Are you addicted to entertainment technology? Not technology itself, because technology’s incredible and there’s nothing inherently wrong with technology. No, I’m referring to the instant and potentially non-stop access to entertainment most of us now have in the privacy of our homes at any and all times of the day and night via the amazing technological advances that put it always at our fingertips–the kind of access that requires serious personal self-discipline to keep it from taking over our lives and destroying (yes, destroying!) them.
“God’s readiness to give and forgive is now public. Salvation’s available for everyone! We’re being shown how to turn our backs on a godless, indulgent life, and how to take on a God-filled, God-honoring life. This new life is starting right now, and is whetting our appetites for the glorious day when our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, appears. He offered himself as a sacrifice to free us from a dark, rebellious life into this good, pure life, making us a people he can be proud of, energetic in goodness.” (Titus 2:11-14, MSG)
Decision-making is never easy; we’re confronted more often with choosing between the not-so-terribly-bad and better, than with sin and not sin. While some entertainment choices can clearly be categorized as spiritually harmful, many more are in the neutral range–not inherently bad, but dangerous instead by virtue of opportunity cost; of what we forgo if we spend our time on them.
Opportunity cost is an economic concept, but life itself actually runs on the principle of opportunity cost because time, money and our energies are limited. If we do one thing, we are inherently giving up the chance to do something else with the time, money and energy we expend doing whatever it is we have chosen to do. We cannot attend a Bible study or assist at a homeless shelter and watch Netflix at the same time; we cannot got to work or school and stay home to play through the video game that was just released at the same time; we cannot effectively study or do homework and randomly watch youtube clips at the same time (though many students try, I suspect, to their academic detriment). No, doing one thing during a finite period of our day precludes us from doing something else–and if we try to multi-task, the chances are that neither will be done to the best of our abilities because our attention was divided. No; our resources–the moments of our very lives, in fact–are limited. And I suspect it is so by Divine design; to test our character, wisdom and commitment to Christ.
So what does God actually say about this? Does He have an opinion as to how we spend our time, or does He leave it up to us, as long as we aren’t actively engaging in sin? Yes, He has an opinion–and it’s more than an opinion; it’s a command, actually.
“Act like people with good sense and not like fools. These are evil times, so make every minute count. Don’t be stupid. Instead, find out what the Lord wants you to do.” (Ephesians 5:15-17 CEV)
We are instructed to find out how our Lord wants us to spend our time–to find out, and by implication, then do it–and there are others like this one. Does this mean we can never have any “down time,” that we must always be productively engaged like a well-oiled machine each and every of our waking moments? Of course not–we weren’t created to function like that!
We need a Sabbath rest one day out of the week. People will argue over how it should be spent, but my personal opinion is that if you need a Sabbath to recuperate from your Sabbath, it wasn’t spent the way you should have spent it!
You will also eat, socialize, and engage in time alone to think and plan each day. These are all necessary activities, but the insidious thing about watching something while you do any of them is that it steals this time away from you and while the time has passed, you haven’t benefitted from it. What do I mean?
Eating while watching something takes your focus off the food, and my personal experience is that even if I eat alone, rather than enjoying the wonderful meal God has gifted me with, I am engaging in the plot of what I am watching and tend to mindlessly shovel food in my mouth–causing me to eat more than I otherwise would. In other words, my entertainment has stolen from me the full experience and enjoyment of my meal.
Watching something with family or friends, while not wrong, also focuses our attention on whatever it is we are watching, and rather than primarily interacting and discussing and getting to know what is going on in everyone’s life, our focus, again, is on our entertainment. So we’ve sat in the same room together, but we haven’t shared, invested, or grown in our relationship with each other. In other words, our entertainment has stolen our togetherness, the nurturing and growing of our relationship, from us.
Watching something when I am alone seems ideal, then, but I believe this is even worse. My time alone with myself may or may not be spent relating to God, but even if it is not, it is time that my body is quiet but my mind is actively creating, thinking, planning. If I am engaging in entertainment–if I am watching something or playing a video game–it is focused on something extraneous to my own life and I have stolen my “me” time, my alone time when I would have been mentally engaging to design my moments, days and ultimately years, away from myself.
Notice that I didn’t say the entertainment has stolen my time–it is inanimate; it cannot do anything to me–I am the one who does it to myself. I am the one who makes the conscious decision to turn it on and begin. Granted, after perhaps seventeen or so times (that’s how many times experts have determined it takes for something to become a habit with us) it may become something I no longer actively consider to do or not to do–I may just turn it on because I have done it so often by now. Yet it is nonetheless I who control my action, and it is I who can alter my action.
Entertainment is engaging. Yet we’re all different; we don’t all like the same programs or movies or even video games, but there’s something for everyone. If you’re in the mood for entertainment and look, you’ll find something, and if you really want to, you’ll find an excuse to go ahead and do it.
One of the excuses I’ve personally told myself is that I need to relax when I come home from work and am honestly too tired to do anything else. That may be true, but what if, instead of turning on a Netflix program rotely, I brushed my teeth, got ready for bed, and went to sleep? What would happen then? Honestly? After a day or two I would probably begin waking up earlier and be well-rested and able to accomplish something productive before going off to work! Wouldn’t that be amazing?
What if, instead of turning on a video game or whatever else you do when you’re bored, you resolved to go twenty-four hours without electronic entertainment, just to challenge yourself and prove to yourself you can–that you’re not a slave to your habits? Would you find a book to read? Would you draw something? Write something? Plan something? Clean or organize something? Maybe even surprise yourself and brush up on a homework concept you didn’t understand before and get a better grade? The possibilities really are endless!
My point is that entertainment, while not implicitly wrong, is frequently none-the-less harmful. Not because it is bad in and of itself, but because of what it takes away from us when we choose it instead of something else. You’re probably guilty; I know I am–and while I’m sure there’s someone out there who may not be, there are probably fewer of those people than there used to be, simply because of the increasing availability and thus, temptation, of entertainment technology.
So. What are you going to do about this? My suggestion is to be more conscious of the grasp our cravings for indulgence and entertainment have on us–to be more aware of it every time the almost subliminal fleeting thought, “It’s not a big deal,” or “It’ll be okay,” or “Just for a little bit” passes through our minds. And while we don’t have so say “no” each and every time–although for some of us, cold turkey may be the way to go–each and every time we consciously choose to say “no” to ourselves and fill our moments with something good, as opposed to something that we’ve come to recognize as basically wasteful of our time, we’re achieving personal victory and evidencing the fruit of His Spirit in us!
Dear Lord Jesus,
Help me be aware of the cravings of my flesh–my desires to indulge and excuse myself when I want to do that which while not necessarily wrong, isn’t either best for me either. Give me the power, through Your Spirit, to say “no.” Amen.