1. I'd rather live than watch.
I am in mourning. Three weeks ago we moved to Washington. Although I love the move, I weep for a few small things. At the top of the list is gas being pumped for me. In Oregon it's against the law to pump your own gas. So since I've lived in Oregon for 10 years, imagine my shock last week at having to climb out of my SUV, hike around to the nozzle, push all the right buttons, and stand out in the elements until the beeper beeped.
As silly as this may sound, the truth is that whatever we do regularly becomes what is right and good for us-right down to pumping gas. If you and I sit and watch other people living their lives (or pretending to do so for a paycheck), we will come to the place of dependence on this practice. Repeat the sit-and-watch habit long enough, and you will find this kind of posture essential to your daily life.
Now, whenever I discuss the TV topic with friends, someone always points out how there's good to be seen in the box-shows on a nature channel, a history channel, a cooking channel, even a home improvement channel. And I agree-there is good, solid information to be had. But do I really need to know every last detail about how to remodel a bathroom, how dung beetles are like traveling sewer systems, or how devastating World War II was? I think not.
I have a limited time on this earth. I have a calling on my life. I cut the cable because I didn't want to become good at "sitting and watching." I wasn't made for such. I'm better off cleaning my bathroom, taking my kids on a hike to see real insects, or visiting a living, breathing GI at the veterans hospital who hasn't seen a smiling face in months.
If you were born yesterday, you've got less than 35,000 days to live it up. Do you really want to be a pro at sitting and watching?
This really hit home for my husband and me just two weeks ago. Having moved, we found out that we cannot get high-speed Internet in our new home without a cable package. And yes, we hate dial-up, so we seriously considered our options.
The one thing we love to watch is basketball. We love to see play-off games, too. With this in mind we wrestled a bit. But then we landed back where we always do, asking ourselves what would have to go-time together, time with the kids, time praying, time learning, time exercising-for us to watch a three-hour game a few times a week. And the answer was obvious: Forget it.
2. What you see is what you get.
The stakes go up on this next reason, because most of us don't limit what we watch to the nature channel.
I counseled a woman who was sure that her (somewhat crazy, philandering) husband was going to drag her to court and ruin her life. I asked her how she knew this.
"I've seen it happen a million times," she said.
"A million?" I pushed.
"Yeah, have you ever watched daytime television?"
I wanted to laugh and cry all in the same breath. "Are you kidding me?" I felt like screaming. "You have paced your life with The Young and the Restless?" At least now I knew why she'd married the guy in the first place.
You may think you're above daytime soaps, but really, aren't the evening shows just a little more sophisticated?
The Bible suggests that what we watch makes us in its image (see 2 Corinthians 3:18). So the decision of what to let your eyes see and ears hear is one of the most significant ones you will ever make.
Parents (present and future), check this out. A friend of mine who is a doctor in the business of studying the brain will tell you that from the age of 0 to 7 years, your kids can't emotionally differentiate between what's happening in them, to them, or around them. In other words, on an emotional level, if you yell at your husband, you've just yelled at your kids. And who hasn't seen a shoot-out on TV? Well, when little Tommy watches one, he's being shot at again and again, show after show after show. Little Tommy is completely emotionally comfortable with the scenario. No wonder teens are carrying guns to school.
I can tell (almost instantly) the difference between kids who watch TV and those who don't. Just let me ask them what they love doing, buying, and dreaming of trying. Or better yet, let me see how they relate to their parents. Children are sponges-whatever they see and experience is hardwired into what I like to call their secret codebook. That book will then guide how they talk, what they eat, and even what they see as greatness-whether or not as adults they have any recollection of where this "guidance" has come from.
You want respectful kids? Toss the TV so they never see shows where every laugh comes from a mouthy, cynical child who's wrapped their parent around their finger. We laugh, and they learn. You want your daughter to be modest? What does she visualize when you talk clothes? What has been fed into her brain? You want your children to know that Jesus matters more than anything? Toss the TV and quit setting before them pictures and stories of people with no beliefs at all.
Really, this should be a no-brainer. What we focus on, we emulate. What we see long enough will compute as normal. We and our children will morph into whatever we've laughed at, no matter how "far from reality or our lifestyle" we may think it to be. It's just a matter of time.
3. It's the easiest way to go.
The simplest way not to become a sit-and-watch person or shape your future in the wrong direction is not to have cable at all. If it's not there, you don't have to say yes, no, or maybe.
One of my favorite principles of success is to "cut your losses." What your mind knows it will not have, it forgets rapidly. That's why it's so easy for me not to get sucked into shows; there's absolutely no way I can see them!
Knowing how weak I am after a long day, knowing how many times I want to just check out of things and zone, and knowing that my commitment to the vision God has placed on my life has to be recast on a daily basis-not to mention protected from all those competing lesser visions-I don't see any other way for me to succeed. As much as I hate to admit it, if there were a cable filled with a million enticing, engaging dramas coming into my home, I am sure the track record I have now would go south fast.
My stepkids each have a TV in their own rooms at their mom's house. But we don't even have one conversation about TV when they're here. And they don't complain. Instead, like kids everywhere, they rush off (usually outside) to find something fun and entertaining to do. They think, they play, they create; it's really quite wonderful.
I believe that our lives, relationships, and ultimately eternities are made or broken here. The truth is that God cares more about what we care about than what we know or believe (the Bible says that Satan believes, and it does him no good at all). Yes, and whatever we spend time with as humans, we build community with and come to care about. In other words, if you bond with your TV set and the stories that pour from it, it will become your lover, your friend, your life companion, and your teacher. Sure, you'll still believe there is a God and that He loves you, but it won't do you too much good. Why? Because you're already deeply bonded somewhere else and just don't have the emotional space for more.
If you don't want to, can't dream of, or freak at even the slightest suggestion that you can and may even need to cut the cable, you can relax. Nobody is going to wrestle that remote out of your hands. God never forces us to make choices against our will.
So what can you do with a boatload of evidence staring you in the face and heart? It's very simple; you pray one of those fantastically honest prayers and level with God. Your prayer might go something like this: "God, I love my TV. I can't imagine life without it. So [and here's the heart of it] if You want to change my desires-well, go for it. Make me want to give it up, and I'll exercise my free will and do just that!"
I cannot tell you how many areas of my life I've addressed in this way. It's marvelous. First, because you're telling the truth and Jesus loves the truth (who doesn't?). And second, because it's what God actually instructs us to do. The Bible (1 John 1:7-9 and James 5:16 to name two of my favorites) is very clear that God does the promising and we do the confessing. We get honest-"Yes, God, You're right, and no, I don't want to change"-and then He does the work of bringing our hearts up to speed.
Sometimes it's taken months, sometimes minutes, other times almost a year or two. But always God does the deep hairy work of changing my values and emotions. Then all of a sudden a day dawns, and I really want what God wants. And that is when the cable-or the whatever-gets cut.
Clar Worley Sproul writes from her new home in Washington and on the road here and there, where she teaches Jesus' basic principles on life and marriage. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.