Ryan Snarr grew up in Layton, UT. He is a life-long church meeting doodler. He fulfilled a calling as a full-time missionary in the Lima Perú South mission from 1997-1999, and later was called to serve as a musical missionary in the then Mormon Tabernacle Choir (now Tabernacle Choir on Temple Square) from 2008-2016. Other callings in Gospel Doctrine and in the Elder’s Quorum have given him valuable opportunities to lead gospel discussions over the last 20+ years. He currently serves as his ward’s bishop. His home is in Syracuse, UT with his wife and four children. He works as a marketing director by day and a freelance illustrator and graphic designer by night.

Enter Ryan…

The Old Testament’s book of Numbers recounts the story of the children of Israel struggling with the trial of fiery serpents. Not just regular serpents, FIERY serpents! As I thought about what could make a snake fiery (burning venom, fire breathing, fiery eyes…), I wondered if there was a parallel affliction we see in our day. Suddenly, this accompanying image came to my mind. Our electronic devices can be just like a fiery serpent. The colorful screens glow just like a flame, there are countless ways to get ‘bit’ when it comes to screen habits, and sadly, we also see fatal consequences. But just like the days of old, God has provided a way to heal.

Look Up!

Numbers 21:6 says:

“And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.”

Every morning when I head to work, I see the kids in the neighborhood walking to school. In nearly every case, they will have their head looking down, at their phone.

They don’t look up to see the cars driving by. They don’t look up to wave. They are buried in their phones, almost as in some kind of snake charmer’s trance.

The Lord has allowed smartphones to come among us in these latter days and this is a result. One could argue we’re all buried to a certain extent. The sobering reality is acknowledging the challenging addictions, self-worth issues, and negative behaviors born out of unbridled screen use.

You know the usual suspects: social media apps, pornographic material, and carefully crafted advertising schemes. They all play a part in keeping us glued to our phones. Many times we don’t know we’ve been bit until it’s too late.

Look Upon

The people in Moses’ day wanted these serpents to go away. The record doesn’t suggest they got their wish. Instead, we read Moses was instructed to make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole. The Lord promised that everyone bitten who looked upon the serpent should live. The serpent on a pole represented Christ (John 3:14-15). When we look to Christ, we too shall live.

Modern Day Warnings

More contemporary scripture also provides some interesting insight when it comes to challenging trends.

We usually focus on our physical diet when reading

Doctrine and Covenants talks about the Word of Wisdom. I find this section’s counsel is also applicable outside of that space. What if you read it with your screen diet in mind? Verse four reads:

“Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation—”

The “evils and designs” by “conspiring men” in these latter-days include those games, apps, and websites that would enslave an individual just like the harmful substances the Word of Wisdom tells us to avoid.

There Is Hope

Asking the Lord to take away these screens from our lives doesn’t seem to be the answer to these challenges, but looking to Christ is. Therefore, we don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

We’ve been given these technologies for a reason. What a blessing it is to be led by modern-day prophets and apostles who point us to Christ. They are constantly encouraging us to look up from our challenges to follow Him.

Our purpose for screens and technology can be inspired. We’re encouraged to share our positivity online as well as our testimonies. Doing so helps us elevate the purposes by which we reach for our screens and the time we give our attention to them.

Purpose, Plan, Pause

As leaders in the church, as well as in our own homes, we can use the resources the church has provided to help us pioneer our individual path in a world overwhelmed with screens.

In your gospel library, right next to the new For The Strength of Youth booklet, is a new section called “Taking Charge of Technology.”

My kids were introduced to this at FSY. This section is short, sweet, and simple.

It outlines a practical approach for any family to use as a guide for technology use in their own homes. It starts by encouraging the establishment of a PURPOSE for your screen time so you control it rather than it controlling you.

Next, creating a PLAN is advised so as to foster good decision making.

Lastly, the idea of PAUSING is suggested so one can eliminate outside noise and act as the spirit prompts.

We can each transform what our screens do for us when we seek Christ through each of these three steps.

We are all navigating this path as pioneers. No generation has gone before us with the same kind of stewardship we have over technology and screens. In my personal journey, I’ve experienced doom scrolling way too long on social media apps without true purpose or plan.

Each of us will stumble in our path regardless, but this excessive engagement results in an increased amount of stumbling. I’d bet all reading these words have experienced this. We stumble across an article leading us down a rabbit hole, or a key word that leads to a series of videos, or a questionable image, which in turn, leads to an un-pure thought pattern. Before long, we’ve stumbled into a habit, or we’ve lost track of the time spent on a social media hamster wheel.

Taking Initiative

A deliberate effort is required to counter the built-in content strategies of carefully-crafted online platforms. Similarly, deliberate effort must be taken in teaching children and youth growing up in this environment. We mustn’t fear, but instead educate and prepare. The way this happens in our home is also a pioneering effort, it won’t always be easy or look perfect. The key is to do it; to start the conversation.

In my home I took to writing a list of concepts and standards I wanted to discuss with my family. I laid out these thoughts visually in a proclamation-like way. My intent wasn’t to make these words appear they came from the church, but rather hold just as much importance as past official church proclamations.

It is titled: Screen Sensibility – A Standard of Set Apart Screen Smarts for a Strong Spirit and Self-esteem.

ScreenSensibility_PrintWhite pdf

As you can see, I’m a succor for alliteration. The document touches on a number of topics I hope to talk to my kids about openly and frequently. It includes important cautions and proactive invitations. It introduces terms and concepts important for all ages to understand. Look Up! Yes, these are challenging times, and yes, this pioneering journey can really get rough. But we have been given what we need to succeed. When your screen-saturated world bites, don’t hang your head low in sorrow.

Look Up!

Look to your covenants, look to the temple, look to Him who promises eternal life. Christ heals. He will make you whole and lead you home.

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