Training the Thumb

If I’m honest, summer 2020 lockdown included too much scrolling. Too often I reached for my phone and scrolled and scrolled and scrolled, past pandemic statistics, protests, half-true statements, videos without context, videos with too much context, riots, memes, and flash sales. Like a leashed dog wheezing next to her master on a motorbike, my mind scrambled to keep up with my ever-swiping thumb:

I don’t trust this article.

This one I believe.

This one is insanity… or maybe it’s satire?

Oh, Jesus would wear a mask.

Oh wait, I guess he wouldn’t.

Woah, great price for a blouse!

But I read something about about child labor…

How many kids were found?

How many deaths were counted?

How many tests were taken?

How many votes are needed?  

The Struggle is Real.

Or is that my privilege speaking?

I’m no scientist, but this can’t be good. For a mind that can unravel and race all on its own, with no help from the internet, this ceaseless ping-ponging of one idea to the next, one video clip to the next, one scary statistic to the next, cannot be good. I feed off my news feed and, as evidenced by my tailor-made adverts, it feeds off me and the whole thing begins to feel rather cannibalistic. Frenzied. Panic-inducing. Staying informed is one thing but an endless intake of social media, news, and commentary is recipe for mental and spiritual indigestion. Our silly little man-made computers malfunction when we cram their memories to capacity. How much more do we?

So my negative takeaway from the summer? My thumb is prone to over-scroll.

But this summer my thumb also turned the pages of my Bible in a wonderfully unhurried way. I hope my sharing this is encouragement, a spurring on rather than a spiritual brag: I have enjoyed my times with the Lord, in the word and in prayer, like never before. Ever so slowly I’ve been working my way through the Bible in a self-directed three four year plan which consists of checking off the books as I go, color coded by year, and periodically turning to First 5 (a wonderful app with which I have no affiliation) for deeper reflection. This slow feasting on the word lays in stark contrast to my moments of frenzied social media consumption. During lockdown I feasted on the book of Job, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Micah, and 1 Samuel. Unrushed reading, meditating, and digesting. Unhurried journaling, sketches, ponderings, and prayers. I feel full and satisfied from this summer’s feast.

Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. – Jesus (Matt. 4:4)

Man, and woman, and teen can’t live on continuous social media, either. Not that we can blame nebulous Social Media, as if Social Media is a demanding boss and we mere subordinates with little control over how we spend our time. We are grown-ups. We are in charge of our thumbs. I decide if my thumb is going to scroll Facebook, turn the pages of the Bible, or get some work done. James admonishes believers to tame the tongue; perhaps our thumbs need a bit of taming and training as well, since they grip our phones and TV remotes and have a big say in what we’ll mentally ingest.

Oh be careful little thumb what you scroll.

As every parent knows, we gain an appetite for what we regularly ingest. We can’t make ourselves like or dislike something, as this evolution of taste is somewhat beyond our control. Yet what is in our control is what we put on our tongue and in our minds in the first place. Before moving to London, I couldn’t stand sparkling water. But after nearly two years of mistakenly ordering/buying what I presumed to be tap or ‘still’ water and ending up with sparkling water, after two years of resignedly sipping it to impartially swallowing it, I now, to my surprise, choose and enjoy it (with lime, please).

We cultivate a hunger for God by tasting his word. Even small bites – mediating on one verse throughout the day, reading two or three verses out loud at mealtime or bedtime, or writing out and displaying scripture by our mirror – all of these samplings increase our craving for more.

There’s a downside to this reality: our appetites grow for whatever we consume, even if it’s not good for us. A morsel of gossip, a taste of pornography, an indulgence of revenge, can tempt us to want more, more, more and what once was ‘just a little taste’ can become our commonplace diet, maybe even our unconscious diet thanks to dulled senses that can no longer recognize what is good, right, or true.

…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. –  The apostle Paul (Phil 4:8)

The truth is, I love my hand-held computer, my little rectangular robot that speaks directions when I’m lost, plays music when I travel, shows me where my husband and daughter are in the city, (or at least where their hand-held robots are) relays an instant message across the ocean to my son, and allows me to engage in real time conversation with family and friends around the world. Such communication is a gift and a privilege. But it can’t replace the nourishment that comes from feasting on the word of God. I have to cultivate my tastes and train my thumb to want the better, to choose the feast. Sometimes our thumbs peel an orange. Other times they tear open a candy bar. And sometimes they lift fork and knife to partake in a feast. No one rushes through a feast. A feast is to be savored and shared, because it provides more than mere sustenance; a feast provides life.

Praise be to you, Lord; teach me your decrees. With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches.I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.  I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word

-David (Psalm 119: 12-16)

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