Spiritual Life

Digital media’s effects on prayer

Have you ever tried to start a habit of daily prayer and then given up? Or perhaps you pray now and then, but have never been consistent.

How can you overcome these difficulties and grow in intimacy with God through prayer? Sometimes, it’s what a person does outside of prayer that helps or hinders him. In the next several columns, we’ll discuss the lifestyle that makes prayer easier, more inviting and ultimately more fruitful.

The biggest impediment to prayer today – other than a lack of faith – may be the constant bombardment our senses are subjected to. Many young people have never known a time without texting, surfing the net, posting on social media, video games and action movies. How many people of whatever age have electronic screens in their kitchens or bathrooms? Or keep the radio or TV on as constant background noise?

Every sight one sees, every noise one hears creates a memory. These sounds and images are then prone to come to the fore when one prays. Besides that, overuse of digital media makes concentration more difficult. When one is used to scrolling through an ever-changing social media feed, or having ads on blog posts or news articles constantly vying for one’s attention, it diminishes the ability to stay with a single subject for more than a few minutes. How can a person with such a distracted mind spend 30, or even 15, minutes in prayer?

Social media poses other challenges for the spiritual life. It encourages curiositas (curiosity), one of those vices that we rarely hear of now. Curiositas does not mean a healthy desire for the knowledge that can help one love God and neighbor more fully. Rather, it indicates a desire to know things that can be harmful or useless, drawing one away from carrying out one’s duties. This includes wasting time consuming information that could be spent in prayer. Do you really need to know what your friends ate for lunch? Or the opinion of a celebrity on a subject far outside his expertise?

Curiosity can become addicting. One begins thriving on scandal and gossip, or the latest predictions of the end of the world. In contrast, a life of prayer requires focus on God. One who wishes to grow close to God must learn to use his time well. He must be charitable toward his neighbor and mind his own business.

These dangers are not entirely new, but they are now available 24-7, often in one’s pocket. One of the most common difficulties in prayer is a distracted mind. This has been true since Adam’s Fall. In our day, it has reached epidemic proportions. Technology itself is not at fault – it can be used for good. (I run a Facebook group with 15,000 members and we focus on growing in prayer.) The problem lies in the misuse and overuse of technology.

Want to start a prayer life? Or deepen one that you have started? Try working on controlling your digital media use. Set an alarm when you are online to remind yourself that you have more important things to do. Limit your cellphone data plan. Check email once in the morning, once in the evening and ignore it the rest of the day. When you limit media use, you leave room for something more important – time with God.

God is not on Twitter or Instagram, but he would sure love to have a private chat with you.

Connie Rossini is a member of St. Peter Parish in Omaha. She is the author of “The Q&A Guide to Mental Prayer,” available at amazon.com, and five other books on Catholic spirituality.

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