Turning It Off: Embracing God in the Quiet
Note: This article was first on the Intersect Project on April 1, 2019. The original article can be found here.
…But I like Vegging Out
I do a daily “quiet time,” I listen to Christian podcasts and I read good books, mostly by believing authors. I don’t watch sinful television. I’m not doing anything “wrong,” per se. But when I heard someone say that they didn’t have a TV and loved it, my flesh pushed back in a way that felt like an internal red flag.
You have a hard job, a voice inside affirmed my Netflix-loving self. You have a busy life. You need to watch a show now and then (or every day) to unwind. Sometimes, you need to just sit and not have to think.
My husband’s seminary professor had asked his class earlier that week, “What if we actually weren’t created to ‘veg out’?” The question made me uncomfortable when my husband repeated it to me later that evening. But I like vegging out, I thought. I sighed, knowing where this was headed.
“I think maybe we shouldn’t watch TV for a while,” I told him.
“Yep,” he said instantly, and we nodded in agreement, sealing the deal.
Filled to the Brim
The rules were relatively straightforward: No TV (which for us mostly meant streaming) for one month. A movie was okay if we watched it together, but no more than one a week. And on special occasions (aka Duke vs. UNC basketball) we allowed ourselves to go to someone else’s house to watch it, because we didn’t want to live under a rock.
Like all things worth doing, it was really hard. Our normal rhythms changed when we would come home, eat dinner and then suddenly have TV taken off the table for the evening entertainment. We didn’t choose it all the time when it was there, but we chose it often — often enough for us to take notice when it suddenly disappeared.
For me personally, 4pm was my danger hour, the time when I would arrive home but my husband wasn’t back from work yet. Currently newly married and childless, our home is so, so quiet, and I am an extroverted social butterfly who loves parties and noise. But even after my day had been stuffed with people and I knew what I needed was to be alone, I would still find my house uncomfortable.
In the past, I would fill it to the brim. With TV, with podcasts, with music, with audiobooks- with anything I could get my hands on. I put voices in that space so I didn’t have to be alone. I used the extra voices to distract myself from the quiet, and in the process, I distracted myself from God.
A Thin Silence
In processing the past month, I keep coming back to the story of Elijah going up the mountain and hiding in the cave. In 1 Kings 19, Elijah is running and hiding, scared for his life, when the Lord calls him to the mount before him. A wind tore at the mountains, an earthquake shook the ground he stood on and a fire ravished the world around Elijah, but scripture tells us that God wasn’t in any of these things.
And after the fire, the sound of a low whisper. (1 Kings 19:12)
The footnote calls it a “thin silence.”
Typical to the way God does, I have spent the past month not just TV-less, but feeling deeply convicted about the way I live. I realized, horrified, that I can’t even drive in the car anymore without listening to music, checking the gym schedule or reading my email. I pull out my phone at every possible moment, ready to discover whatever there is to be heard or seen.
I discovered I was leaning on noise to make me feel comforted more than I was leaning on the Lord. I called my morning quiet time “good enough” and made a life so loud that I couldn’t stay in tune with His desires throughout my day. But the story from 1 Kings tells us that the Lord is in the low whisper, in the thin silence, the way that takes quietness and stillness to hear. The quiet I have been desperately attempting to fill is exactly where the Lord lives.
The only way I know how to explain what happened in our experimental month is to say that it was almost like discovering a room in our house we didn’t know we had. It wasn’t a huge amount of square footage, but it turned out we had a fully livable space in our life that instead of giving to the Lord, we accidentally submitted to television.
What did we do instead of watch TV? We talked. We went for walks. We got way more sleep. We played games, although admittedly, I became increasingly frustrated at how much better my husband was than me at chess. We had more sex. (How’s that for a reason to give up TV?)
None of this is groundbreaking. Few of us would deny that cutting back on our TV time would be good for our relationships with God, our family and our personal well-being. But the question remains: If we know that, why don’t we do it?
We were made to be in the world, but not of it, as Jesus told us in John 17. Maybe I bought into an idea the world loves: that I “deserve” to turn off my brain at the end of the day. The idea that because I had a busy day, or because I worked hard, I earned some kind of right to disengage (or as my husband’s professor put it, to “veg out”). I am learning that while rest is good and one of the key things I was created for, disengaging from the world around me is not.
I don’t think the answer is getting rid of TV entirely, but for us, we learned a new, real-life lesson about submitting all things to Christ. Even our evenings, even the time that we feel like is “ours.” For us, television was something which distracted us from His Glory, and I don’t see us returning to our old ways anytime soon, even though we completed the month we initially laid out.
Quiet is still difficult for me, but praise God, it has become less so over the past month. And if I need to be uncomfortable in the stillness to give every square inch to Him, I will continue to do so.