2020 was quite a year, and most of us are glad to see it go. One of the ways most people coped with the stress and anxiety of the year was through media. Some researchers show that our media consumption has almost doubled in the last year, up to almost seven hours per day.* It doesn’t take much to realize this is not healthy. Our church is doing a Media Fast in January, and if you are reading this, I want to invite you into the challenge. It includes four main areas:
- Social media and the web
- Shows and screen time, including TV, movies, sports, YouTube, etc
- Video games, in any console or mobile or computer
- (Other: anything else that is on overload in your life—news, books, etc)
Why are we doing this? And why in the world are we including music??? In addition to the fact we are on media overload, here are some good reasons for taking this challenge:
- Media is a distraction. I am not anti-media. In fact, I love entertainment! Media is meant to distract us and give us a mental break. That is good. What is bad is when we break from the mental and spiritual work we need to do. Blaise Pascal, in his book Pensées, said humans used “diversions” to avoid the hard questions about life, God, and ourselves. He wrote that in the 17th century, and we have many more diversions now. This year revealed things in ourselves—including some ugly things—and it takes time to process things things well. Media helps us to hide from ourselves; we can’t even wait in line without pulling out our phones. A Media Fast allows us to reset our levels of media consumption and do the hard work needed, giving us space to think, reflect, and process.
- We might be addicted. Media is like morphine: it numbs us to the wounds that need work. Why do you think our world is taking more and more? Even music (which is a good thing) is something we use to process our feelings. What if we didn’t have music, just for a month? We would have to process our feelings in new ways. The same goes for video games, which are often used to deal with anger, anxiety, and boredom (yet excessive video game playing increases these as well). People have told me, “There is NO WAY I could give up music.” My answer back is, “Try it for a week. This is not legalism nor a biblical command, just a spiritual challenge. But does the fact that you can’t give it up mean something?” A Media Fast allows us to break the addition.
- Life is more than media. Entertainment is best in small doses; a break from life so we can get back to life. For many of us, especially this year, entertainment has become our lives. The average person consumes 30-40 hours per week in media, while complaining that they have no time! This leads to stress, which usually leads to more media. What would happen if you got 10, 20, 30, or even 40 hours of your life back…every week? One person told me how they are going to do more board games, puzzles, and calling family and friends. Another talked about the need for physical health including exercise, food, and outdoor time. The additional time would get him off the couch (most media is sedentary). A married couple talked about how they would be spending more time talking and…other marriage activities, too. They were looking forward to it! Many people have told me they are excited to take the time to study the Bible, journal, and pray more. I anticipate taking more naps, praise the Lord! Faith, health, loved ones—these are the best parts of life. The Media Fast can be a spiritual feast. If you are taking the Media Fast, think about some of the things you will do with the extra time.
- There are healthier ways to deal with our problems. Media is like sugar: it can bring sweetness to life, but if we consume too much, we will feel terrible. If you have overdone it on media this year…do you feel a lot better? Most of us know the answer is “no,” but we don’t know how to deal with the problems we have this year. A lot of the answers are listed above—faith, relationships, and health. Yet sometimes we need more intense care, and there is no shame in admitting this. This could be professional counseling, a support group, accountability for sin, or getting a mentor. The best thing we can do is get the support and help we need. A Media Fast may be just the thing that allows you to reach out.
- Jesus invites us into His rhythm of life. Jesus said, “Come to me…learn from me…you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt 11:28-29) Most if us don’t experience that God-level rest, and maybe it is because we aren’t living the rhythm of Jesus. He calls His disciples to Himself for rest and quiet (Mark 6:31), reveals Himself through deep conversations (Matt 16:13-17:13), and even sleeps in the storm while others panic (Mark 4:38). His way of life is different than ours; it is harder, but it works. Jesus promised us rest; if we aren’t experiencing it, maybe we can try living His way of life. The rhythm of God leads to a humble, grace-filled, unshakable confidence.
As 2021 begins, there is so much uncertainty. We cannot control much, but we can work with God on this journey of our souls. A Media Fast is not magic, but it may be just the medicine we need, especially as we invest more time into faith, rest, loved ones, and health.