Anxiety and Digital Minimalism

Why Digital Minimalism

This year was one of the more challenging years for me and many I know. In twenty-plus years of ministry, I have never had to meet with a therapist. I am not against them; I just have never felt the need. I never feel lonely, rarely get upset, and have never been depressed. I have experienced loss and have walked others through loss, but none of it has ever brought me to a place of anxiety. This year all that changed.

This year I felt like I failed. I felt like I was unable to protect the people God by his providence place in my care. That feeling started as a panic attack and grew into anxiety in a way I have never experienced in my life. I wasn’t prepared for how it made me feel and for how it affected me on an emotional level. It got to the point I had to see a professional counselor. We talked through it. He told me that what I had been through was traumatic. We talked about boundaries relationally and interestingly enough electronically. I took some steps to minimize my exposure to certain groups on social media, and I was surprised by how much it helped.

I didn’t realize why limiting my exposure to social media helped until I picked up a book I had heard a lot about called Digital Minimalism. In his book Cal Newport describes Digital Minimalism this way:

“Digital Minimalism A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.”

Cal Newport

Studies show that I’m not alone. In the Preventative Medicine Reports, they have done studies that have shown associations between screen time and lower psychological well-being among children and adolescents. High users of screens were also significantly more likely to have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression. Fourteen to 17-year-olds spending 7+ h/day with screens (vs. 1 h/day) were more than twice as likely ever to have been diagnosed with depression or anxiety. High users of screens were also more likely to have seen or needed to have been seen by a mental health professional, and more likely to have taken medication for a psychological issue in the last 12 months.

The problem with most young people and many of us not so young people is that we fill every spare moment digesting digital information. The cracks in our lives are filled in, we have lost the art of solitude. We no longer remember how to be alone with ourselves. We fill our lives with the airbrushed curated moments of the lives of our digital friends and wonder why we are filled with anxiety.

It’s now possible to completely banish solitude from your life. Thoreau and Storr worried about people enjoying less solitude. We must now wonder if people might forget this state of being altogether.

Cal Newport

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,”

Blase Pascal

Over the years, I have taken some steps towards Digital minimalism. I rarely post pictures of my kids online; if I do, I never use their names. I also frequently delete the iPhone apps for social media sites off of my phone. This year however I plan to try and take more drastic steps to be a lifelong digital minimalist.

I have to regain the ability to be present with myself and those I love. I have to allow my mind to wander to process the truly painful things in my life rather than stuff them by mindlessly scrolling Instagram. When I am off screens, I come up with new ideas new thoughts. When I am on screens, I see what others are doing and say why didn’t I think of that. Envy replaces wonder.

I need to minimize the hold that my phone in general and social media, in particular, has on my life. Am I going to become a digital hermit? No. The ship has sailed on that. I have come up with a plan to minimize the hold that social media has on me. So that I am freer to enjoy the world around me, create more, and have hobbies, I appreciate that I can look at later and say, “I made that.”

My Plan

  1. Delete all social media apps and games on my phone. Block all access to social media even though the browser on my phone.
  2. No longer click likes or post comments on other people’s posts. I have had several “Facebook fights,” and at the end of the day, they are still wrong (lol), and I’m upset over what they said or how I said something.
  3. I still plan on using social media to post blog posts (which I hope to post more of not being on Instagram so much) and to pass on information and posts I found helpful.
  4. Use my phone to listen to books on my commute, text, call, and write blog posts and start working on a book remotely.
  5. Use my computer exclusively to check social media a few times a week.
  6. I will still use social media for work-related issues just not as an anesthetic for the boredom that makes life….life.
  7. I am going to remove the news app from my phone and all notifications. I will now get my news from Allsides.com free of ads and partisan nonsense.

A foundational theme in digital minimalism is that new technology, when used with care and intention, creates a better life than either Luddism or mindless adoption.

Cal Newport

My Hope

I don’t think everyone should do this. I am telling you all this, so you know why I may not like your pictures or posts. It’s not that I don’t want to connect with you that I want to try and regain the time to really connect with you, not just pretend that I am. Please text me or call me but know that if you send me things through Instagram or Facebook, it may be a while before I get back to you.

I don’t know if this will work, but from what I have seen from the electronic boundaries I have set already, I think it will be okay. This isn’t “goodbye” it’s just “I’ll get back to you just not really quickly.”

My Kid Got a Phone For Christmas! Now What?

One common question I get from parents is around cell phones and screens. Parents want to know how much time is too much. They want to know how to filter content and protect their kids from harm. Their concerns are valid. In fact, parents who are concerned about the onslaught of social media and wired devices are the exception. Most parents today did not grow up as digital natives; they remember what the world was like before it became digitized.

The concerns around screen time are not only valid but are more severe than first realized. The empty streets that used to be filled with kids playing sports and riding bikes to stave off boredom are apparent all around us. The evidence of our kids sitting in front of screens is seen in the rise of childhood obesity. What is a newer revelation for parents is the connection between social media usage, screen time and mental health. A recent study has shown that “High users of screens were also significantly more likely to have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression. Fourteen to 17-year-olds spending 7+ h/day with screens (vs. 1 h/day) were more than twice as likely ever to have been diagnosed with depression or anxiety. High users are also twice as likely to have been seen by a mental health professional and to have taken medication for a psychological issue.”

So what do we do? In this ever-connected age, we feel helpless to fight this wave of connectedness. That, in reality, is producing a generation of kids who are more connected than ever but filled with more anxiety and loneliness than ever.

What do we do?
Delay, Filter, and Monitor.

Delay – giving them a phone

You should delay giving your kids a cell phone for a bit longer than you feel comfortable. The benefits of waiting outweigh the convenience of being able to reach your kids whenever you want to reach them. I initially thought we would wait until sixteen when they start to drive. We ended up changing to 13 when they began taking long bus rides to sporting games for school. I didn’t want our kids looking on with other kids watching whatever their neighbor was watching. I wanted to be about to filter and monitor what they were consuming digitally.

Delay – letting them on social media

Kids who have a cell phone have texting and calling at their disposal. In the study I referenced earlier, the majority of the anxiety and depression seem to be linked to the use of social media. Kids need to be kids. Kids don’t need the anxiety of knowing they have been left out. Or be on the receiving end of comments on their Facebook or Insta that are hurtful. They don’t have the maturity to know that what they post is not private, and it survives forever even when they “delete” it from their wall. 

Filter using iPhone settings. 

Anything that requires a plug to a wall has a backdoor to the internet. Apple has made some excellent improvements to keep your kids safe. From the “Screen Time” section of your child’s phone, you can control who they talk to, set limits for apps, set downtimes when phone access and app access is limited. You can also share their settings to your phone. From your phone, you can then control the restrictions of your child’s phone from anywhere. 

Adding restrictions to an iPhone a brief guide

1. Click on settings
2. Click on Screen Time

3. Once in screen time, you will see options for each of the ways you can restrict your child’s phone.
1. Downtime – allows you to set bedtimes for your child’s apps and Phone access.
2. App Limits – will enable you to limit a particular app or family of apps like “games” to a set time of use. 3. Communication limits – limits who they can talk or text and when they can do so.
4. Always Allowed this allows certain apps to be accessible at all times.
5. Content & Privacy – This section limits adult sites, language thresholds, and as well as what level of movies you would like your kids to watch on their devices. It also allows you to keep them from making changes to the password of their phones. This means that they can’t remove your thumbprint of face recognition without putting a password you create.
For a more in-depth guide to iPhone parental controls click here.

Filter using My Circle

With My Circle, you can choose appropriate (or block inappropriate) content by age. Customize settings to filter for individual family members and then apply to social media, videos, and games for both apps and websites. You can also make the internet stop for every family member (or just one). Tap Pause when it’s time to get going on homework, or if someone hasn’t cleaned their room. Hit unpause when you’re good to go. Lastly, you can check out sites visited and filtered throughout the day. Or go back as far as you like. And even set a Filter directly from the History view.

Monitor – Your Kids’ phone manually.
Have access to their phones and check their text messages and other activities on their phones by looking through their phones randomly on a regular basis. This is not an invasion of privacy this is responsible parenting. If your kids object to this or give you any reason not to trust them with the phone you provide. TAKE THE PHONE AWAY.

Monitor – Your Kids’ phone automatically.
If you want to monitor your kids’ text messaging automatically you can use Bark.us. Or if you didn’t head my advice and you caved and let your kids get social media you MUST get Bark. Bark connects to 24 platforms to monitor text messages, emails, and social activity for signs of harmful interactions and content. Click here for an overview of what Bark monitors. You get automatic alerts via email and text when Bark’s algorithms detect potential risks, so you don’t have to comb through every post and text.

Bottom line: Parenting isn’t easy don’t give up because the digital problem is so overwhelming. Fight for your kids they need you now more than ever.

Top 10 Books of 2019

Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places – Eugene Peterson
Eugene does what few modern theologians can do he weaves theology and poetry and finishes each thought with pastoral application. I found Ten Thousand Places challenges to live what you believe. The challenge in the evangelical church is there is much theological understanding without application and on the other side pragmatic seeker strategies striped of theological distinction. Peterson pushes us towards a more gracious orthodoxy as well as a more theological deep approach to reaching those far from God. “Spiritual theology is the attention we give to lived theology — prayed and lived, for if it is not prayed sooner or later it will not be lived from the inside out and in continuity with the Lord of life. Spiritual theology is the attention that we give to living what we know and believe about God. It is the thoughtful and obedient cultivation of life as worship on our knees before God the Father, of life as sacrifice on our feet following God the Son, and of life as love embracing and being embraced by the community of God the Spirit.”
– Eugene Peterson

Digital Minimalism – Cal Newport
Digital Minimalism was a reminder of how much of a chokehold our cell phones in general and social media, in particular, has on us. “Digital minimalism definitively does not reject the innovations of the internet age, but instead rejects the way so many people currently engage with these tools.” Many of Newport’s suggestions I will be implementing in the new year. His approach was powerful as he built the case against digital extremism and then offered solutions that were not based on fear but in proper proportion. Does this technology help my higher values of family, faith, and friends? If so then how specifically if no then let it go.

The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Brothers K is the story of three brothers who each represent a part of the tripartite Plutonic soul. Dostoevsky uses the story of their suffering to show the nature of happiness and the road of redemption no matter how God has uniquely wired you. Very few authors have the combination of poetic imagination, philosophic tradition, and theological persuasion. I found the story compelling and his understanding of grace convicting. It is a book I want to read again and now having read it once I am ready to read it again for the first time.

The Road Back to You – Ian Morgan Cron
The enneagram is controversial in the fact that so many of it’s founders are mystics. I don’t feel that it is witchcraft or a culturally acceptable way to blame shift my sinful tendencies on a system. I found the Road Back to You at a crucial time in my life this year. This year has been one of the more personally challenging years I have faced in over a decade. The Road Back to You helped me see something that I have always known to be true, we think everyone is like us so we talk to them that way. The Road Back to You helped to remind me God made each of us uniquely and if I am to honor that design and work better with those around me I need to learn how to talk to them in a way they understand rather than only communication in a style I prefer

On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts – James K. A. Smith
This book was not what I expected but was exactly what I needed. I am a huge fan of both Augustine and James Smith. When this project was announced I couldn’t wait to read it. I was not disappointed. Smith distills the essence of Augustine’s work in the Confessions and applies it to Post-everything America with such skill that the 1600 year gap is nearly seamless. Smith cuts to the heart of the perennial issues Augustine address that allows us in our modern setting to reorient our faith and to see our need for rightly ordered love. Such a powerful book. His chapter on fatherlessness was profound, personal and prophetic I have been reflecting on it often since reading it earlier this month.

The Pursuit of Holiness – Jerry Bridges
This book was easy to read and yet theologically profound. Bridges has a gift of making theologically deep truths accessible and challenging to any level reader. This is not to say that his content is simplistic but rather that he is a thoughtful and talented writer. The topic of holiness is so misunderstood in the evangelical church and because it is too often a topic that is neglected. This is the first book I read by Bridges but it won’t be my last.

The Screwtape Letters – C. S. Lewis
This is my second time reading Screwtape. I read it this year for a Seminary class I took on Lewis. This book is genius. It is a book that could have only been written by Lewis. His command of the English language, his understanding of both mid-evil literature and theology make this book the classic it deserves to be.


A Gospel Primer – Milton Vincent
There are few things more important to do for a Christian than to “Preach the Gospel” to yourself daily. Vincent’s short work helps you do just that in such profound ways. The first part of this book is a 30 devotional that walks you through a daily application of the gospel. The next section is “prose” a telling of the gospel is story form. The final section is a poetic proclamation of the gospel. This book is simple, short, beautiful and convicting. We leak and need to be reminded of the truth the gospel proclaims this small book is a beautiful way to do just that.

A Year with George Herbert: A Guide to Fifty-Two of His Best Loved Poems – Jim Scott Orrick
I don’t read enough fiction or poetry. This is something I used to view as a waste I now see as a weakness in me. I need to develop my poetic imagination, I am not just a thinking thing I am the refection of the loves of my life. In my renewed pursuit of poetry, a few standouts have immerged because they have a poetic imagination and a passion for the gospel. Out of the group, Herbert is my favorite. He was a pastor whose poems were published posthumously. His pastoral heart and passion for the gospel seep from every line he writes. This book is a great introduction to his larger body of work.

  • A Year with George Herbert: A Guide to Fifty-Two of His Best Loved Poems – Jim Scott Orrick
  • On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts – James K. A. Smith
  • The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Digital Minimalism – Cal Newport
  • Talking to Strangers – Malcolm Gladwell
  • Enemy of the State – Vince Flynn
  • The Survivor – Vince Flynn
  • The Wisdom of Eachother – Eugene Peterson
  • An Introduction to the Old Testament – Tremper Longman 
  • Irresitible – Andy Stanley
  • Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain
  • The Common Rule – Justin Earley
  • Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes – E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien
  • Wise Blood – Flannery O’Connor
  • The Path Between Us – Suzanne Stabile
  • The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb – Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel
  • Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity – Eugene Peterson
  • Chasing Francis – Ian Morgan Cron
  • The Road Back to You – Ian Morgan Cron
  • Tell it Slant – Eugene Peterson
  • The Pursuit of Holiness – Jerry Bridges
  • Letters to the Church – Francis Chan
  • Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places – Eugene Peterson
  • The Struggle to Understand Isaiah as Christian Scripture – Brevard Childs
  • The Prophecy of Isaiah – Alec Motyer
  • Openness Unhindered – Rosaria Butterfield
  • ReSet – David Murray
  • Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
  • Andy Catlett – Wendell Berry
  • Be a Writing Machine – M.L. Ronn
  • Letters to Children – C. S. Lewis
  • Sex, Dating, And Relationships – Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas
  • Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee
  • The Screwtape Letters – C. S. Lewis
  • One to One Bible Reading – David Helm
  • The Problem of Pain – C. S. Lewis
  • Romans 8-16 For You – Timothy Keller
  • A Gospel Primer – Milton Vincent
  • On the Incarnation – St. Athanasius
  • Befriend – Scott Sauls
  • On the Apostolic Preaching – Irenaeus of Lyons
  • The Great Divorce – C. S. Lewis
  • The Duties of Parents: Parenting Your Children God’s Way – J. C. Ryle
  • Women of the Word – Jen Wilken

Are Our Kids Going to be Ok?

I came across a video the other day that as a parent of four digital natives shook me. It was an ad where three generations of a family were asked: “When you were a kid what did you do for fun?” The resulting answers are sobering, to say the least. Watch the video below and we will talk after.

Smartphones are a gift in that they allow us to present with those we love. They are no longer a gift when they isolate and separate us from those who God has entrusted into our care. They make life easier but rather than provide more time to love those God has placed us with the very device that frees us and our time turns on us and devours the very time it freed for us.

Andy Crouch says it this way in his book The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place “Technology, with all its gifts, poses one of the greatest threats ever conceived by human society to the formation of wise, courageous persons that real family and real community are all about.”

Technology is not evil when it serves us. It becomes devastating when we serve it. The single most devastating element of Technology is it isolates us and creates for us a virtual community of people who we can only know casually and never know intimately. We call people who share the same political ideals on twitter friends and go months without driving across town for a barbeque with the best man from your wedding.

We were made for presence, but so often our phones are the cause of our absence. To be two places at a time is to be no place at all. Turning off our phone for an hour a day is a way to turn our gaze up to each other, whether that be children, coworkers, friends, or neighbors. Our habits of attention are habits of love. To resist absence is to love neighbor

– Justin Early The Common Rule

Parents this is something we have to get right. Yet it is something that is so difficult because the very devices choking our children have a stranglehold on us as well. We have become so pleasure focused and pain averse we don’t even see the fact that we are numbing ourselves and making ourselves unable to feel unable to love the very people God has placed us in community with. We are unable to be present because we have forgotten who we are.

When we can’t answer the question of who we are in silence, we can’t answer it in public either, and our insecurities spill out into the world in the form of manipulations. We hide our confusion behind a posture of perpetual offense. If we are opposed to someone or something, that’s enough to create our identity for the day, which is to say we use others so that we can get the temporary identity we need. We don’t know who we are, so we make others feel the pain of our insecurity.

– Justin Early The Common Rule

Parents if we want our kids to answer the question of what did you do for fun as a kid differently we have to give them a different example. We have to give them a better story. Rather than teaching our kids to numb their pain electronically teach them, they were made for the love of God and love of neighbor. Kids remember what they see far more than what you tell them.

“Imitation is a far stronger principle with children than memory. What they see has a much stronger effect on their minds than what they are told”.

– J.C. Ryle

If we want our kids to live a different story we have to practice the gospel and preach the gospel. To apply the gospel to the lives or your kids you need to know what they are facing so you can point your kids to Jesus. The problem in so many families is parents are too distracted scrolling Instagram to listen to their kids and kids are to distracted by games to talk. We need to give our kids the gift of boredom. When you are bored you eventually create a creative way of escape. This is how kids develop critical life skills. When you as a family put down your devices your kids will get bored they will eventually start talking to you and you will actually listen because you are bored too.

Our electronic addiction is not the worst problem our world has faced because there have been many others that are far worse. It is, however, one of the more sinister problems because so many of us don’t see it as a problem. We were meant to be more than the amount of like we can manufacture with just the right angle of our selfie. We were meant for real lasting eternal connections with the family God has placed us in.

At the end of his book challenging families to rethink how they use technology, Andy Crouch ends with this sober challenge to be present.

We are meant to build this kind of life together: the kind of life that, at the end, is completely dependent upon one another; the kind of life that ultimately transcends, and does not need, the easy solutions of technology because it is caught up in something more true and more lasting than any alchemy our technological world can invent. We are meant to be family—not just marriages bound by vows and the children that come from them, but a wider family that invites others into our lives and even to the threshold of our very last breath, to experience vulnerability and grace, sorrow and hope, singing our way homeward. We are meant not just for thin, virtual connections but for visceral, real connections to one another in this fleeting, temporary, and infinitely beautiful and worthwhile life. We are meant to die in one another’s arms, surrounded by prayer and song, knowing beyond knowing that we are loved.

We are meant for so much more than technology can ever give us—above all, for the wisdom and courage that it will never give us. We are meant to spur one another along on the way to a better life, the life that really is life. Why not begin living that life, together, now?

Andy Crouch

So how do we change our kid’s story? Here are a few practical suggestions.

1. Filter your internet – Our family uses Circle by Disney it is a game-changer.
2. Limit your time – decide how much time is appropriate for adults and kids and keep each other accountable. – We don’t use screens at all on the Lord’s Day and when we come home from school and work we put our phones in a box still on so we can have undistracted availability.
3. Turn off all notifications – I did this a while back and it has been a game-changer for me. I only get notifications of text messages that’s it.
4. Delete apps that take up lots of your time. – I enjoy social media but when I look at my screen time report on my phone and see that I am spending more time than is wise for me to spend or am in a season I need to focus, rather than deleting the social media accounts I just delete the apps on my phone that make them so easy to access.
5. Remind yourself that restraint and control create freedom, not oppression. – You are free to use your phone for its many good purposes when your phone isn’t using you. The control allows you to love God and love neighbor. It allows you to treat your phone as a good gift rather than as a poor functional savior.

Here are a few resources I have found helpful.
The Tech-Wise Family
The Common Rule
Parent Chat
Liturgy of the Ordinary
You Are What You Love

Five Audiobooks You Have to Read Instead of the Physical Books

I love the way a physical book feels the way a book smells when you have a physical book in their hand. There are few things better than a great book. I agree with Lewis who said, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” As much as I enjoy a physical book there are some books that are just easier to read and resource on the kindle. Likewise, there are some books that you have to listen to on audio because they are just that good. I would go so far as to say that you really should listen to these audiobooks rather than read the physical copy.

Seeking Allah Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi – This book is the powerful recounting of the story of a Muslim looking for Allah and seeking truth and God in his mercy broke into his world and revealed himself to Nabeel in supernatural ways. The narration of the Book was by Nabeel himself it was a powerful story of conversion but why you should listen rather than read is hearing the emotion in Nabeel’s voice as he recounts the cost of following Christ as someone who grew up in a Muslim home. The cost was his family but the price was worth it. Such a powerful book you must listen to rather than read.

The Four Loves – By C.S. Lewis – Why would you not read a physical book by C.S. Lewis and listen to the audio instead? Well, when it’s the only recording of Lewis reading his own book. It’s, s to hear the voice of Lewis. A rare treat that you will thank me for later. Skip the book and go for the audio.



The Complete Chronicles of Narnia: The Classic BBC Radio 4 Full-Cast Dramatisation – I am a huge fan of all things Narnia. I have read all seven books several times. If you are looking to dip your toe in for the first time or if you have young kids you want to introduce to Narnia the BBC Dramatized version is the one for you.



David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell – There is something about an author reading their own book they do a much better job conveying what they wrote but also the intangible emotions they felt when they wrote what they wrote. David and Goliath was a powerful book about the power of underdogs. In this book, Gladwell is at his best. I rarely cry reading books. The end of this book was one of the exceptions. Powerful. Much more power by audio than by the book.


To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee – This is a classic that is a must read. The audio recording was done by Sissy Spacek and was excellent and engaging. People often argue what is better the book or the movie I say neither the audio book was better.