My Destructive Addiction

“We were positively encouraged to create for ourselves minds we would want to live with. I had teachers articulate that to me: ‘You have to live with your mind your whole life.’ You build your mind, so make it into something you want to live with. Nobody has ever said anything more valuable to me.” – Marilynne Robinson

Weston Priory

Susan, a sixty-five year old woman, picked me up in her grey late-90s model Toyota Camry from the bus station in New Hampshire. She was tasked by the brothers at the Weston Priory to drive me to their monastery nestled in foothills of the Green mountains in Weston, Vermont. We shared a little bit about our lives during our hour long drive together – how she moved to Weston from New York to serve the brothers once she retired, and how I found the monastery on Google. Two peas-in-a-pod, me and Susan.

Susan knew the lay of the land well. After we arrived and I met the brother in charge of hospitality, she drove me to my cottage in the woods – a mile away from the dining hall and chapel. To eat my meals, I had to walk to the dining hall; to pray with the brothers, I had to walk to the chapel; to work (my payment for room and board) with Brother Daniel, I had to walk to the sheep pen which was near the dining hall. I was isolated in a place of isolation, and the only way to interact with others was to walk a mile.

It was late April. Even though Vermont experienced a mild winter that year, it still controlled the ebbs and flows of each day. The sun rose on the dreariness of past months and set on the chill of what should be long past. Two birds, chirping a familiar song to each other, yet slightly different in pitch, hiding in the trees along the gravel path between the cottage and chapel, were the only signs of the striving spring. Their persistence and cadence on each trek, to and fro — my solace in the miscast season.

In between the moments of prayer, food, and work, I found myself in my cottage, attempting to pray, read, and reflect on the goodness of God. I opened my bible to Luke, and flipped to the next blank page in my journal (which was probably page 2), and entered into the presence of God. After 10 restless minutes, I grabbed my phone and turned it on. Nothing. The Green mountains, hugging both sides of the priory, blocked the information of the outside world to my cellular device. So, I shuffled hopefully to the window and checked again. Nothing. I raised the phone just a little bit more, slightly over my head, and pressed it up against the chilled window. Nothing.

I spent three days and three nights restlessly pursing God and hopefully expecting a ding of notifications. My only peace? Hearing the birds sing to each other and imagining them finally meeting – both birds perched high upon leaf strewn branches, so close to each other in the vast forest that the next call must make it evident of the other’s place, head swiveling from the east to the west, from the north to the south, finally catching a wave, the wave, eeking through the leaves along the way, a slight silhouette of the one they had called all those days finally becoming clear in front of the setting sun, just peeking up over the tip of the mountains. Finally…

-Hi, my name is Justin McGee, and I am a phone addict.

-Hi, Justin…

The comfort wrought from the potentiality of my cell phone, that in some way it replaces the touch or encouragement of another or the joyous sounds of birds, is a destructive fallacy. It tangles my consciousness and trips my mind into believing – this is good; this is right. It sees “a cornfield…late in the year, all the stalks dead where they stand” without noticing “the dim shine of sunlight on the leaves, and how the stalks were all bent one way, to tops of them” (Robinson, Lila)

Freedom in Christ allows us to see the unveiling light, not just the dead stalks; freedom in Christ reminds us we are no longer slaves to our sin, but free to live in the righteousness of Christ– that joy is found, not in the façade of our destructive comfort, but in being grafted into the family of God; freedom in Christ allows us to break away from our addictions, and see how God used its corresponding sorrow to shape us more into his image; the freedom of Christ mysteriously transforms our addictions into blessings.

Then the reasons that things happen are still hidden, but they are hidden in the mystery of God…Of course misfortunes have opened the way to blessings…This is not to say that joy is a compensation for loss, but that each of them, joy and loss, exists in its own right and must be recognized for what it is. Sorrow is very real, and loss feels very final to us. Life on earth is difficult and grave, and marvelous. — John Ames, Lila

Indeed, it is marvelous. The birds proclaim it in their meeting.

2 thoughts on “My Destructive Addiction

  1. ” I found myself in my cottage, attempting to pray, read, and reflect on the goodness of God. I opened my bible to Luke, and flipped to the next blank page in my journal (which was probably page 2), and entered into the presence of God. After 10 restless minutes, I grabbed my phone and turned it on. Nothing. ”

    – just a thought, is it possible, that whatever potentially was on your phone was a more worthwhile pursuit? As hard as it can be to stomach, was the “primal” reward/response portion of your mind trying to send you a message?

    What exactly is a distraction anyways, when you boil it down?


  2. Hey Blake, thanks for the comment!

    I hope this response is helpful, but I’m not entirely sure if I answer it well or fully. I apologize if I miss your point. Also, I think it will help me if I answer your last question first and move from there…

    The distraction would be from the present moment — and as a Christian, the present moment is the place in which God moves. But, let me try to speak more broadly without a transcendental perspective (which is challenging for me, as you know, and I might not do it sufficiently).

    To fulfill my primal response by freely giving my attention to facebook, twitter, instagram, my email, etc. in the midst of beauty or something culturally different or something uncomfortable, removes me from my present circumstances and allows me to hide myself from those circumstances. I detach myself from the moment because of some hope that this primal message — response/reward — is greater than the one I can obtain from attending to other aspects of my present surroundings. Yet, the tendency to do so (for me — this is an important distinction) oftentimes leads to dissatisfaction — not because of some cosmic shame (sometimes it might be, but not always) but because time was wasted in a desire that brings back less benefits than other desires easily had during that same time.

    So then, if the base desire is constantly leading me out of the moment, and this detachment leads to negative “rewards”, wouldn’t it be something to avoid? It is not that those things are bad in themselves, and it is not that a primal desire to seek relationships or knowledge from the tools on a cell phone is entirely wrong. But, if it becomes the default desire in times of isolation and fulfilment of those desires has a negative consequence, might it be better to adapt or attempt to change those default desires?

    Now, to step back into a world I believe to be sustained by God — he is the one who rightly orders our desires. Through the power of his Holy Spirit, he transforms those primal desires so we use them rightly. Sometimes very quickly, sometimes very slowly. As the narrator in Marilynne Robinson’s Novel, ‘Lila’, that I quoted above — he sheds light on the dead stalks, so we can see them differently — so we can see the world illuminated by him. We see that shame is not the response to using the primal desires wrongly, but we can find joy in the sorrow it might have brought, and trust in the mystery of a God who sustains all things. This trust is the response, and communion with God is the reward, which is ultimately the joy of Christ in the present moment. Its the enjoyment of the signing birds and the rustling of the tress.

    I think this is what I was trying to explain in the original post but in a narrative structure, not a syllogistic or systematic one.



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