Why I Stopped Phoning It In on Sundays

Why I Stopped Phoning It In on Sundays

Sean Johnson
09/11/15 | 3 min read

I start my day leisurely fighting zombies in my bedroom. You know, the usual morning routine.

Then my favorite indie pop band shows up to play my favorite song, a surprise living room concert for one—until breaking news interrupts the party: “Cat Does Adorable Thing You Won’t Want to Miss!”

This isn’t a cheesy dream sequence in a bad movie. It’s a typical scene from my hyperdistracted, perpetually connected existence, lived one phone charge at a time. It’s never boring. It’s frequently exhausting. And we haven’t even reached breakfast yet.

I Pledge Allegiance to My Phone

From the moment I wake until the moment I doze off at night, half listening to a podcast, I’m swimming in distractions. My phone, which may as well be grafted to my hand at this point, is an endless stream of status updates and selfies, retweets and reblogs, emails and every episode of my favorite 90s sitcom. Each buzz or beep heralds the arrival of some exciting novelty, pulling my attention to the screen’s friendly glow. I absolutely love it.

But love comes with a cost. With my head so frequently in the cloud, I’ve become an expert at being somewhere without actually being there. If attention is the currency of our lives and each of us has a finite amount to give, then my account is overdrawn. My attention span has been poked and push-notified to death.

The Big Hang Up

This story isn’t about phones though. It doesn’t end with some profound personal breakthrough either, where I power-down my devices and suddenly achieve perfect mindfulness. It’s smaller and simpler than that—and it’s about signs.

I almost missed it, I’m embarrassed to tell you, the Sunday afternoon last conference when Elder Nelson talked about the Sabbath day. My body was planted in front of the TV broadcast, but my mind was bouncing somewhere between a game of Angry Birds and the Wikipedia entry for “History of the chair.”

But I managed, in spite of myself, to glean a key point: what if, instead of treating the Sabbath as a list of dos and don’ts, we treated it as a sign to Heavenly Father—a chance to express our love, gratitude, and discipleship?

What sign did I want to give? And what sign was I giving at that moment on that Sabbath day—and also during so many Sunday School and elders quorum meetings—when I was physically present but mentally elsewhere? Not only to God, but to those around me.

“Thou shalt not text in sacrament meeting” isn’t written anywhere in the books. But maybe my Sabbath sign—my expression that I cared—could be as simple as paying a little more attention.

Why I Stopped Phoning It In on Sundays

What’s Your Sign?

Each Sunday brings each of us unique opportunities to express our devotion and interest in spiritual things, even in small ways. It’s up to us to identify them. Church leaders could easily supply us with an exhaustive laundry list of Sabbath dos and don’ts. But, trite as the old saying may sound, it’s the thought that counts—and when we have to put deliberate thought into the sign we want to give, it becomes all the more meaningful.

Maybe your sign is joining ward choir or taking a walk with your family on Sunday to enjoy the beauties of creation. Maybe it’s baking a pie for a friend or showing up a few minutes early for sacrament meeting. It doesn’t have to be something big—just something that helps you draw a little closer to Him on the Sabbath day.

As for me, my attention span is still only slightly less erratic than my golden retriever puppy’s. But I’m making a conscious effort, at least once a week, to be a little more present and resist the impulse to zone out. One small step I’ve taken is changing my phone wallpaper on Sundays, a subtle reminder that the Sabbath is a different kind of day. I move apps like Gospel Library to my home screen too and use “Do Not Disturb” mode during sacrament meeting. It’s a small thing. But it’s something.

Two-Way Signs

The Sabbath as a sign goes two ways. Just as it’s a chance for us to express feelings of love and devotion to our Heavenly Father, the very existence of the Sabbath is a sign of His love for us. Our Father knew we would need a time to rest from some of life’s stresses and reconnect with what matters most. In a way, the Sabbath is as much about Him honoring us as it is about us honoring Him.

And the blessings, as usual, outweigh any sacrifices we might make—a reminder that the Sabbath was made for woman and man, a true gift and expression of love from a kind and caring Father.

Sean Johnson
Sean Johnson, from Portland, Oregon, serves in the Primary and teaches the three-year-old Sunbeams with his wife, Joanna.