As an introvert, having a month with no plans is something I’ve always dreamed of. No meetings, no parties, no lessons or practices for the kids - just a month of free evenings and relaxation. It sounded like heaven. But now, as a month or more of isolation and social distancing looms ahead of me, heaven is not the word I would use.
I will leave it to the medical experts to tell us whether to quarantine and for how long. Instead, I’d like to talk about what on earth we’re supposed to do with all of our newfound free time. When this crisis is over, will we have grown through it? Will our relationships be stronger? Will our joy in Christ have deepened? Or, will we have passed the weeks in idleness and worry?
So far, my new free time has mostly been devoted to two things: 1) obsessively checking the news, and 2) streaming video and social media. After less than a week, I can already tell this is not sustainable. How then should we navigate our media and Internet use during this time when it seems like there is nothing else to do?
News. Every day of this crisis feels like 10 news cycles – cancellations, closures, infection rates – it is in constant flux. How should we consume news in this climate?
I do encourage you to check the news daily. We need to have the latest facts so that we can take prudent precautions and lead our families. However, consider two things – source and purpose.
What sources of news are you relying on, and how many? Are you cycling through five or six different news websites? Is cable news on in the background most of the day? If so, are you really gaining any new information and insight? I suspect not. I encourage you to find a reliable local and national news source, check them daily, and then move on.
As for purpose, why are you checking the news? For me, I keep checking long after I’ve learned the day’s updates. This is because I want more than to be informed – I want to soak in the information stream, to see my worries reflected in every corner of the world. Misery loves company. But as this crisis wears on, I’m increasingly convinced that this isn’t helpful or healthy. A steady stream of opinions from celebrities and pundits won’t help me lead my family, love my community, or trust the Lord. It will just isolate me further.
If I’m to make it through this with my sanity intact, I need to check one or two reliable news sources, get the information I need, and then move on to better things with my time.
Streaming Video & Social Media. If I’m not obsessively checking the news, what do I do? The default seems to be streaming video or social media. The temptation to mentally logoff every night is so strong because this crisis is mentally and emotionally taxing. Hand washing, food rationing, “community spread” – those and other concerns are never far from my mind and it’s a strain.
I need to resist this temptation, but I confess: so far, I am not winning this struggle. After my wife and I put the kids to bed, I feel like I have nothing left. Yet after 5 or 6 nights (I’ve already lost count) of Netflix, Prime Video, and Twitter, I don’t feel any better. Not more rested, not more relaxed, not more joyful. Each day I feel a bit more frayed than the day before. What should I do? Here are two ideas I’ve been reflecting on:
- Get true rest. Capitalize on the slower pace of this season by going to bed earlier. Spending an evening staring at a screen may feel relaxing, but studies have shown that it actually impairs sleep and impedes getting true restorative rest. Turning the screen off and going to bed is better for your mental health than Netflix binging, and it prepares you to wake early to pray and read the Bible. Spending time with God is the single most important thing for enduring and thriving in this challenging time. Getting quality sleep will help you enjoy time with God that is fruitful and restorative – something the Internet and social media can’t offer.
- Create. As much as I’m tempted to turn my mind off every night during this crisis, the times when I’ve found the most joy have been when I’ve engaged my mind with creative endeavors. I planted an herb garden, I baked banana bread, and I’m teaching our kids how to ride bikes. These may seem like insignificant things, but they have been a lifeline – moments of life, clarity, and energy when the world is preoccupied with disease and death. But for each of these, I’ve had to make a choice to close my laptop or to set my phone aside.
Our Father is the Creator and Sustainer of all things. He creates order from chaos and we are made in his image. When we create, fix, or even clean, we’re not just passing the time, we are acting like our Father – reflecting his image to a fallen world. Nothing on Netflix can bring me that kind of joy.
I hope these ideas are helpful. I look forward to when we can all gather again, and when we do, I hope to hear how faithful God has been to you, and how he’s helped you to trust him more than ever.