Spiritual Practice



Each January many of us set New Year’s resolutions. From eating healthier to working out, resolutions tend to be new habits we’d like to form or goals we’d like to meet in the next 12 months. But our behavior can be difficult to modify, and we often struggle to add something new to our already busy school and work schedules.

I tend to make my resolutions spiritual practices—prayer, scripture-reading, journaling, and meditation—tools that deepen my faith while enriching my life. For the past several years, I’ve tried using technology to help me keep my spiritual resolutions.

Downloading the latest meditation or prayer app, I’ve hoped it would motivate me to stick with the daily habit beyond the bump of energy I feel at the start of a fresh calendar year. Typically, by day ten, I’ve been frustrated, viewing the notification as just another to-do, rather than a prompt to help me focus my efforts.

Now I realize I have been viewing digital disciplines the wrong way.

I expected this new shiny technology to provide an easy “fix” for my lack of spiritual discipline. I imagined the apps to be my cure-all, and I was disappointed when they felt like a flimsy Band-Aid®. My digital disciplines weren’t working because I was relying on the tech to do the work, instead of engaging with the practice itself.

The practice of disciplines—prayer, meditation, or lectio divina—requires me to dedicate time to be still, to reflect on scripture, and to be attentive to God. If I’m not intentional, I’m only tapping, swiping, and checking off a box to say I did it—rather than honoring the reasons I chose to expand my spiritual practice in the first place.

I need to reframe the role that tech plays in my spiritual disciplines.

Tech is not a substitute for practice. The app won’t pray, meditate, or read scripture for me—but digital tools can provide accessibility, structure, accountability, and community.

Apps and online communities can offer support for our spiritual disciplines. For instance, these tools can give me a starting point, a scaffold for my practice, and a channel by which to interact with other participants. Technology allows me not only to remain accountable to my spiritual discipline resolutions, but also to connect, interact, and learn from others’ journeys.

The digital tools, then, become an added support system for the spiritual discipline—not a substitute for the discipline itself.

Teenage boy in a bedroom listening to music through his smartphoneWebsites, social media feeds, and apps such as Calm, Centering Prayer, My Quiet Spaces, devozine, and The Upper Room daily devotional guide offer a built-in network of daily check-ins, prayer and meditation prompts, scripture passages, faith stories, quotes, tips, timers, and inspirational photos for our path. They also demonstrate the real struggles and joys of keeping the faith in a digital world. If we are intentional with our tech, we can encounter and hold sacred space at the touch of a button.

Though digital tools by themselves cannot deepen my faith, enrich my life, or keep my New Year’s spiritual resolutions, these tools offer an avenue through which I can build my practice, receive support and connection, and offer others the same.



How might you reframe the way you use apps and other digital tools to engage your spirituality online? This New Year, consider what spiritual resolutions you can begin and how the appropriate digital tools can help you keep them. Then clear the clutter that doesn’t invite you to dig deeper.

Rev. J. Dana Trent is a graduate of Duke Divinity School and a religion and humanities faculty member at Wake Technical Community College. Her latest book, One Breath at a Time: A Skeptic’s Guide to Christian Meditation, is now available from Upper Room Books.

—from devozine (January/February 2019). Copyright © 2018 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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