Quick report on my week of no screens.
It was a short break. It wasn’t a full break either—I answered some time-sensitive emails and texts, I did some writing on a laptop, and I found myself checking Facebook more than once without even knowing that I had typed the word into my task bar. (A little scary!)
But on the whole, it was a different sort of week. If I was going to sum up the week—I’d say that it felt like I was being handed back my resources, my one “talent” to invest. It was nice to have my resources back, but I still had to decide where to spend them.
Here are three things the screen break did (and didn’t do) for me:
- It did give me extra time that was spent in creative ways.
We were at the park many days of the week, days that I’d have otherwise written off as too windy and cold. But providence sent a week of warmer weather, and we took advantage by getting outside. This is one of the first changes I notice when I’m off the juice—I become much more open to activity outside the home, such as tea with friends (check), library (check), and park (check).
I also read more than usual, finishing a few books in my ever-present stack of half-read books. The girls had more books read to them this week too.
What it didn’t do: make me less lazy. There are things I apparently just don’t want to do under any circumstances. Still had to fight my natural tendency to fall behind in the household tasks that (I’ll admit) I sort of thought I’d be knocking out of the park this week.
- It gave me a great focus week for parenting.
I was fully present for the daily grind of squabbles, mealtimes, and bedtimes—meaning that discipline was more thoughtful and consistent and the stream of instruction was less hurried. On the bright side, I was also more fully present for the sunshine moments—the girls’ jokes, games, and sweet requests for just one more [fill in the blank].
Was it worth it? Gee, I don’t know—I did miss a lot of important stuff on Instagram this week. (What if somebody I know got a latte? How am I going to know what it looked like??) Even so, it’s just possible that I’ll look back on weeks like this one with pleasure and satisfaction instead of a sense of time lost.
Something I did miss—being able to film things. Agnes began to walk in earnest this week, and I had several moments of angst. Is it wrong for me to not have a video of Agnes walking across the room the first time? Norah had so many! Then I remembered: I am not responsible to capture on film every cute thing that happens in my house. I’d be much more culpable, in fact, if I caught every one of them on film. It would mean that every time the girls did anything remotely interesting, they’d register two things: 1) “Hey, there’s the backside of a phone again instead of Mom’s face,” and 2) “Wow, the world must need to see many images of me in order to keep turning.”
What it didn’t do: make me less selfish. I still wanted my me-time, even if the plan for that time was to huddle down with a book and some cookie dough. The tug-of-war of self, shockingly, goes on. Praise the Lord!
- It gave me a clear (and somewhat depressing) view of my habits.
Ugh, I hated to see how many moments in the day I felt the urge to open the laptop or pick up the phone. I hated it. Every time it happened, it was a reminder of what my average day must be like.
What it didn’t do: give me any tools to change those habits. I wanted to see what the problem areas were, and I did, but the problem areas are just waiting for a chance to kick in again. What I want to work on now—as a family—is a vision for the role that the screen should play in our education, entertainment, and social life. This will require wisdom and flexibility as the years go by. It ought to arise out of a greater vision for our family as worshipers and citizens of a heavenly kingdom.
Developing a Vision
Some questions linger.
How am I supposed to fight my appetite for excessive screen entertainment—the time-wasting, pleasure-worshiping part of my heart? How am I supposed to fight my love for attention online—the egotistical, self-centered part of my heart? How am I supposed to fight my tendency to compare myself to others I see on the screen—the envious, covetous part of my heart? How am I supposed to fight my love for easy social interaction without discomfort—the impersonal, safety-worshiping part of my heart?
What kind of structure will help me, in the long run, to use this technology well? Will I notice when it has become a stumbling block? How will I know that I’m using the screen in a way that is good for me, good for those I love, and acceptable to the God who wants me to redeem the time?
The short answer to these questions is love.
Love propels us to connect with other people in ways that bring glory to God. Love propels us to worship and enjoy God. God, in turn, asks us to take his good gifts with thanksgiving, and to reject anything that can’t be enjoyed in a spirit of love and thanksgiving.
This brings some helpful filters to bear: Can I love my daughters and watch this show right now? Can I love my husband and answer this text in this moment? Can I love my neighbor best by engaging them on Facebook instead of asking them over for supper?
For me, this isn’t a call to work harder and accomplish more. If anything, it’s permission to stop trying to be everywhere at once.
Remember our humanity. We have only one body, one mind, one task in any given moment. It’s because these resources are so limited that we have to spend them wisely. Only God can do what we pretend we can do: Be everywhere at once, and think about everything at once, while also taking care of the tasks and people right in front of us.
The screen wants us to think we are gods. God gives us permission to be human children.
It’s not because we’re so important and resource-ful that I think we need to weigh our screen habits. It’s because we’re really just foot soldiers, and our resources are actually quite slim. We can only be faithful in so much. When we’re finished with the daily necessaries of sleeping, eating, and working, the skimful of leftover time and energy should be handled wisely.
I want to handle it like a person who has been given one talent and is waiting for the Master to return.