Wednesday, March 16 Lent Calendar* Invite: Fast from screens tonight. Be present “in the real world.” Listen deeply to your loved ones. Pay attention.
To whom are you bonded? How connected do you feel to the people around you?
A plethora of advice is available for those who are seeking deeper bonds… like new parents who want to feel close to their baby or young adults who are trying to find intimate friendships or middle age couples trying to reconnect after finding themselves stuck on the hamster wheel. The advice for growing bonds with people doesn’t include “spend a lot of time on screens.”
Today, as we are invited to take a wee little fast this evening from screens, ponder how screens increase or decrease your bonds with those closest to you.
My teenage daughter and I have this nightly rhythm. When our work is done for the evening, we retire to the TV room and watch an episode or two of some series such as The Good Place or Friends. We tend to be the last ones awake on most nights. As the two of us sit side by side and kick back after a long day, the screen in front of us isn’t something that separates, but something that bonds us.
At other times, however, screens separate. A teen I was once counseling said that every evening when she got home, her parents were watching TV. Occasionally they might ask her about her day, as a pleasantry, but with no more than a momentary glance away from the screen. She felt they were not interested in her life. It seemed as if they were bonded to the screen more than to their daughter.
To whom or to what are you bonded? Is the screen an opportunity to bond with friends or family or roommates? Or is the screen causing you to be disconnected from one another? Is a screen preventing you from listening to the real life (not the virtual life) that is playing out right in front of you?
I know an old man who spent many hours through many years in front of a screen. My hunch is that it began as a simple de-stressor from work. But then it became what could, perhaps, be called an addiction. As the years passed, it increasingly became the norm at any family gathering that the grandpa would be in front of the television. The family would be laughing, playing, chatting. But the grandpa stayed in front of the screen. At his funeral, some of his grandchildren were sharing they didn’t feel they really knew him. One of their biggest memories of him was that he watched alot of TV. I thought about their reflections. I would hope that at my funeral some day, my grandchildren wouldn’t be saying, “Remember how Grandma always watched TV and rarely spoke to us?”
Fasting from screens for just an evening can perhaps help us discern their place in our lives. Are we too bonded to our screens? Or do our screens help us bond to others? Do they connect or disconnect us to the real world? After our fast, when we return to our screens, perhaps think about the wild idea of adding a little prayer before you turn on your television or iPad or other device. Maybe you could say a prayer as simple as, “God, may my screen time connect me to who and what is good and true and right.” This idea came to me when thumbing through my recent purchase of the book Every Moment Holy which is full of liturgies (words of worship and prayer) for common every day things. Douglas McKelvey wrote “A Liturgy Before Consuming Media.” In closing, ponder just a few lines from McKelvey’s liturgy:
Let me experience mediums of art and expression,
neither as a passive consumer nor as an entertainment glutton,
but rather as one who through such works would more fully and compassionately
enter this ongoing human conversation of mystery and meaning,
wonder and beauty, good and evil, sorrow and joy, fear and love.