My family and I have been building an art academy for many years now, and last year we began presenting it at homeschooling conventions. We went there to sell the course, but Silvio and I were filled in other ways we weren’t expecting.
It was so refreshing to be around so many homeschoolers who are so far removed from many of the distractions of the world–cell phones, media, wealth. And these people are so good, so pure, so genuinely happy. Not in a prudish, Puritan way–they are simply free from things that steal away their authentic humanity. Not that those media things are bad. But these people are free of over-using them. Without distractions which have a tendency to become addicting, people are freer to have such inspiring family relationships and a so much less hindered connection with God and witness of Him. It is so attractive.
On the way home, Silvio and I talked about how much we always want to live absolutely simply no matter how wealthy we may become. The idea of my cell phone which I so often would get completely sucked into, feeling my energy draining away and needing a facebook news feed for no reason other than that I needed it, repulsed me in the face of the beauty of simplicity. Thinking of how much more in touch with God I was when I didn’t have too much sense of economical security made me cautious of ever becoming so wealthy that I forgot I needed Him.
At that conference, I got a book called Sir Knight of the Splendid Way.* It’s an analogy of the Christian life told as the journey of a noble knight. There’s one part where this knight, Sir Constant, is seeking the Great King and meets a humble carpenter on the road, a carpenter who is kind and gentle and just someone you want to be with. Sir Constant is so enriched by the company of the carpenter, and he walks closely with him for a time. But Sir Constant leaves the carpenter out on the road to stay the night in the castle of Sir Joyous. The castle is filled with splendor, and Sir Joyous speaks well of the King–but all that worldly greatness inside the castle distracts Sir Constant from walking so closely with the carpenter. Only in humility–stark, radical humility can I be so stripped of distractions to see Yeshua that clearly.
It is absolutely essential that I not surround myself with a fortress of comforts and distractions which blocks my view of Yahweh and my need of Him. I am NOT anti-comfort or anti-media. I have thoughts about keeping things in balance. More on that later…
But I think a danger even greater than that of vague comfort is one posed by that constant media exposure. We are so over-saturated. I do not think media is a bad thing, but I do think we desperately need to learn how to use it appropriately. After getting to be re-immersed in the environment of people who don’t surround themselves with such things, the difference to me was so striking. I noticed so much more clearly how very far our society has sunk into our media addictions. Everywhere you look, people can’t get off their phones. This is disgusting. We can’t bear to simply be because it has destroyed our attention spans. We can’t stand to suffer the slightest inconvenience because we’ve gotten used to diving right into that shallow escape. We have destroyed our brains. I have experienced it too–I have gone through phases in which I felt like I needed to check my phone every other minute. It got to the point where it wasn’t even about seeing if I missed something. I just needed it because it had taken over my brain. When I tried to take a step back, it was excruciating. But every time I stuck with it, I noticed that I heard the birds more clearly, I had more peace, and I was more in touch with God. I started to realize that not only had I lost part of my ability to function at my fullest when I let myself dive into those escapes, but I had literally lost part of myself. I have the capacity to patiently wait between things happening. I am able to be alone with myself and it be okay. Silence is something that promotes deep thoughts and mind blowing understandings of God. But all this only if I don’t destroy the part of myself that is in tune to such things.
C.S. Lewis’ description of hell is that it is the completion of a loss of humanity in oneself. Even the person suffering this understanding of hell may not see it to be so terrible as the person who has come to the fullness of humanity in heaven. That’s because the person in hell has lost, as part of his humanity, the portion that can recognize the goodness of what he doesn’t have. The person whose humanity has not been lost can see the utter deprivation. I can see this very thing happening already right here on earth. The more myself I become, the more saddened by shallowness I am. But also, I have come dangerously close myself when I let my ability to live from moment to moment be destroyed by overstimulating myself with distractions. I am killing my humanity. And in the moments in which I do let myself be distracted, I suffer perhaps the least. But when I have risen out of it I can look back and see how dead I was making myself–and thus how near to the brink of hell itself. We don’t think of it in these drastic terms. But we are hurting who we are, and that is extremely serious.
There are many good things in the media. But we must learn how to use them well and to keep in touch with how our hearts are reacting.
Here are some ways that I have tried to be more intentional:
- With social media, I go on once a day and check my notifications. I stay away from the news feed except for once a week since that’s what really gets me stuck. Since I’m on social media in order to keep up with my loved ones, I make a point of going to specific people’s pages once each week to make sure I didn’t miss anything important.
- I deleted the apps from my phone. Especially at the beginning as I was retraining myself, I didn’t have the strength to be self motivated enough not to go there. I used my laptop when I needed to use social media, because I couldn’t just end up there by accident all day.
- I assessed each app that I use all the time and asked myself if that really enriched my life. If not, it got deleted. If so, it stayed, but I wouldn’t let myself go to my phone in my moments of boredom.
- TV shows: this was a hard one. I didn’t want to cut them out, which made moderation harder. But I did decide to make sure that I didn’t get into binge watching as a go-to escape because I knew from experience that that would take over my life. I had to balance them with reading and other hobbies. I made sure to pay attention to how I was feeling as I watched. If my brain felt dead after the amount I had watched, that was too much. If I felt refreshed, that was the right amount.
This all sounds very dire, but I say it because we have the potential to be so free. I have tried hard to cut back on these things and I can tell such a difference. The other night I waited for a friend to be done with a conversation with someone else for a long time and I didn’t mind the wait at all. I could just sit and think and it was fine. I find myself aware of God so much more constantly. I notice the beauty of nature more deeply. I am happier. I don’t feel a nagging urge to be constantly doing something. I feel so free. I cannot overemphasize this. It is beautiful.
*Check out https://lamplighter.net/c/ for beautifully bound, spiritually enriching old books.