Powering Down to Connect to a Higher Power
I recently participated as a guest speaker on a radio show, and the hosts were intrigued by my level of religious observance. Among the many things that piqued their interest, Sabbath observance was one area that they continued to ask about. Like most people who have never experienced the magic of the Day of Rest, they couldn’t fathom going technology-free for 25 hours and all of the restrictions (No phone! No internet! No car!) it seemed to entail. I responded that in spite of all of the seeming limitations to the day, I actually view Shabbat as one of the best times of my week, and one of the most meaningful parts about being religious.
Driving home, the radio host’s question really stuck with me. How could it be that a day filled with so many rules, boundaries, and seeming inconveniences can actually be such a beautiful experience for so many people? Personally, I know that my own children enjoy Shabbos, but sometimes get frustrated by the things they are not allowed to do. Unfortunately, far too many adults also focus on the smaller burdens of Shabbat, rather than seeing the bigger picture of the day, choosing to see Shabbat as one big NO. But, we need to reframe the NO into a YES by seeing all the incredible meaning Shabbat has to offer.
Picture the scene: a mother takes her child to his first swim lesson. Once there, the child asks, “Mom can I bring my ipod in the pool?”
The mother responds, “No, I’m sorry you can’t.”
“Mom can I wear my Superman costume in the pool?” The child asks persistently. The mom replies, “No,” yet again.
The child tries another avenue, “Mom, can we play Guess Who in the pool?” The mother, now agitated, says, “Not a good idea.”
Swimming can seem like one big NO because there are many boundaries regarding what we can wear and play with in the pool. There are also many strict safety precautions that all swimmers must adhere to around the pool. However, rather than focusing on what one cannot do while in a swimming pool, ask the majority of the population and they will tell you that they love swimming, because they hone in on what they are doing. On a hot summer’s day, nothing is more refreshing and exhilarating than taking a dive in the deep end, swimming some laps, and playing with friends in the water (albeit without a game of Guess Who!).
The same is true of many other activities and sports, and even holds true for Shabbat. One area of Shabbat observance in particular that has become increasingly difficult for many people in our cellphone-steeped generation is the prohibition of handling electronics. But rather than viewing lack of cellphone use as a detriment, I actually think being able to turn off our phones for 25 hours is the greatest gift we never knew we needed. Shabbat encourages us to disconnect from our day-to-day lives and instead focus on real, meaningful connection – enhancing deep relationships with our friends, family, and ultimately with Hashem.
I love the feeling of waking up on Saturday mornings and thinking, Thank G-d it’s Shabbat. I don’t have to turn on my phone. I’m not a slave to technology today.
If the word “slave” seems too intense, think again. Chances are you are reading this very article on a screen! A study from 2014 shows that the average person touches their phone 2617 times a day. This includes every type of interaction: tapping, swiping, clicking, and so on. The average American spends 7.4 hours looking at a screen in one 24-hour period. That means many people spend more hours in front of a screen than they do sleeping.
And with the way technology continues changing at such a rapid pace, those numbers have most probably skyrocketed since 2014. As a nation, we are addicted.
So, thinking back to the interviewer’s question, “Why do you love Shabbat?” Although I could list dozens of answers, in this day and age, I am particularly grateful to have the blessing and burden of technology lifted from me for the entirety of the day. For 25 hours, I am able to focus completely on the people and experiences in my immediate reality, no screens needed.
I am the first to acknowledge how challenging it is to shut off our phones, especially when we are in the middle of a task, text, or even random kitten video. The laws of inertia dictate this clearly – a body in motion stays in motion. Once we are on a device, it feels impossible to detach ourselves from it. Yet what we gain by putting away electronics is well worth the effort.
One Shabbat, my son injured himself and I had to take him to the hospital. We spent most of the day waiting – first for a room and then to see the doctor. A nurse passing by offered to turn on the television in our room, yet I declined. While it would have been easier to veg out and allow the time to pass by watching TV, I was adamant – it was Shabbat.
With no TV or electronics to distract us, my son and I found ourselves in the unique situation of sitting in the same room for several hours with nothing to do. Well wouldn’t you know it – we actually talked! We played games! I read to him! He shared with me some of his deepest secrets! That never would have happened if it was a random Tuesday afternoon, because when technology is available, we often use it for more time than we would like to admit. Interestingly enough, on the way home, my son told me that the best part of his day was talking with me in that hospital room. Looking back, I wouldn’t trade those hours for anything.
So while I am the first to admit that it can be frustrating not to check my phone for the weather or take a quick photo of my daughter on the swing, powering down during Shabbat gives me the time I need to recharge my batteries, connect with my loved ones, and focus on the world around me – screen-free.
Shabbat says yes to connection. And for that I am forever grateful.