Lent is a weird season of the liturgical calendar. It’s not exactly a happy season, mostly linked with having to give up things that we like and the idea of sacrifice. Yet it is also one of the seasons most recognised by people who don’t have anything to do with church. If you have ever given up anything for Lent, especially chocolate, people were probably quite accepting of that. Doesn’t matter if you’re a Christian or not, church-goer or not. Everyone seems to understand that giving up something for Lent is something that we can do. Almost like it’s programmed in to the British psyche!?!
This year I gave up TV for Lent. This started of as just Netflix before realising that I would just binge on my complete series of Smallville instead (me being over–excited about completing it here). Not exactly what I wanted to happen so I decided to go 99% cold turkey. (I still allowed myself YouTube only to then discover NerdSync… oops!) But even this has been accepted as just something you do for Lent.
Yet for this Netflix-addicted, pop culture analysing, drama loving girl, it opened up a lot of questions that I had to answer. Answers that have had a huge impact on how I live, work, relax, and play.
I Need Space to Think
Skye: So you asked how she could have hacked the system. I have a pitch but it’s way outside the box.
Coulson: I live outside the boxMarvel’s Agents of SHIELD
When I think on my ways,
I turn my feet to your testimonies;Psalm 119:59
I honestly didn’t realise how much time watching things took up. Sure I knew and still know how I can get sucked down an InstaStories or YouTube rabbit hole but somehow it didn’t register as much with TV. Surely having ‘The Full House’ or ‘Titans’ on in the background didn’t distract me that much. And so what if ‘Saturday Kitchen’ turned into “Saturday Binge Fest”. Having the TV on is just good company.
Well, it turns out I was deceiving myself. All I was doing was allowing my actions and thoughts to be defined by a box. Everything I did was dependent on how I could watch a screen while doing it. That included my brain because it’s actually quite difficult to think while your eyes and ears are processing some complex storyline on a screen.
Contrary to the above quote from ‘Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD’ suggests, I had forgotten how to think outside the box. In fact, for all my self-proclaimed different-ness, my thinking was directed by “the Box”.
When I gave up TV, I re-found this space to think. I was no longer obsessing over characters. I was going to bed in a better state and on time. Suddenly I found that I had time to read my Bible, which had seriously dropped off. My writing improved as my thoughts had better clarity. Everything seemed that bit clearer.
Was it that my priorities changed or that I had time to think about what really mattered? I don’t know. What I do know is that regaining this space to think impacted on my relationship with God, which in turn will impact everything else.
Silence is Golden… sometimes
The only way to overcome fear is to face itRegina, Once Upon A Time
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;Ecclesiastes 3:7b
This is going to sound crazy but… I really hated silence. Or at least 99% of the time unless I was totally overwhelmed by everything. Now, I’m a introvert but I also dislike being aware of how alone I am. I can’t deal with “too much people” but I also dislike being reminded about my “alone-ness”. I know, I’m an oxymoron wrapped up in a contradiction.
My solution to this was the TV. The perfect relationship. Didn’t demand anything. I could be emotionally invested without it costing me. I felt like there were people around me without having use up my energy by actually interacting with people. So giving up TV meant having to face up to that silent reminder that I was alone. Now I find myself craving that silence; wondering why I didn’t do it sooner.
Giving up TV cascaded to finding other ways to fill the silence. Music and podcasts were my preferences. However, music catches my attention too much (half the time I just want to dance and then feel sorry for my downstairs neighbors) and podcasts require me to actually listen. I can’t keep up with what’s happening visually so I have to properly listen. Neither of these are helpful when trying to write. I also started reading more and it turns out music is really distracting to f it doesn’t fit your book’s vibe! So I had to face the silence and not dance (couldn’t resist 🤣🤷🏻♀️).
But once I embraced silence, it became my favourite partner in reading and writing. I engaged more fully, was able to express my thoughts without distraction, and enjoy whatever I was doing.
I didn’t stop listening completely. But I found myself being more choosey about when I did. If a podcast required me to actually listen intentionally, then I could do the washing up or sit staring out of my window (Enneagram 4, much!?!). Writing a blog post or organising social media, on the other hand, was not going to happen. The same became true with music. It turns out that even my much loved Country music requires intentional listening to get the most out of it so sometimes writing or reading is not possible with it on in the background.
The idea that there is a time for silence really is true. I wish I had learnt this earlier. Im glad I have learnt it now.
Too Much Information
Picard: Can you filter out the extraneous information?
Geordi: No, I get it all simultaneouslyStar Trek: The Next Generation
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.Philippians 4:8
Did you know that TV (and really any electronic screen emitting sound and light) isn’t actually restful for our brains? There is so much information to take in that our brains have to work double time. Sure, sometimes our brains are able to relax and just enjoy whatever we are watching. Other times, we’re like Geordi La Forge and just have to deal with ALL the information ALL at once.
That’s before we even think about what we’re actually watching. Before Lent, I never really thought about what I watched. So long as it was entertaining and didn’t make me uncomfortable, I would watch it. But now I think about some shows and wondered if it actually benefitted me. Questions like, “how does binging Titans and Umbrella Academy make me feel?” or “do I really work well if Full House is taking up half my screen?” seem very relevant.
I’m not saying don’t watch any TV. I’m weighing up whether to watch the new series of ‘Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD’ when it comes up because I love the characters. But do we need to watch the amount that we do (or at least I did)? Because more often than not, we just let it wash over us and absorb whatever comes out of the screen.
Philippians 4:8 is a brilliant example of the sort of filter we can apply to our TV habits. To be honest, we can apply it to all our media habits. It makes me wonder what the world would look like if we only thought about things worthy of praise.
Rest is Not Vegging Out
Oh but this world of yours is busy busy busy. Forging ahead into a brand new age. You can never go back. That’s your tragedy.The Wire, Doctor Who
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.Matthew 11:28-30
I mentioned earlier about how rest for our brains isn’t necessarily bombing them with visual and audio signals. However, I know that sometimes we need to sprawl out on a sofa, stick on a film, and just chill. And that is okay… sometimes. TV and film are amazing mediums and should be enjoyed. It’s why people still go to the cinema and/or invest in huge multimedia set ups for their homes.
However, I personally think too many of us have started to see flopping in front of the telly as the only way we can rest other than sleep. This is not true! If you watched Dr Who during the Tennant/Piper era, you might remember the episode with The Wire and the Coronation. This strange alien trying to suck out everything that made us human through our TV screens. Well, we might still have our faces but what about our energy?
I know that if I spend more than 2 hours watching TV at home, unless I’m exhausted, I will feel worse afterwards. I’ll be more inclined to keep watching rather than getting off my backside to do something. All I want to do is watch. YouTube and InstaStories are just as bad for this. But if I go for a walk, read a book, do some colouring -in fact anything that is a break from my norm and from a screen- I will feel more energised and rested for whatever is next.
Jesus understood this too. And it’s simple really. We were made for work as well as rest. Work didn’t result from the fall but it did get harder (Genesis 3…). TV and films can become a stumbling block when we view rest purely as stopping and flopping in front of the box. Giving up TV allowed me a chance to explore how else I might rest. Most notably, by opening up space to spend more time with God I was able to find ways to rest that reflected Him. (You can read more about my thoughts on rest here)
TV is Not God
“The TV’s the altar. I’m what people are sacrificing too.”“What do they sacrifice?” asked Shadow.“Their time mostly,” said Lucy. “Sometimes each other.”American Gods by Neil Gaiman
You shall have no other gods before me.Exodus 20:3
The best part of giving up all TV was how much time it opened up for reading… or at least it did until I discovered NerdSync on YouTube. (Seriously recommend that channel but be prepared for a rabbit hole of comic-wonderfulness.) One of the books I read was American Gods by Neil Gaiman. An AMAZING book that prompted a lot of thoughts in me about the nature of belief and idolatry. Scariest was the deification of TV. In the novel, TV has effectively become a goddess through the sacrifices and worship that people give it. The above quote, where Lucy is “TV” personified as a television character, really sums this up.
But as I read American Gods, I really did start to wonder if this as how I treated the TV. In particular, was I treating Netflix and on-demand viewing like an idol? I thought that it had served me but when I started to think about how I did everything possible to make sure I was always up to date on whatever shows I was watching… well, maybe I wasn’t in control anymore. Maybe it really was TV controlling me instead.
The scariest example of this was when I realised the impact it was having on my relationship with God. We’ve all seen the memes and quotes of people claiming they have no time to read their Bible before watching another one… two… three… episodes on Netflix. And I used to laugh it off. Then I gave up TV and BAM! Suddenly I had time to read the Bible again. In fact I had time to do everything again! Even things like changing my bedding (don’t judge, we all have that one chore we HATE to do).
I think this is the biggest lesson I learnt from Lent. TV is NOT God. Every other lesson I learnt was pointing me back to this simple truth of how easily my attention can be taken of God. All it takes is something that looks interesting and fun. It might not be TV. It might be food or relationships or books or fandoms or sport or anything else that you enjoy doing. If it takes your attention from God, you are turning it into a god.
Right now, I am choosing to live life without Netflix; with the realisation that I don’t need to know the ending of ‘Umbrella Academy’ or how ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ pans out. I am allowing myself to watch films but only if I can fully dedicate myself to watching that film, rather than multi-tasking.
Will it always be like this? I don’t know. I have a TV license and come September will be making good use of it to indulge in sparkles every weekend when ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ is back on. I’m torn over whether I watch the next season of ‘NCIS’ on Channel 5 or not. This is because part of who I am is a geek who loves pop culture. It’s part of the Finding Chaya DNA for that reason.
What I can confirm is that I am more aware than ever of how easy it can be for idols to slip into your life; to make anything a small god, or dolly as my minister calls them. TV is one I’m now cautious of but I know there will be others.
I’d also love to know if you gave up anything for Lent. If you did give up something, what did you learn from it? Or maybe you took something up and there were lessons in that too. Let’s chat about it in the comments below.