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Technology: Abandon the screens; focus on the people

I love technology.

When I see an iPad-shaped box under the tree, I get excited. This article was supposed to be a gift guide for all those who would be braving the crowds at the big box stores or waking up early to log onto their favorite online retailer to catch the perfect deal. It was supposed to be an opportunity for me to help people discover an app like Accordance for the scholar-type or talk about how Amazon Prime includes every Veggie Tale to help your kids grow closer to God.

However, when I sent out interview requests to the usual cast of passionate experts on what tech products can help your family members grow closer to God, I got a long list of responses like this one from Kevin Alton, content curator for Science for Youth Ministry: "Grow spiritually? Probably a completely discharged tablet for middle school kids."

I was surprised as person after person voiced concern that our technology is getting in the way of our spiritual growth. But, I shouldn't have been. Research continues to show that too much screen time is incredibly unhealthy for our children's minds.

Research seems to indicate that as our engagement with the many screens in our world increases, it decreases the time that we are engaged with people in other ways. As that happens, we become less and less able to relate and empathize with others.

The young adults involved in faith are sensing this and are turning to less technological tools to explore and grow spiritually. They are not eschewing technology altogether, but they are limiting its influence. Becca Griffin, worship leader for the Wesley Foundation at Tennessee Technological University, mentors the young adults through a transformation process called Seeds. During sessions, they replace their screen time with intentional community reflection and give up doodle apps for a large space to write on for half of the lesson.

More and more people are finding it necessary to deliberately limit their time with technological devices in order to carve out space for the spiritual and relational. For those like Griffin, that means taking a technology Sabbath where she turns off her phone, intentionally leaves the technology behind and pays attention to the people and places around her.

Instead of giving you technological picks for gift giving, I encourage you to have a technology-free holiday. Sit down, talk with your family and decide how to handle it. You might not need to lock your wireless router in a safe, but maybe you decide as a family to leave the phones under the tree or decide to forgo multi-hour watching of a sporting event on television.

Instead, talk. Tell stories of holidays past. Spend time without a screen between you and the ones you love.

The Rev. Jeremy Steele is Next Generation Minister at Christ United Methodist Church, Mobile, Alabama. He is an author, blogger at jeremywords.com and a frequent contributor to MyCom, an e-newsletter published by United Methodist Communications.