It’s been a bit quiet around here. Here being the Collie house. And it’s been a really good quiet.
Back in February, I was reading a great book by A.W. Tozer — The Root of the Righteous — and I was challenged deeply to think about the place I give media and entertainment in my life.
In one chapter, Tozer discusses a dulling, even numbing effect, which entertainment can have on our souls. It can become an addiction, sought after like a drug, numbing to the moral conscience — an escape. But what are we using it to escape? A life we’re not content with? Time thinking about the deeper purposes of our lives? Problems which escape will never fix? There was so much food for thought I read the chapter again and again, impressed with some new thought or conclusion each time.
It eventually brought about a decision — discussed of course with one Hero of a Hubs — that over Lent we would take a break from media. We’d slice our beloved together-on-the-couch movie night, scrap the occasional watching of an episode of something we find worth watching on Amazon Prime, and curb our web-surfing enthusiasm to only specifically searching for things like “Chicken Enchiladas Recipe” or “testing your soil for gardening” (happened). We also decided — other than keeping an eye on the Quiver Tree Photography page — we’d send Facebook packing.
And? Our 6, 4, and 2 year-old kids were coming along for the ride.
We returned from our recent adventure to visit HH’s folks in South Africa, and a week later, it was time for Operation Media Fast to begin. Within a day or two, I began to feel aware of what a pull my phone had on me. How often I had to glance at it just to be doing something, because… because nothing really! Because HH had gotten off the couch to go to the bathroom or because I just had a moment between this and that.
If you ever find yourself in the southern hemisphere, out in the bush on the back of a Land Rover hoping to view game, you might see the well-worn trails that certain animals are taking each day. Perhaps to a favorite feeding spot or a source of water, you’ll spot a worn down stripe of trampled brown grass leading off into the distance, enveloped on each side by verdant strips of green. These signs make it clear: some creature, or group of creatures, walks this path and walks it often.
I quickly began to recognize some of those worn-down trails in my own life: habits I never gave a second thought, to peek at Facebook for no particular reason and distract myself for half a second (which can turn into ten minutes) away from the present reality, or to check email when it’s not a good time to respond to email — so why check?
Within the first week, it seemed like there were pockets of time in my day that could’ve been used more productively, but I saw: they had been given over regularly to brief, sporadic, but consistent moments of distraction.
By week two, the kids weren’t asking quite so often to play with the Nook or see the Wild Kratts. (The gentle reply was usually, “We’re just taking a little break from that remember?”)
By week four, the once-default question when we’re all tucked into the mini-van was seldom heard: “Can we watch something?” became a rarity. The kids began to actually play or talk or just enjoy the scenery in the car, and, yes, sometimes they’d fight, but instead of turning something on to keep them engaged, I started choosing to engage myself to address the behavior that’s undesirable in them.
One of the hardest things for me to observe was a sudden, increased awareness of how much media is coming out of my kids. How many lines from how many movies they’re able to quote by heart. They recite scenes back and forth. They can say three words and I immediately know: that’s Curious George the movie, or that’s Despicable Me 2.
It’s not that they’re swearing or even being rude (most of the time) — but it really makes me sad because it demonstrates the potential their minds have to absorb incredible wealths of information very quickly.
What kind of water am I pouring for my little sponges to soak up?
Jen Hatmaker recently shared at a conference I attended that, in Jesus’ day, kids the same age as my oldest two… Were memorizing the Torah. Guys. That is the first five books of the Old Testament.
Our kids have so many advantages — the assistance of technology to help them learn, access to a world of knowledge at their fingertips, and nutrition leagues beyond what kids those days would’ve had to help feed their growing brains.
But, as a society, what are we doing? Well, we’re often feeding their bodies junk, and feeding their minds junk, too.
Not saying Curious George the movie is awful. Just asking — is it really profitable enough to let them watch it over and over? And over?
Why have I allowed them to see it so many times they’ve memorized it? More important, what could they be memorizing instead?
At the end of the media-free time, I seriously felt like our family had changed for the better. Like something that had a hold on us had broken. Our kids were different. Our schedules felt different. Our health felt different. Our marriage even felt better.
Now that we’ve made it through those 40 days without media, and we’ve continued to limit our media intake, I think I have at least a half dozen observations to share about the journey, so I’m going to hit the pause button here, and resume with more observations tomorrow.
But, in preparation for tomorrow’s discussion, allow me to leave you with some questions to ponder, if you will:
1) How much time do you think you spend thinking about the shows you watch or the things you see on Facebook when you aren’t actually engaged with that media? If you set a stop watch and observed for a day, do you think you’d be surprised?
2) How likely are you to plan real-life engagement with actual people around the timing of media events? (i.e., “The game” or “my show” comes on Wednesday at 7 so I really would rather plan for Thursday.)
3) How often do you rob yourself of an honest-to-goodness good night’s sleep because you’ve fallen into the trap of watching something and you just have to know how it ends?
4) Does discussion about what media is going to be consumed create arguments in your household? Remote wars, anyone?
Here’s the thing, friends. Entertainment is a stronghold. It’s a well-worn path in our society. Do we need to ask ourselves if it should be? To what extent are we willing to give it a place in our lives?
While the diversions we enjoy might be useful as an occasional source of relaxation, you can be sure your destiny isn’t waiting for you on the other side of the third season of Parenthood. But your real life might be waiting for you to give it some serious thought, and decide what purpose you really want to live for.
Join me tomorrow as I share a little more about this journey?
I’d love for you to stay tuned… 😉