The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler

Screen Time For Parents

Since I follow so many people who live on the edge of Apple updates and run the beta all spring and summer, I was comfortable upgrading to iOS 12 right away. And I’m pretty pleased with the biggest improvement: Screen Time.

Not only is this a helpful tool for myself, it’s a great option for parents. There’s a lot of products aiming to help parents to manage what their kids see and how long they’re on screens; Disney’s Circle is a prime example. So it’s not like Apple is far ahead of the curve here. But I have been happy with the implementation of screen time.

Alongside the Screen Time settings for my own device, I can see the devices of my kids. We currently have two children out of four with their own phone (one high schooler with a SIM card, one without). And Screen Time lets us set the same limits and restrictions as on my own phone.

Putting it to use

So far, we’ve not set many limits. We have a set Downtime for all our devices (I’m down a lot earlier than our t(w)eens). But apart from that, we’ve only set what apps are always allowed.

For now, we’re just letting our devices record our activity. Then each Sunday, we’ve decided to sit down as a family and compare our stats. Over time, we’ll decide whether further steps are required.

It’s not about how much time

In all our discussions, Erica and I try to emphasize the danger of addiction while also not sounding like we have it figured out. To show how we can struggle in this area ourselves, but without minimizing the behaviour. It’s not an easy line to walk.

One thing I have focused on is that I’m not quite as concerned about total time as I am about pickups. One thing I’ve learned from a couple years of using RescueTime (for macOS) is that the days where I feel most frazzled are not necessarily where I spend a lot of time on Twitter or reading blog articles.

The problem is constantly switching between activities. You don’t achieve focus or depth when you only stay in one application for less than five minutes at a time.

On my phone, this is best indicated by the amount of pickups.

So all this is great for awareness. And it’s so nice to have the tools available to enable conversations about this topic with concrete data. Whether or not it brings changes in behavior remains to be seen. But it’s a start.


The emphasis on faith in Matthew

2018 is a year where I do not read the entire Bible. Instead, I take one book at a time and read it through 20 times. This year I’ve been making my way through Matthew (currently on the 14th reading) and one thing has stuck out more than everything else.

Jesus’s emphasis on faith.

Reading that aloud, it’s not shocking. The entire Bible is about faith. But it’s the way Jesus talks about it as recorded by Matthew that gets your attention. At least, it does for this guy with a Reformed theological leaning.

Whose work?

Back in early 2017, I talked about this seeming paradox in Scripture: how does my work contribute to my faith? I still hold to the idea that our faith comes from God. It is in fact a gift from him, as the apostle Paul points out in Eph 2:8:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Theologians (professional or amateur) have wrestled with this idea for a long time. I still prefer how Kenneth Boa puts it:

The biblical balance is that the spiritual life is both human and divine … we are responsible to work out, not work for, our salvation. On the divine side, God gives us the desire and empowerment to accomplish his purposes.

So God gives us faith, gives us new hearts and enables us to accept the gift of his son, who died in our place to face the wrath of God and take the punishment we were due for our sins.

But that does mean we are to live a soft life of no work.

Faith is a muscle to be exercised

I know this intellectually, but reading through Matthew this year has opened my eyes a little wider to the importance of faith. Here are a few examples that sure got my attention.

When his disciples are afraid of a storm (Matt 8:23–27):

And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

When touched by a woman with a long-term illness (Matt 9:18–22):

While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.

Healing two blind men (Matt 9:27–29):

And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” When he entered the house, the blind men came to him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.”

When walking on the water, Peter comes to join him (Matt 14:28–33):

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

After his disciples failed to drive out a demon (Matt 17:18–20):

And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

And the height of the tension is found towards the end, when Jesus curses a fig tree in Matt 21:18–22:

In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.
When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

What is the tension that I’m referring to? The fact that answers to prayers might be dependent on my performance. My level of faith, or the lack thereof.

Unstable ground

I don’t have any firm answers to this tension. I know there is a balance between believing that God equips me with faith and does so in proportion to what I need in each experience in my life. At the same time, I’m to “work out my own salvation with fear and trembling” and to “believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him”.

But I often feel like the father in Mark 9. This is the same story I referenced above from Matthew 17 where Christ’s disciples struggle to exorcise a demon. But in Mark, we get a little more detail to that story.

And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

That is my cry. I believe, but I sure need Jesus to help with my lack of conviction, where my faith falls short. But, in the end, I always take comfort knowing that my Father provides.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.


I Completed My First Marathon — Now What?

It’s been just over a month since I completed my first marathon. One thing has become clear to me during this time:

I’m not very good at running just for the sake of it.

Many people talk about a low after achieving a goal in athletics. I haven’t been feeling down, but I have found myself wondering what is next. Do I keep running long distances? Or longer runs (marathons aren’t that big of a deal in our age when so many people are doing ultra marathons in extreme climates)? Get into running with groups? Focus on speed? I’ve spent several weeks feeling unsure about the entire topic.

But what I’ve realized is that I enjoy the sport a lot less when I don’t have a goal to focus on.

A big part of my enjoyment in running has come from having a mark to aim for and getting closer to it each time I lace up the shoes. This is probably why I enjoy Strava so much — the stats are a big part of my running experience.

So now I have decided on some goals — improving my personal bests at several lengths:

  • 5KM < 20 mins (less than 4 mins per KM)
  • 10 KM < 42 mins
  • 21.1 KM < 90 mins (half marathon)

I’m excited to get back to running with a specific purpose in mind. But the past month also allowed me to think about the sport overall and what I get from it. And I wanted to share with you a lot of what I’ve been reading and pondering.

To autopause or not to autopause

Related to my goals, one thing I have started to wonder about is the merit (or lack thereof) of using the Auto-Pause feature in Strava.

Early in my running “career”, I discovered this feature and loved how it worked. As I’ve always been into the stats of running, I hated to increase my time while waiting for a traffic light or for the dog to do her business. I would often pull my phone out of my pocket and hit pause in those scenarios. In comparison, Auto-Pause was wonderful — it accurately stops recording once I stop running and starts again once I resume.

And that worked great for my early runs of 5–15 KMs.

But once I started getting into longer distances, say anything over 15 KMs, I realized this feature can be a little deceitful. As I started to train for a marathon, my runs over 21 KM (half marathon) would often include stops. Sometimes you need to do your business, sometimes you just need a breather, and I struggle to take in carbs while on the run (whether in liquid, gel, or semi-solid form).

I started to wonder what other runners do with timing. Maybe more people aren’t preoccupied with their pace like I am? But eventually, I noticed that Strava itself tracks two different times for your activities: moving time and elapsed time.

Running time versus elapsed time

You can see here that my running time was 1 min 32 secs faster than the actual elapsed time. And while the activity stats use the run time, Strava uses the elapsed time to track your personal bests and any monthly challenges you’ve joined.

And this makes sense. The runner who runs 10KM, takes a 15 minute break, then runs another 10 KM, should not have her stats compete with the runner who runs 20 KM straight.

The result? I still use the feature on my shorter runs when I’m in town or running with the dog or a family member. But on my long runs, I began to turn it off this spring so I could have a more accurate reflection of my performance during the run.

The social aspects of running

Strava has become my favorite social media tool. It’s a community where everyone is working towards something and rather than put each other down, people are lifting each other up. I find myself opening the app on occasion just to see what my fellow athletes have been up to.

But running itself? While I have enjoyed the social aspects of sharing my runs and discussing training techniques, I have not yet embraced the “running group”. You have likely seen these in your own town, ten or fifteen people running together down the side of the road. I live in a town with quite a number of groups but have never made an effort to join.

There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that I’m almost always focused on running quickly. Not always my top speed, but fast enough that conversation is not an option. Second, running is a solace for me. As a father of four who works all day with various communication tools on (Slack, Basecamp, email etc), I go for a run to get away from the noise and spend time in my head (as Ryan Holiday describes above).

Running is a time to think through problems, to meditate, or to come up with outlines for articles or classes. And I cherish the solitude.

However, I do think there is a place for running with others. Specifically for trail running. Last year, the majority of my running was on trails. I would take the dog and leave the road behind without a second thought. This year, as I focused more on distances and pace, I spent almost all my time on the road. And now when I want to hit a new trail, I’m a little hesitant to do so alone (thanks in no small part to an article I read about a fellow hiking the Appalachian trail that I can cannot seem to find, but… bears are the real deal around here).

I’ve had a few invitations to go for a run with people, both those I know IRL and those from Strava that live in my town. It might be time to accept a few of those…

Back to my goals. As I look back on my running over the past two years, I realize that the most enjoying times were in the 10–21 KM range. I quite enjoy the half marathon and improving on my performances for those distances (5, 10, 21 KM).

But when I was training for the marathon, runs over 25 KM were really just a grind. A focus on survival. While I appreciate having done it — and I may do another marathon at some point — I find more pleasure in running faster than running farther. And while I appreciate the tenacity of ultra-runners, I don’t feel any pull to join them in their efforts.

So, for now, I’ll focus on improving my speeds. But also to learn to get on the road and slow down and just enjoy the pleasure of putting one foot in front of the other. Those two goals are somewhat at odds, so I also look forward to the challenge of taking both on at the same time.