Have trouble disconnecting? Try prayer

Finding True Peace In the Age of Technology Overload

Here is a truly shocking statistic: according to the latest research, 74% of young adults between the ages of 10 and 20 who were raised in the Church no longer identify as Catholic. What’s even more shocking is that the median age of disaffiliation has been declining significantly and just recently reached 13.

A large part of the problem is the near constant bombardment of texts, snaps, and tweets that today’s young people are surrounded with. Incredibly, nearly 4 in 10 millennials report actually interacting more with their smartphones than with their loved ones. It’s no wonder they have trouble connecting with a deep search for beauty and truth when they have become so addicted to their phones that they refuse to sleep more than a few feet away from them.

But it isn’t just the millennials and Gen Z’ers; thanks to our societal addiction to technology, the average office worker now checks their email inbox 30 times every hour and the average smartphone user picks up their device over 210 times a day, causing our collective human attention span to have decreased by more than 30% since 2000 (to less than that of a goldfish).

So, what do we do? Collectively admit that enough is enough; that it’s time to roll back the clock on technological innovation; throw out our smart phones; and disconnect our wifi routers? Unfortunately, I’m not sure that’s an outcome we can bank on solving the problem.

The good news is that there has been a push to fight back against the increasing levels of anxiety and depression that come with technological dependency. One particularly popular solution, the practice of “mindfulness”, has become quite the buzzword in places like Silicon Valley. According to mindful.org, “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” Sounds great! Sign me up! There’s just one problem…

Increasingly, more and more young people have pursued this idea of “mindfulness” outside of the traditions of the Church through secular pseudo-spiritual practices, replacing Mass with yoga and meditation classes. As a result, there has been a large movement of people leaving the institutional church for the self-ascribed "Spiritual But Not Religious" life.

But do those looking for a mindful or spiritual experience really need to look outside of the Church?

Of course not!

As it turns out, there is 2,000 years of Church tradition filled with a rich history of contemplative religious practices. From the early desert mothers and fathers, to the Benedictines and Franciscans, to the Ignatians and beyond, contemplative approaches to prayer have been a core foundation of the church militant’s effort to know and love God from the beginning. Practices like Lectio Divina, the Rosary, and the Examen are often as core to the lives of Saints as is the holy sacrifice of the Mass.

It seems that the challenge facing us is not that the Church has nothing to offer those seeking a mindful or mystic experience, it’s just that we haven’t done the best job letting people know that they exist.

So how do we get people to believe that the stodgy old Catholic church has even more to offer the mediation crowd than any yogi they might find?

As they say in business school, let your data do the talking.

Even at the level of physical health, the benefits of prayer are overwhelmingly clear. According to research done by Dr. Caroline Leaf,  “It has been found that 12 minutes of daily focused prayer over an 8 week period can change the brain to such an extent that it can be measured on a brain scan. This type of prayer increases activity in brain areas associated with social interaction, compassion, and sensitivity to others. It also increases frontal lobe activity as focus and intentionality increase.”

Moreover, there have been initial indications that prayer can be effective in helping to treat addiction, particularly in alcoholics. In a recent study published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse,  “Previous investigations by other researchers of the role of prayer on drinking behavior found that alcohol abusers who reported a spiritual awakening drank less after treatment for alcoholism. Research participants assigned to engage in prayer—unrelated to drinking—every day for four weeks drank about half as much as those who were not.”

One specific area where the Catholic approach to mindfulness has been gaining institutional momentum is in Catholic schools. Sponsored in part by the Institute for Pastoral Initiatives, a group of researchers incorporated Christian mediation (a specific form of Catholic contemplative prayer) into the morning routines of both faculty and classes of students in Catholic schools. “[A selected sample of teachers] indicated that initially there was reluctance, or bumps along the way, but all had similarly positive conclusions. Their students not only enjoyed the practice, but have grown as a result.” One specific reaction from Emily, an 11 year-old: “What I like about Christian Meditation is that you get time to stop and take time to be with Jesus.”

In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, “Today, schools of prayer and prayer groups exist; it is obvious people want them. Many seek meditation elsewhere, because they think that they will not be able to find a spiritual dimension in Christianity. We must show them once again, not only that this spiritual dimension exists, but that it is the source of all things.”

Not only is that the truth, it is also the answer to the deepest longing we all have in our souls. No matter how great the filter, no Snapchat story or Instagram post can fill that void. Only by inviting God into the silence of our hearts and accepting his loving embrace can we find true peace.

He is there waiting.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28)”

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