership; I rarely use it. There are those books I haven’t finished, loads of podcasts too. Rest assured — the graces I am offering here are within reach of a normal life. I think you’ll find them simple, sustainable, and refreshing.
God wants to strengthen and renew your soul; Jesus longs to give you more of Himself. Come, you weary and heavy laden. “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life … and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30 The Message). You can get your life back; you can live freely and lightly. The world may be harsh, but God is gentle; He knows what your life is like. What we need to do is put ourselves in places that allow us to receive His help. Let me show you how.
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1. Roger Bohn, and James Short, “Measuring Consumer Information,” International Journal of Communication 6 (2012): 980–1000.
2. Gaurav Patki, Naimesh Solanki, and Samina Salim, “Witnessing Traumatic Events Causes Severe Behavioral Impairments in Rats,” International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology 17, no. 12 (2014): 2017–29, http://doi.org/10.1017/S1461145714000923; Victim Support and Child Witness Service, “Coping with Witnessing a Traumatic Event,” Government of Western Australia, Department of the Attorney General, https://www.courts.justice.wa.gov.au?_files/Coping_with_witnessing _traumatic_event.pdf; Aaron Reuben, “When PTSD Is Contagious,” Atlantic, December 14, 2015, https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/12/ptsd-secondary-trauma/420282/; E. Alison Holman, Dana Rose Garfin, and Roxane Cohen Silver, “Media’s Role in Broadcasting Acute Stress Following the Boston Marathon Bombings,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 111, no. 1 (2014): 93–98, http://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1316265110.
3. J. R. R., Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of The Lord of the Rings (New York: Ballantine Books, 1954), 34.
4. Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011), 5–9.
5. Psalm 42:7.
6. C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, in The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 654
Excerpted with permission from Get Your Life Back: Everyday Practices for a World Gone Mad by John Eldredge, copyright John Eldredge.
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Could you use a rescue from the madness of this modern life? How does it comfort you to know that, if you’re intentional, you can receive more of God’s abundant life even in chaotic times? We’d love to hear your thoughts on the blog!