The Digital Pacifier: Be Here Now by Corinne Karl

The Digital Pacifier: Be Here Now by Corinne Karl

“Oh no. I’m getting sad. I’ve gotta get the phone and write ‘hi’ to like fifty people.” —Louis C.K.

Boy did I laugh and then cringe at that comment. I felt seen. I was listening to a sermon preached by John Mark Comer where he opened by sharing a clip by the comedian Louis C.K. The sermon was on silence and solitude — and how we are terrified of it. Guilty. We don’t know how to just be anymore. I’m so hurry sick that I always feel like I need to be doing something with my hands. My hands don’t know how to be still anymore. Part of this, for me, I think, is being the mom of two young children — my hands are in near constant motion. Part of this, however, is also a product of our culture. I so often just don’t know what to do with my hands. So what do I do with them? More often than I like, I reach for my phone — more than I even reach for my children, as my screentime reports remind me each week. Ugh.

Terrified of Sadness

Why do I often find myself picking up my phone? So often, because I am sad; because I am lonely; because I’m an extroverted part-time work-from-home mom of a four year old and a two year old, which is simultaneously exceedingly wonderful and exceedingly hard. I long for the connection I have lost because my friends with kids are all underwater, as I often find myself, or perpetually sick and getting together with other human beings seems nearly impossible sometimes. 

Louis C.K., a modern prophet, as Comer jokes comedians are, simultaneously called me out while also comforting me that I am far from alone, continuing: 

“Anyway I started to get that sad feeling and I was reaching for my phone and then I said ‘ya know what don’t. Just be sad. Just let the sadness hit. Stand in the way of it and let it hit you like a truck.’ …. Sadness is poetic. You’re lucky to live sad moments. And then I had happy feelings. Cuz when you feel sad, your body has sadness antibodies. It has happy feelings that come rushing in to meet the sad feelings… because we don’t want that first bit of sad you never feel completely sad or completely happy.”

So what do I do? I “write ‘hi’ to like fifty people”, longing for someone to answer me. I scroll Facebook to check up on people. I scroll Instagram looking for funny memes and videos to numb the loneliness. I avoid letting the sadness “hit me like a truck” because I’m afraid I may never recover if I do. I rarely give God the chance to send in those “sadness antibodies” he designed because I reach too quickly for my phone.

The Digital Pacifier

We’ve all seen it, and perhaps as parents we’ve done it ourselves — the kid in the grocery cart, at the table at the restaurant, in the waiting room — zoned out on the phone or tablet. Holding the attention of small children all day long can be exhausting. Kids always want us paying attention to them, giving them eye contact, holding them, engaging them. Paired with our hurry sick lives, it can feel like too much to bear in some moments. So what do we do when they demand our attention or start to lose it for the umpteenth time this morning? We distract them. What’s the easiest way to do that? To hand them a glowing rectangle. Kids will go nearly catatonic at the sight of a glowing rectangle. It seems almost too good to be true. 

Guys, here’s the problem — it is. When we hand them a device every time they are stir crazy or cranky or impatient or tired or we just want a break — we are teaching them to use devices to pacify these hard feelings —which is exactly what we adults have taught ourselves to do! 

Why is this a problem? Jenny Radesky, MD, a developmental behavioral pediatrician, says “Using a distractor like a mobile device doesn’t teach a skill–it just distracts the child away from how they are feeling. Kids who don’t build these skills in early childhood are more likely to struggle when stressed out in school or with peers as they get older.” We’re depriving our kids and ourselves the chance to develop skills to navigate hard feelings when we use our devices as a digital pacifier. 

I’ve saved this passage from Andy Crouch’s The Tech-Wise Family in my phone as a regular reminder when all I want to do is distract my kids with a device:

“Who wants to turn every trip home from the store into an opportunity to build character? Except, of course, that’s exactly what character is made of—daily, slow, sometimes painstaking steps toward handling everyday challenges with courage and grace. And these opportunities are not just for our children but for us too, figuring out how to cultivate our own patience and spark our own creativity as we deal with their sometimes unreasonable or impossible desires.”

It’s hard, guys. I’m not saying it isn’t. We’re all still recovering from a two (plus) year pandemic and, let’s face it, we’re still not ok. There’s so much pain and suffering and hard around us from toddler tantrums to climate change to political division that tears us apart. We live in a Sabbath-less ruthless world that is desperately in need of restoration. We need that restoration most of all 

But we need to “choose our pain”, as the Birds and Bees founders often say. Do you want to choose the pain of dealing with engaging your kids a whole lot the pain of what we did to our kids teaching them to run to their devices instead of us? Do we want to choose the pain of feeling our hard feelings and processing them and surrendering them to Jesus or choose the pain of scrolling them away for decades, numbing ourselves into oblivion? 

How Can We Wean Off The Digital Pacifier?

  1. Give yourself grace. To digitally pacify ourselves is the water in which we swim culturally. It’s hard to swim against the current. Don’t give up when you find yourself falling into old habits, just try again. 
  1. Be here now. Here’s a free little lockscreen image you can download and make your phone background if the reminder will be helpful. 
  • Engage your feelings: Don’t scroll them away. 
  • Engage Jesus: Bring them to Jesus. 
  • Engage the people around you: Yes, you will be more tired. Instead of distracting yourself, engage those around you. Instead of distracting your kid, can you  find a way to include them or engage them? Even menial tasks can become opportunities for connection and community.

Let’s Keep Watch With Jesus 

Let’s take it to the next level. As we go into the heart of Holy Week, what if we were to observe Maundy Thursday and Good Friday by intentionally feeling our hard feelings? What if we were more present to Jesus? What if we were more present to our family and friends?

After the Last Supper, surrounded with his dearest friends, Jesus went into the darkness of the Garden of Gethsemane and felt all the hard feelings — he didn’t push them down, he didn’t numb them with the leisure of binge-watching or scrolling. Matthew 26 recounts: “He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’” 

The God of the universe allowed himself to feel sorrowful, troubled, and overwhelmed. And what did he ask of his friends? “Keep watch with me.” 

What if from sundown on Maundy Thursday through Good Friday we kept watch with Jesus? What if, as we feel hard feelings arise within us, we choose not to pick up our phones and scroll? What if we chose not to distract ourselves with memes and videos? What if we chose, just for this one day, to do as Jesus did and lift up our sorrow, our trouble, and our overwhelm to the Father? What if, in solidarity with Jesus on the hardest day of his life, which he took on for our sake, we kept watch with him alongside him? 

Some suggestions for how we could potentially execute such a thing:

  1. Identify your “digital pacifier” apps and delete them. Just from sundown Thursday through Friday. You can always reinstall and log back into them, don’t worry! Some of you may find this step unnecessary. I, myself, find myself often having to delete apps for a day or more when I find myself autopiloting to them to pacify my hard moments. And don’t forget to log out of the browser version of Facebook and Instagram. Make it difficult for yourself for the moments you forget or are tempted. 
  2. When you feel a hard feeling coming on, choose to let it hit you. Take a deep breath. Feel it. Name it. Don’t fear it. Maybe you’ve been pushing something down for a long time. As it bubbles up, watch it wash over you and don’t panic. 
  3. Pray. You could just go total freeform and lay all your swirling thoughts upon God — He can handle it. Or you could latch onto a short prayer. Pick a Psalm or phrase in advance to latch onto when you feel the hard feeling. Here’s a few suggestions, but pick something that is meaningful to you:
    • “Sustain me, Lord”
    • “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” —Pslam 27: 134
    • “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.” —Pslam 118:6
    • “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” —Psalm 56:3
    • “Be still, and know that I am God” — Psalm 46:10
  4. Stop for a moment and read a passage of Scripture that brings you comfort. Sometimes the words of scripture can help us find the words we don’t even realize we’re searching for. Thanks to technology, you can have access to the Bible at all times. 

Some passages I’d suggest to stop and read through when the hard feelings hit: 

  1. Try adding in a fast. It’s something the Church practiced for a long time to help them keep prayer at the forefront and for a lot of other awesome reasons. Yes, it’s hard, but not as hard as you think. Treat every hunger pang as a reminder to pray. You’ll find you won’t forget! When I practice fasting, I do so by eliminating food from post dinner one night until dinner with my family the next day, then family dinner remains in tact. I also allow myself water and black tea. You can try with modifications.
  2. Reflect in community. The best things in life are done together. If there are unresolved things you need to resolve, seek out wise counsel. If God is stirring you to change something, share with trusted friends. If you’ve become aware of an aching or a grieving in your life, after you bring it to Jesus, bring it to someone in your community as well, that they may help lighten the burden for you.

Will you join me this week in observing Maundy Thursday and Good Friday a little differently?

Happy Holy Week! Let’s keep watch. Let’s be alert. Let’s be present.


Corinne Karl is the co-leader of the Shrewsbury community group and one of the Beginners teachers in Park Kids. 


Don’t forget to join us as we pause to reflect upon the cross at our Good Friday Evensong service from 6-7pm.

And register today for our Tech-Wise Panel Discussion on April 28th from 6:30-8:30pm. It will be an awesome night with our panelists, which include a mental health professional, educators, a tech expert, and a parent and adult son who practiced tech-wisdom in their home. You won’t want to miss it. Visit our Tech-Wise page to register and learn more about our panelists. 


Resources Cited

Elijah & the Broom Bush | Silence and Solitude E2 – John Mark Comer Teachings Podcast

6 Signs You’re Dealing With Hurry Sickness

Digital Pacifiers for Cranky Kids Only Make Matters Worse in the Long Run |

Birds and Bees Instagram

To Starve the Flesh & Feed the Spirit | E1 – John Mark Comer Teachings Podcast