01/15/2014 10:42 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Hands Free Mama Challenge Week 1: Acknowledge The Cost Of Your Distraction

Maybe it was the recurring disappointment in my children’s faces when I told them I didn’t have time. Maybe it was the superficial hellos and hasty goodbyes offered to my spouse. Maybe it was the persistent feeling of unease -- like I was missing something important. Maybe it was a combination of all these troubling factors that finally made me ask, Is this really how I want to live?

The first and most critical step in this journey is gaining awareness. I had to acknowledge all the precious moments I was missing and would continue to miss as a result of my distracted ways. Taking this difficult look inward was a prerequisite to beginning my transformation. If I hadn’t first made an assessment of the irreparable damage caused by my tech-obsessed, multitasking ways, even my most sincere efforts to let go of distraction would have never happened (or lasted).

This week, I will tell you a story from from my journey, which I hope will enable you to gain valuable awareness about the cost of your distraction. Then a “Hands Free Weekly Intention” offers a list of practical ways to help you curb your distracted tendencies and initiate meaningful interactions with the people you love. These intentions correspond with the letting-go action illustrated in the story.

Despite the pain you may experience while reading this, do not let it discourage you. On this journey to grasp what really matters, discomfort often comes before growth; hurt before healing; regret before promise. By going to the darkest places in our soul, we find light. This first and most difficult step in the journey offers the chance of a new
beginning -- a chance to grasp the moments that matter from this day forward.

What I Would Have Missed

I still have the envelope. It’s nestled among my most valuable documents, along with my marriage license, passport, social security card, and birth certificate -- documents that prove I exist. It’s not the content of the oversized envelope, stamped with the logo of our local zoo, that’s worth saving -- it’s the message scribbled on the outside.

The words were written on the very day I vowed to stop missing the precious moments that make life worth living. Like rushing water from a swollen stream, the words filled my mind with such force that I was unable to hold them back. I scrambled through a kitchen drawer, looking for something to write on—as if my life depended on documenting these words.

At first glance, the uneven trail of words looks like a grocery list jotted while driving -- imagine one hand holding the steering wheel while the other scribbles eggs, milk, and broccoli. There’s no capitalization. The t’s aren’t crossed. The sentences have no punctuation. But all that only reveals my haste. I was certain I must remember every single word of this epiphany, which changed the course of my life. Here is a polished version of what I wrote:

What if you missed hearing the best part of your child’s day because you were on the phone?

What if you missed a chance to inhale the sweet scent of your energetic toddler because you insisted on folding that basket of laundry before bedtime?

What if you missed a chance to console your worried spouse because of your mile-long to-do list?

What if you missed hearing an unknown childhood memory from your aging parent because you were too busy to call?

What if you missed a divine cloud formation in the sky because you were racing to the bank, the post office, and the dry cleaner before you had to pick up the kids?

What if one day you realized that all the opportunities you missed couldn’t be retrieved?
But it was already too late.

What if one day you realized the best moments in life come in the mundane, everyday moments? But you were only fully present on special occasions.

What if, instead of rushing through the minutiae of your daily life, you occasionally paused and offered your presence?

What if you turned away from the distractions that monopolize your time and attention and grasped the sacred moments passing you by?

Turn off the music in the car. 
Sit next to your child as she plays.
 Lie in bed with her after you say good night.
 Hug her and don’t let go right away.
 Tell her something you have been meaning to say.
 Bend down and look her in the eye when she talks to you.

Do these things and see what might unfold. And once the moment is over, reflect back on that moment and realize this painful truth: If I had not paused, that precious moment is what I would have missed.

After covering the front and back of the envelope with my thoughts, I stared at it. Although not sure what I was supposed to do with what I’d written, I simply could not put the envelope back in the drawer. This once-ordinary envelope now exuded significance, so I set it on the counter with a sense of expectation -- as if waiting for it to come to life.

I didn’t have to wait long. Less than an hour later, the purpose of what I’d written became clear.

As I was making lunch as usual for my younger daughter, Avery, my laptop was open on the kitchen counter and my phone was an arm’s length away. The devices battled for my attention with their respective dings and beeps. I answered their demanding summons with instant obedience.

Between incoming texts and email messages, I hurriedly applied peanut butter to a slice of bread. The sooner I could make my child’s lunch, the sooner I could address a few pressing matters on my to-do list. My mind was preoccupied with an upcoming baby shower I was hosting, the low air pressure on the front right tire, and making copies of a community-picnic flier.

For some reason, I looked up. I knew my child was there, but this time I noticed her, really noticed her. My precious curly-haired daughter sat on the sofa sucking her thumb while gently rubbing her nose. Suddenly, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. For the first time, I felt a new kind of urgency -- an unsettling, uncomfortable, downright painful kind of urgency. Time was running out.

Then I did something atypical of my productive nature, something foreign to my type-A why-do-it-later-when-you-can-do-it-now mentality. Without even joining the two pieces of sandwich bread, I balanced the gooey knife on the open jar. Without closing the open bag of bread, without giving thought to the time, without contemplating the next item on the agenda, I went to my child. I felt God’s presence encouraging me to let the other stuff go; nothing was more important than being with my daughter.

I sat down next to her and placed my arm around her small shoulders. She looked into my eyes, her whole face brightening. Her wide eyes instantly transformed into joyful slices of happiness. Quickly filling the space between my body and hers, she scooted over and melted into me.

What happened next was something no one had ever done to me.
She brought my hand to her pink lips and ever so gently kissed my palm.
As my eyes filled with tears, I knew this was it. My confirmation. My divine sign.
In one simple, beautiful gesture, my daughter cemented my newfound pursuit to live Hands Free. I realized with clarity that this -- this pausing when the whole world keeps on going -- is living.

I wanted more tender moments like this. But first I had to admit that they wouldn’t be so rare if I would simply stop for a moment. The truth is: No matter how much she wants to, needs to, or would love to, my child cannot kiss a moving target.

Living distracted had cost me countless precious moments, but thank goodness I didn’t miss this one -- because it changed everything.

My moving-target days had officially come to an end.

Hands Free Weekly Intention

Go Hands Free for a Specific Time Period Each Day

Living Hands Free does not mean giving up technology altogether, and it does not mean ignoring your job responsibilities, volunteer obligations, or home duties. Living Hands Free means making a conscious decision to temporarily push aside distractions and give your undivided attention to someone or something meaningful in your life.

I started my journey by designating time periods when I unplugged from my devices and connected to my loved ones.

Because I was so dependent on technology, I had to start with short, ten-minute increments. Although that doesn’t seem like much, the results were profound. Here are some of the revelations I experienced during my initial Hands Free

A feeling of peace and contentment came over me when I was fully engaged with a loved one. I felt assured that I was exactly where I needed to be at that moment.
Within minutes of spending time in meaningful connection, online activities and household duties suddenly lost their urgency. Emails, phone calls, dirty laundry, and scrolling newsfeeds would still be there after I finished nurturing my relationships -- but time with my loved ones was fleeting.

Opportunities to connect to loved ones became more apparent. My Hands Free inner voice began to grab me and gently encourage me by saying, “Come on, put the phone down. Turn off the computer. You’re missing your life!” I realized that even in the midst of a busy day, there are countless opportunities to pause and connect with the people who matter most. I had just been too distracted to notice.

Being constantly available to people outside my family and trying to stay current on all the latest online happenings was sabotaging my ability to live and love. The only person who could protect my time was me. And to do so, I had to create boundaries between technology and life.

As a result of these positive effects, I was motivated to increase the duration of my distraction-free time increments. With each experience of loving connection, my ties to daily distraction weakened.

This week, incorporate a designated Hands Free Time Period into your daily routine. Turn off your electronics -- phone, tablet, laptop, or whatever -- and then put them in a drawer or lock them in your car if you have to. Do whatever it takes to disconnect from devices and initiate meaningful connection with a loved one at least once a day. Here are a few examples of distraction-free timeframes:

  • First thing in the morning

  • Right before naptime or bedtime
  • When children arrive home from school
  • Mealtimes

  • From dinner time until bedtime

As you make room for these Hands Free Time Periods, pay attention to the positive results. What emotions do you experience when you step away from your devices to spend time with a loved one? Do you notice anything special about your loved one that you failed to notice before? Does the importance of your online activities decrease when you are engaged in a moment of loving human connection? Are you beginning to notice more opportunities to connect to what matters to you?

By shutting down your devices periodically each day, you are able to protect your time, strengthen your relationships, and nurture your own health and well-being. Giving yourself a chance to notice the details that make life worth living is time well spent.

Are you ready to commit to this challenge? Sign the Hands Free Pledge right here!

Taken from "Hands Free Mama: A Guide to Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To-Do List, and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters!" by Rachel Macy Stafford. Copyright ᅡᄅ 2014 by Rachel Macy Stafford. Use by permission of Zondervan.

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