By Lindsey Carlson
As college students, my roommates and I used to watch all kinds of trashy television in our dorm room. Each day in between classes, we sat around and chatted while watching “Fifth Wheel” or “Elimidate.” As I entered into my first years as a young wife and mother, my bad habits morphed. I moved on from “Elimidate,” but I found other programming to take its place, all day long. I woke to “The Today Show,” folded laundry to “The View,” and ate lunch and fed the baby while watching Ellen. In the afternoons I filled up on Oprah and Dr. Phil and sometimes even polished it off with some Judge Judy. That was just my routine during the day.
When my husband came home from work, we’d chat and eat dinner together. But because he was in seminary and needed to study, I had the perfect excuse to watch even more TV in the evenings. Pick a weeknight and I could quote you the line-up on any given station. If a network boasted a particularly good line-up, I wouldn’t even have to change the channel. I could start with “Friends,” watch every sitcom clear through to “E.R.,” straight into Leno and end on Conan O’Brien before turning in for the night.
I claimed I liked the constant noise. At home with an infant, it kept me company to a degree. I would never admit to declining social invitations in favor of a season premiere or an episode resolving a previous week’s cliffhanger. At some point though, the Holy Spirit began to convict me about the seriousness of my problem. I loved television far too much.
The first time the idea of unplugging the TV and fasting from it completely popped into my head, I shivered. “I could NEVER do that.” Like a drug user stripped of drugs, I panicked over the thought of missing all the shows I’d followed for so long. “What about the new seasons starting soon? Couldn’t I wait until the summer to fast?”
After several months of haunting conviction, through an act of amazing grace, the Holy Spirit gave me the strength to repent of my idolatry and go TV-Free for 30 days. In the beginning, I didn’t know what to do with myself. The deafening quiet felt strange and lonely. But surely and slowly, as days passed without the constant hum of the television, I realized how many hours opened up for reading God’s Word, meditating on His Truth, praying, and listening to and serving others. Could it be that television had actually been distracting me from real life?
When the thirty days ended, my husband and I decided to cancel cable and unplug our television altogether. For several years we had no channels at all. Just static. (Try explaining that one to the babysitter.) We kept our DVD player around for the kids and every now and then we would rent a movie for a date night. But other than that, the TV was never on.
Now, we watch television in moderation, but I consume it differently than I did before. I watch maybe a show or two a week and I am cautious about the types of shows I watch; avoiding genres or series that tempt me to yearn for more or plot-lines or dialogue that lead me to stumble in my pursuit of holiness. I no longer feel the need to be “in the know” about every popular show my friends talk about. (Sorry “Downton Abbey,” no time for you.)
The Binge Trend
With changes in technology, viewers now binge on television online. According to a recent study commissioned by Netflix, 73% of viewers have “positive feelings” about streaming back to back episodes of online television and more than half do so every few weeks. Without cliffhangers or commercials, you can plow through faster than ever! Maybe you can relate to those surveyed, who admit to regularly viewing 2-6 episodes in a single sitting.
What if you were using those hours not on television, but on God’s Word? What if you were drawn to Scripture at the end of a long day? What if you couldn’t tear yourself away? What if instead of reading the Bible half-heartedly for fifteen minutes a day, you binged on Genesis through Revelation? Beuller? Beuller?
Those hours of television you are “investing” in are not filling your life with the fruits of the Spirit. They are not reminding you of the impending judgment of a righteous and wrathful God, or of your utter desperation in your own sinful unrighteousness, or of the unswerving love of God through Christ. They don’t tell you of His merciful forgiveness found in the gospel, and the fact that God still calls you to pursue holiness. In eternity’s scope, most of those hours of viewing are void of redemptive purposes. God’s word never returns void, no matter how many hours you invest in it. Every single word is good for teaching and reproof. It is life for your spirit.
My transformation from idolizing television to stewarding it cautiously for the sake of my soul, is nothing short of miraculous. It’s deliverance. The Lord freed me from idolizing television. The part of my heart once captivated by viewing is now captivated by Christ. Grace and mercy freed me from my couch-potato coma. Without this addiction, I’ve found I do have time to read God’s word. I do have time to pray and meditate on scripture. I have time, because I’m not filling my brain all day long with everyone else’s words, thoughts, and stories. Instead, I have time and the desire to fill my heart with God’s powerful and transformative truth, watching and participating in the unfolding of His much grander storyline.
Turn off the television, fellow couch potatoes, and wake from your coma. Open Scripture’s pages, and feast to your heart’s delight.
Lindsey Carlson lives in Houston, Texas with her winsome-worship-pastor-husband and their four young and busy children. She enjoys giggling with her littles, dating her husband, deep talks with sweet friends, and laughing really loud. Lindsey loves to challenge believers to define their worship as more than songs on Sunday morning. She writes on living the new song of the gospel at Worship Rejoices.