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Digital Distraction and the Death of Healthy Grieving

Millions of hurt people are escaping into mindless digital distractions rather than walking through the valley of healthy grieving.

Almost all of us are aware of the great dangers of distraction.

Over the past few years, digital culture has been luring us with terabytes of inane data, dumped daily onto our phones. Our many failings in giving into these distractions, and the consequences thereof, have made us acutely aware of the problem.

Students know distractions can affect their studies. Professionals know it can pull down their productivity.

When distractions creep in, we lose sight of our purpose. Distractions can leave us listless and, over time, weaken every good pursuit.

We are all aware of these risks. But what we perhaps do not yet fully recognise or understand is, how digital distractions undermine healthy grieving.

Imagine this scenario, which anecdotal evidence has convinced me is playing out thousand times over.

A husband and wife have a disagreement. They exchange sharp words. Both are hurt. And, both of them stomp away from each other. Impulsively, both grab their phones and start scrolling through mindless social media posts and stories.

If this conflict is not resolved soon, or if the pain is too much for Instagram stories to heal (temporarily), there is always a new series on Netflix that one can lose oneself in for many hours or even days.

Is this how you react too?

Consider what is happening here, and every time something like this plays out.

Both husband and wife are hurt. They need to grieve. But within a moment of feeling the hurt, they have abandoned the healthy and important soul work of grieving (and repenting).

Instead, they have immersed themselves in the shallow and fake solace of unnecessary and unhelpful information overload. Digital distraction has once again undermined healthy grieving.

Why Healthy Grieving is So Important

To be clear, and to set correct expectations, this article is not about grieving. This article is about how our digital culture is undermining our ability to grieve well. Still, a word on healthy grieving is in order.

Appropriate lament and grieving are important aspects of our growth and maturity as disciples of Christ. When we sin, we repent. When we are sinned against, we grieve. Forgiveness follows in time.

Are you aware of how much your digital life is affecting your capacity for healthy grieving?

In a fallen world, healthy grieving is almost as important as repentance in the daily life of a Christian. But grieving is difficult.

Healthy grieving, not only forces us to acknowledge our pain, but also leads us to reflect on our pain—study it, understand it, and view it from all around.

Only then can we truly and prayerfully apply the gospel to every hurting corner of our hearts.

A Digital Twist to an Age-Old Problem

Why are so many people so easily and repeatedly choosing to numb themselves with digital distractions rather than grieve healthily?

Since healthy grieving involves so much intentional hard work and pain, it is not at all surprising that we are all predisposed to be distracted from grieving. More often than not, we will choose distraction over grief.

This is the fallen human condition. We have been like this since the fall.

However, what is exacerbating the problem is that our digital culture is throwing infinitely more distractions than humanity has ever had to face.

Digital distractions can never replace Christ as our comfort.

In a span of only five minutes and a few flicks of our thumbs, we can scroll through terabytes of rich, colourful, and engaging, but meaningless content that add no value to our lives.

It is as if digital culture offers us a million escape paths away from healthy grief.

Are you aware of how much your digital life is affecting your capacity for healthy grieving?

This is a universal problem that every culture with high Internet access is facing. But Indians are at greater risk.

As a culture, we are perhaps not as much in touch with our emotions, as willing to acknowledge them, and as skillful in handling them, as some other cultures.

We tend to bury emotions, especially grief. This pre-disposition makes us more vulnerable.

Choosing Healthy Grieving over Distraction

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” Jesus said in his sermon on the mount (Matt. 5:4).

This calls us to mourn over our own sinfulness and seek Christ our Saviour. It calls us to grieve how others have sinned against us, mourn the anguish of a broken world, and seek Christ—our only hope and comfort.

Digital distractions can never replace Christ as our comfort. On the contrary, when we turn away from Christ and toward other things in our grief, we are damaging our souls.

The opposite of a devoted Christian is a distracted Christian.

Ignoring grief does not make it go away. Buried grief keeps piling up. Our grief towers mount and mount, until one day it topples over, leaving us as emotional wrecks.

Digital distractions cannot help us then, just as it did not help us earlier.

Any indulgence in digital distractions or any distraction for that matter quite often points to an empty soul, uncaptivated by Christ, and undernourished in him. It points to a boat without an anchor, eager to go whichever way the wind blows.

The opposite of a devoted Christian is a distracted Christian.

From Digital Distraction to Real Devotion

So, how can we turn away from the shallow, momentary, and fake relief of a digital distraction, and give ourselves to the gospel labour of healthy grieving, and through it appropriate our hope in Christ?

To reject digital distractions in our hour of grief, we must already have turned away from such distractions during normal times in our lives. Habits formed and solidified in fair weather conditions, cannot be changed in a storm.

So the work must begin now. Not when grief comes heavy.

Take stock now, of how much joy and delight you are finding in Christ. How satisfied are you in him? This does not happen overnight.

Seek out gospel community. Find people who love Jesus in your church. Find your band of brothers or sisters in Christ with whom you can journey together.

In time, and in God’s grace, your soul will awake to the beauty of Christ. The affections of your heart will turn toward him.

As the old song goes, “the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.”

This is the only way to overcome distraction—digital or otherwise.

Lastly, we need not be afraid of grief. It cannot break us. On the contrary, grief is a window through which we can see hope. Grief is not the end. It is not ultimate, absolute, or eternal. In Christ, only joy is forever.

We need to yield to see Jesus through our tears. Often, it is only in our grief that we can see Christ most near and most clear.

Christ saved us through his tears (Heb. 5:7). Because he saved us through his tears, we can draw close to him through ours.

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