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Digital detox

How my dog nearly killed me, then gave me my life back

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Flying headfirst through my kitchen, having tripped backward over my dog, I thought, “Well. This can’t be good.”

It wasn’t. And then … it was.

This was just a few Sunday mornings ago. After church, I had decided to enjoy the rest of the day puttering around the house—instead of, that is, doing what I’d been doing too much: staring into my smartphone.

We all know it, don’t we, when some habit becomes our master? Even one that seems to carry no moral or spiritual freight. “Whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved” (2 Peter 2:19). That’s what happened with my iPhone.

Head bent, thumbs flying: text, surf, email, work, news, banking, and my personal kryptonite, Words With Friends. Especially after a long day, a powerful cocktail of ennui and news FOMO lubricated the beguiling Path of Least Resistance. There’s nothing wrong with some digital downtime. But increasingly, I would reach for my phone, shamble to the altar of worthless distraction like some slack-jawed zombie cultist, and surrender my life.

I mean that: surrender my life. For what is a life made of but time (Psalm 90:12)?

So, that Sunday in my kitchen, I had sequestered my phone and was taking my first steps as a free woman: dancing between the stove and island, trying out a new recipe. Humming a tune, I turned from the stove to grab some garlic. But I did not notice that my chocolate Lab, Riggs, had snuck up behind me, so close there was no time to recover. I fell sideways and backward, and both feet left the ground. A granite countertop hurtled at my face, popped my forehead, and spun me left. My feet now higher than my shoulders, I dropped like a sack of grain.

My head hit the floor so hard it bounced. For a moment, I stared at the ceiling, astonished I was still awake.

A CT scan at the ER was negative, despite the palm-sized goose egg on the back of my head. But as I had foreseen while airborne, it was still not good: I brought home from the hospital not only whiplash, but also a waste-laying respiratory virus and a case of pinkeye (!!).

While recovering, I wasn’t good for much, so guess where I wound up? Back on my smartphone.

A friend of mine interprets a famous line from Psalm 23 this way: God sometimes makes us lie down in green pastures—to slow us down long enough to take a hard look at ourselves. While lying down recovering, I realized just how bad my smartphone addiction had become, so I did some deep-dive research into the pros and cons of dumbphones (using my smartphone, of course).

Finally, God sighed and tapped me on the forehead. “I’ve got two words for you,” He said. “Self. Control.”

“Oh, wait,” said I. “You mean, don’t lay out cash for an inferior phone that will almost certainly wind up in a drawer, but cultivate some fruit of the Spirit instead?”

I would love to tell you that’s all it took. A divine prompt, some fresh willpower, and I was digitally sober. No, I still had to do something: namely, obey. I had failed at kicking my smartphone habit before, but this time, unable to move my neck much or see very well, I had plenty of time to figure it out.

In the end, I decided that when I’m at home, I will only use my phone as a phone. Talk and text only. Absolutely anything else has to be done on my laptop or iPad. And just like in the olden days, I now keep my phone in the kitchen, out of my impulsive reach. With those simple changes, my web-based phone use fell as fast and hard as I did. And so far, it’s stayed that way.

These days, my mind feels clearer and more joyful. I’m less fragmented, more productive, and more attentive to my loved ones. “Be where you are,” a counselor once told me. That’s one problem with technology: It takes us out of real life and gives us the illusion we are engaged with the world.

God uses all things (Isaiah 46:11), even a dog. “I still love ya, even though you almost killed me,” I told Riggs the other day, scratching behind his velvety ears. “And by the way, thanks for giving me my life back.”

Lynn Vincent

Lynn is executive editor of WORLD Magazine and producer/host of the true crime podcast Lawless. She is the New York Times best-selling author or co-author of a dozen nonfiction books, including Same Kind of Different As Me and Indianapolis. Lynn lives in the mountains east of San Diego, Calif.


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