Archive for the ‘The Process’ Category

It’s been six months since we cancelled our satellite TV subscription and here are a few things I’ve come to realize:

  • It’s a lot harder to be without TV programming when the days are short and the weather is bad.
  • Fasting from TV does not automatically mean that the time is filled with more enriching or productive activity .
  • Children who don’t watch TV require much more attention and energy to parent.
  • While waiting until later in life to have children has many advantages, boundless energy is not one of them.
  • It is both uncomfortable and rewarding to move out of our comfort zones.
  • It is possible to live a normal and fulfilled life without having access to 100+ channels of TV programming.
  • I don’t miss hearing every little detail about the day’s horrific tragedy.
  • I can still get plenty of news without watching TV. The only time I’ve really wanted to watch the TV news was when we had severe weather. We were able to pick up a local channel (though the reception was pretty bad).
  • It’s a lot cheaper to get movies from the library than from Blockbuster.
  • I’ve rediscovered how much I enjoy reading for pleasure.

I have to say that our fast is not a complete fast. We do watch movies and videos from the library or Netflix and I’ve even watched a few cooking shows I got at the library. What is significantly different, however, is that the TV is not available to be used 24/7 as a distraction. Anything we watch is an intentional choice (both as to the programming and the time.) I’ve certainly done more reading, writing and listening to music in the last six months and I’ve learned a lot about myself. Fasting is, in part, about exposing our dependencies and clarifying what is important. God has taught me some important lessons in the last six months and for that I am truly grateful.

Thanks be to God!


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It’s raining…again. We’ve had around 3 inches of rain in the last couple of days, everything is soggy and I can’t wait for spring. This is disappointing because I usually look forward to winter. I love snow. I have very warm memories of snow days at home as a child; being outside in the woods with my brothers and the dogs; walking on frozen ponds, which, in East Tennessee was taking our life in our hands since the ice never got very thick; staying out (with bread bags taped over our shoes) until we couldn’t feel our toes; coming in to hot chocolate on the stove and a jigsaw puzzle. We lived near on the edge of a woods on the side of a mountain and the back of our house was big picture windows. When it snowed it was so beautiful, almost magical. Walking in the woods in the snow is one of life’s great experiences. The snow on the trees muffles all the sound and the light glinting off the snow crystals gives everything a luminescent quality. The contrast of the white snow with the green of the spruce and pine trees and the gray of the bare hardwoods lends a simplicity restfulness to the eye that is not present in the other seasons when there is more color. I miss that experience.

The grayness of the winter here in Indiana is difficult to deal with but is normally tolerable when there is more snow. Grayness and rain and a damp cold that clings to the skin is hard to take. I find myself wanting to hibernate, feeling less creative, etc. I’m sure the presence of grief and feeling of being unsettled about the future does not help matters any. So I am left with the question of how to tolerate this season in my life as I wait for the sky to brighten and signs of new life to emerge. It occurs to me that the season of Lent, which begins today, Ash Wednesday, offers some parallel to my experience.

During the season of Lent, followers of Christ are asked to make a commitment to a period of reflection and self-examination in preparation for the observance of Holy Week and Good Friday, culminating in the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection: Easter. Lent is not a happy-happy-joy-joy stop on the calendar of the Christian year but then not all of life is that way. There are periods of darkness…rain…sorrow in all our lives. Lent is a time for looking inward and allowing God to illuminate the parts of us that need attention. It’s also a time for looking outward to allow God to help us see the needs of a hurting world. Finally, Lent is a time for looking upward for it is during these these times of darkness, rain and sorrow in our lives that we can, if we pay attention, experience God’s presence, strength, comfort and guidance in deeper and more meaningful ways.

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I visited my parents in E.Tennessee over the Thanksgiving weekend and saw first hand the effects of the drought I had heard them talking about for months. The rivers in the Smokies were as low as I’ve ever seen them and while a little rain has eased some of the immediate dryness there, the rainfall in that area of the country is more than 25 inches below normal for this year. Many in the southeastern United States are beginning to understand the sense of helplessness many in other parts of the country and world have felt for years as they have struggled with drought and limited water supplies.

I suppose I’ve been experiencing my own kind of drought in recent days. Since the beginning of November I’ve made only five posts to this blog; less than half the number I made in October. I could say that it’s because I’ve been busy or that the holidays have kept me from taking the time to post and while I, like most everyone, do have extra things to do this time of year I can’t say that my busyness has kept me from posting. It feels more like a drought – a scarcity of whatever it is that elevates us from simply surviving to being able to thrive. I know myself well enough now (five years of therapy will do that for you) to know that when I feel this way it tends to be my psyche’s way of drawing my attention to something that is not sustainable. When something in my life is not working for me, I begin to experience symptoms that, if left unattended, will lead me down the path of depression. When I begin to feel mentally dull, irritable, uninterested in things I usually enjoy and I feel a lack of creativity I know that I need to stop and spend some time reflecting on what it is that is not working for me or what is going on that might require that I practice better self-care. God has created us with a lovely array of sensors that will sound warning bells or will signal us somehow that something under the hoods needs some attention. The trick is to learn to be aware of the signals that your body, mind and spirit are giving you and then do something to identify the issue and deal with it appropriately. Sometimes we can identify and fix the problem on our own and sometimes we need help.

Drought can benefit us if it causes us to pay attention to the way we are using our resources whether they be material resources or physical, emotional and spiritual resources. It would be a shame to waste the opportunity to learn from it.

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Isaiah 55: 1-2

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As I write this we are gathered preparing to watch a movie. The kids are alternating between playing and bickering. Not watching TV means that they have more time on their hands to try to fill. Consequently, they seem to bicker more which is maddening to me. I have no idea how my parents stood having six kids in the house at one time. I’ve asked everyone to come upstairs where our computer is so that we can have a discussion about our fast and I can attempt to transcribe it as we talk.

Betsy: “Ok…what do we want to say about our three months without TV?”

David: “It’s only been three months? Time really crawls when you are not watching TV.”

Julia: “Don’t watch it until two thousand hundred thirty seventy five years.”

Mom: “Why?”

Julia: “So we can get more healthier.”

Mom: “How does not watching TV make us healthier.”

Julia: “Too much TV makes you get jello in your brain.”

Ben: “Not watching TV is fun because you can play with other stuff like your legos or you can read books. We can talk with our family at dinner.”

Mom: “What books have you been reading?”

Ben: “Guardians of the Ga’hoole, Harry Potter, Hank the Cowdog, The Island,”

Mom: “What is hardest about not watching TV?”

Ben: “Nothing, I already told you, it’s fun.”

Mom: “You don’t miss any TV shows?”

Ben: “I don’t miss any.”

Mom: “What would you say to other families that might think about fasting from TV?”

Ben: “No one in my school is going to do that. I’d tell them it can hurt your brain. ”

Mom: “Do you tell people you don’t watch TV?”

Ben: “No. They would think I’m stupid cause everyone watches TV.”

Three months. Now that we’ve moved the clocks back an hour it gets dark so much earlier and it seems a little harder.  I’ll write more later about some surprising things I’ve discovered in these three months but the kids are clamoring to watch the movie (Evan Almighty) so I’ll close.

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Well, Autumn has definitely arrived in our part of the world and with it less access to outdoor activities.  I’ve wondered how it would be to have the children in the house more with no TV but, while it is more demanding of my time, I am seeing some things that I don’t think I would be seeing if they were watching TV.  These are the ones that have made the most impression on me:

  • Benjamin has always been a good reader, but now, he is reading all the time.  I know he would not be doing as much of that if he were occupied with TV and video games.
  • Julia and Ben both have been plinking around on the old piano we have.  We’ve had it a few years now but I’ve never seen them show much interest.  Now, I can hear them playing around with it much more.  I believe that as they are being challenged to occupy their time, they are trying new things.
  • Both of them are spending much more time drawing, coloring, doing “art projects.”
  • Julia has a new found interest in ‘putting on plays.’  Her most recent projects are “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “My Fair Lady.”
  • Ben has advanced from following the directions to build lego creations to creating his own space ships, planes, etc.

Every choice we make about how to spend our time eliminates some other option.  I don’t think TV is bad or evil, in and of itself, but I do believe that the time my children  (and I) spent in front of some screen in the past eliminated opportunities to develop other interests and skills.  I feel like we are achieving more balance now and it feels good.

I have to admit that I miss watching the Colts but maybe someone will invite us to their house for a Colts party because watching TV then would be part of a social activity and therefore allowed (hint, hint).

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Well, we passed the two month point without TV last week.  While I can’t say that it is the easiest thing I’ve ever done, neither is it the hardest.  (Once you’ve had a baby everything else pales in comparison.)  It seems once school started at the end of August we got a lot busier; third graders have more homework, Ben started back to martial arts, Julia takes one ballet class a week, we’re trying to participate in the O.P.T. (Overcoming Poverty Together) dinners at our church most weeks.  At times, I wonder when we had time to watch any TV.  I don’t miss it much unless I’m really tired and I would just like to sit and veg.  The kids have stopped asking about it though they do look forward to watching a movie together most weekends.  (A couple of weeks ago it was “My Fair Lady” and I’ve been hearing the songs, particularly “Wouldn’t It Be Lovely?” and “With a Little Bit of Luck” for days.  Better than “High School Musical” I guess.)  While they are not asking about it at home, Ben and Julia are definitely still thinking about TV.

We were on the way to see the dentist Tuesday for the kids’ six month check up and I was talking to Julia about what to expect since she was a little nervous.  I was telling her that she would get a new toothbrush and prizes at the end of the appointment and Ben said that the prizes weren’t the best thing about the dentist.  “What is the best thing?” I asked.  “The best thing about going to the dentist is that they are not fasting from TV and we can watch cartoons on the ceiling while we are there.” (They go to a pediatric dentist that has flat screen TV’s above the exam chairs.)  They then engaged in a long discussion about what they were going to ask to watch.

While Ben and Julia clearly still think about TV, they are spending more time at home doing creative things like art projects, lego creations, imaginative play, etc.  I can’t say that I’m doing any art projects but I am writing more for this blog and for NexusJesus.  A post I wrote for this blog, Being a Good Steward of the Earth, is going to appear on TheOoze a website for folks engaged in conversation about the emerging church with a national readership next week.   We are all reading more which feels good because it means we are thinking more.  I can’t say our house is any cleaner or we are finishing up all those unfinished projects that are lying around but I can say that I believe we are all seeing spiritual benefit from this exercise.

One of the most challenging things for David and I has been the extra effort that is required to parent children who are not parked in front of the TV.  We came to realize recently that we are probably experiencing increased stress from that dynamic but I think we are getting a handle on it now.  We (the kids, too) are all practicing asking for time out when we feel stressed or tense with one another.

I know fasting from TV is not for everyone…but we’re learning a lot in the process.  We’ll let you know how it goes as the days get shorter, the weather colder and the winter sets in.

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I posted a quote from recently which caught my attention:

“It’s hard to remember you are a cherished spiritual being when you are burping up apple fritters and Cheetos.”

This quote comes from an book by Anne Lamott called Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith. It’s a series of essays reflecting on her life experiences through the lens of her faith. The essay this quote is taken from chronicles her attempt to numb emotional pain with binge eating. After trying unsuccessfully for most of a day to anesthetize herself with junk food, she finally turns to prayer. Unfortunately, at that time she discovers that a body stuffed with food lends a certain physical discomfort which makes it hard to focus on openness to God.

This quote stuck with me because I have been reflecting lately on the ways I try to numb or distract myself from emotional pain, boredom or anxiety. Living without TV means I have one less drug of choice. Shortly before we started our fast, I had also begun trying to reduce my intake of sugar and simple carbohydrates which means I’m trying not to turn to my second drug of choice which would be chocolate or other sugary foods. TV watching was often associated with snacking so giving that up has made it easier to avoid some of the junk food but I’m sometimes left feeling at loose ends. I notice a restlessness in myself that I don’t like. It’s uncomfortable and anxiety provoking. I find myself searching for things to replace the role TV and food have played in my life. I’m spending more time on the computer; some of that time is productive, some not. I finally had to delete ZUMA (a game) from my computer because I was beginning to feel addicted to it.
I’m doing more reading; some thought provoking, some light and distracting. I don’t think I have to be spending all my time being serious and having “deep thoughts.” I value the place of storytelling, entertainment and play so I’m not dismissing the value of those things in our lives. What I am noticing is the way I (we) use entertainment to assuage our anxiety and distract us from our pain. I end up feeling distracted or numbed but not relaxed or renewed.

One spiritual benefit of fasting is that it reveals our dependencies. Fasting brings us face to face with our various hungers: physical, emotional, and spiritual. In denying ourselves the things we depend upon we take ourselves out of our comfort zone. That holy discomfort can allow us opportunity to turn to God, to seek that which truly satisfies. The downside is that it is hard and uncomfortable. My previous experience with fasting teaches me that it will get easier if I look to God for sustenance but for now I’m feeling challenged; the bloom is definitely off the rose.

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