Go ahead and roll your eyes at my title if you want, but this doubt-filled question is lurking in the hearts of those you know, see at church, and sit with in the counseling room. We may guffaw when we hear of the high percentage of adults and adolescents labeled with Nomophobia (the fear of being without their cell phone), wondering what has gone wrong with our culture today. We wonder how far we’ve sunk as a society since the days of kickball and bicycle races with the friendly neighborhood kids, when friends spoke face to face and time was filled with community rather than technology. This sounds like a ridiculous problem with a simple solution, but before you yell out, “Oh brother, just get over it,” let’s look more carefully.
The last decade or more has revealed a growing trend in cell phone dependence and in various anxieties surrounding mobile devices. A quick google search on “cell phone anxiety” turns up no less than 62 million results. The world can see the problem, and they’re busy talking about it. The causes of the anxiety tied up with cell phones may be broad and varied, with an unfathomable number of factors influencing each individual heart. I can’t address them all, so instead I’ll zoom in on just one: the belief that my phone is my security. Of course a cell phone is a useful tool, connecting us to resources and individuals. It’s the means by which we encourage and uplift friends, keep in touch with family far away, set our various appointments, and even call 911. But when we start to think of our phones as the things that keeps us safe and secure, we’re going to have some problems.
What good is a small rectangle of metal, plastic and glass going to do for you if you’re feeling devastatingly alone, fearful of illnesses and pain, suffering deeply at cutting words, or facing a physical threat? Not much really, except that the tiny rectangle promises to connect you to relief for what feel like urgent needs: distraction, information, a line out for rescue. And this is a hope that maybe we all waste time clinging to.
The stay at home mom nervously fidgets with her hands until she picks up her phone to check for one more email, one more text, one more bit of praise on social media that might help fill her mind with something other than her mundane and frustrating responsibilities. The teenager whose life is suddenly chaotic because of parents who are divorcing and fighting over custody, fears the threat of an angry parent taking away their phone, their only connection to the rest of the world, to normalcy, to help. The young adult who fears the onslaught of painful and debilitating disease looks to the internet to check his symptoms, gather information to feel more in control, and perhaps find a tiny glimmer of hope from someone else’s story of relief. The wife who fears conflict and physical danger from her oppressive husband clings to her phone as her only one source of emergency help. In all these examples, and I could list so many more, individuals are believing that their phone is their security. Take the phones out of their hands, and watch their hearts cry out, “Where is my help? What on earth will I do now?” And on a deeper, unspoken level, watch them wonder, “Where is God now?”
Clearly the Bible was written long before cell phones (or even electricity)! But just by sampling a few pages from practically any book in there, you’ll find stories of people overwhelmed with fears and anxieties, and you’ll also find a faithful God pursuing, comforting and fighting for them. He has not been powerless for thousands of years, waiting for someone to invent cell phones in order to answer all our deepest, most urgent needs. No, he has always been in the business of calming anxieties. He is the answer to our needs. Consider some beautiful Psalms:
I lift my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
Jerusalem is surrounded by mountains, which leaves its inhabitants vulnerable. When the psalmist looks up at the perfect perch for an enemy, he responds to his desperate question with faith, as if to say, “I am not alone and vulnerable. I have help, and it comes from the Lord — the Lord who is so powerful that he spoke these very hills into existence.”
Psalm 4:3b, 8
The Lord hears when I call to him.
In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
For you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.
An anxious soul knows too well the struggle to lie still and to sleep. Here, David rests his conflicted heart in believing truth: there’s a God who hears his call, and it’s that God who keeps David safe. It may seem like fortified walls, a sturdy ceiling, a company of soldiers, some armor and a sword keep him safe, but ultimately, they don’t. It is the Lord alone who protects him.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore, we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
Though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
That’s a pretty extreme picture! How on earth could anyone not fear if the earth is being destroyed by earthquakes and tsunamis? This peace comes from knowing God is in control and in trusting his character and promises. Read further in this Psalm:
Be still, and know that I am God
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!
The LORD of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our fortress.
Even in the worst-case scenario, the faithful believer can be still, quietly resting in the fact that everything is not out of control. God is going to win. The Lord who commands an army is present, and the God of Jacob protects us by his strength.
These are familiar passages, sometimes so familiar that we miss the rich meaning. And what on earth could these ancient song lyrics possibly have to do with cell phones? Let’s rewrite some of these words and make our own Psalm to answer our anxieties:
I lift up my eyes to see pressures, unpleasant emotions and fears all around me.
Where will I get any relief and help?
My help doesn’t come from the distraction or information on my phone.
My help comes from the Lord who owns this whole world.
Nothing is beyond his control.
When I call out to God, I know he hears me.
When I try to lay still and go to sleep, I can do it in peace because I know that
My cell phone doesn’t keep me safe and secure. God does.
God is my refuge and strength, and he’s always there to help me when I need it.
Therefore, I will not fear, even if my phone battery is dead, there’s no cell service, my phone is confiscated or even smashed to bits.
The Lord of hosts is with me.
I can be still and know with confidence that he is in control of everything. He will help me.
He is God, he will be exulted in all the earth, and he is with me now.
No believer is destined to be a nomophobe. We can confidently stand in security with or without our cellphones, because we know our God is with us.