This particular round of sick had me bingeing on a certain crime drama TV show that was taught, tense, and filled with great cliffhangers every step of the way. The kind of stuff I can’t look away from. And, it all served its purpose – I didn’t have to focus on my sore throat, my rising and lowering temperature, and the loss of hearing that comes from my body’s production of mucus that seems trapped between my ears. I was able to distract myself from those pesky symptoms. As long as the TV was on, everything else was off.
Enter ROCKHarbor’s (my home church in Southern California) annual “Seek Week” tradition. As a church, I am joining with a group of people who are voluntarily giving up non-essential media, and one element of our diets (a meal, junk food, or some other particular) for 5 days. The reason is to open us up to God and listen to Him. Theoretically, media is distracting us more than we think from God.
As I have understood it, fasting is a discipline meant to make us aware of God and our dependence on Him. Though my body becomes physically hungry, I make that a metaphor for my spiritual hunger and how God is my true source of satisfaction and fulfillment. I meditate on that and use it as a piece of my worship, and a portion of my longing and prayer.
Media fasting is the next step, and the one I least look forward to. That’s because I really enjoy media. Youtube videos, videogaming, music, film, TV, facebook, and whatever else – all awesome. It entertains me, is great to share, provokes thought, provides a laugh, and is an activity that gives mutual enjoyment amongst peers, couples, and families.
It also has the ability to totally distract me from everything else in my soul.
I am not condemning media, but I am taking a break from it for the purpose of what a fast can do for the soul. I am taking in a different level of download, because I live in a constant state of download – from sensory awareness that helps me survive, all the way down to being entertained. But regardless of the purpose, information is always incoming. It is the metaphorical frequency my soul is most tuned into. When I voluntarily change the channel, I hear a different sound and make time to listen.
My heart and soul are in need of nourishment as much as my physical body. So is my spirit. When I turn off the entertainment noise, I start to ache in different ways than my physical body does with this flu. It reveals where I may be foolishly dependent on these resources that immediately gratify me in the same way the drive-thru might at my favorite fast food chains. And like those fast food chains my body is getting content, but not usually nourishment.
I recognize that seeing a film by Ingmar Bergman is not junk food, nor listening to a work of art by a master songwriter. But this type of fast is one in which I am asking God to talk to me. I believe He’s out there, that He’s interested in me, and that He’s bigger than I can imagine. So what next?
I have a prediction: I am going to remove these daily distractions from my life and it will reveal to me certain soreness. I may feel sadness, anxiety, or anger and I won’t have my “go to” stuff to distract me from those feelings. They are going to come out. And while it may be natural to want to relieve the tension, I believe that is where God is – in the midst of it. That’s because that tension is what is true about me.
What am I doing with my life? How do I really see myself? Why do I feel the emotions that I feel? I am, in my fasting, inviting God to join me in those experiences. I believe I have something to learn there. I believe He has something to teach me in those places. I don’t believe he necessarily wants me to live exclusively for tension relief.
In Psalm 139, we see an extensive set of writing that can be summed up simply as this: No matter how hard I try, I will never be able to hide any part of me from God – not in physical spaces, spiritual places, emotional crevices, or cognitive thought. He knows all and sees all. It’s time to make a point of inviting him into those spaces I think are cleverly hidden rather than project to Him a false identity.
Here’s what that might look like. You are on day 2 of your fast, and you find yourself a little more “on edge” or irritable than usual. You came home at the end of a long day at work and wanted your customary 30-60 minutes of “brain out” time, but don’t have it. Rather than run from that irritability, meditate on it. Sit in the silence of that moment, and ask God to join you there. Ask Him to teach you in that space, to reveal Himself to you in that moment. What might that look like for you?
This week, I have no TV, no song, no entertainment, and no other media in my life because I want God present. And whatever bursts forth will be welcomed and inhabited by God and me. Not merely to feel it less, but to feel it more. As my wise Father said, a life lived exclusively for tension release is not much a life at all. The human life calls for a variety of experiences and I am anticipating that this week God will be present to all of it.
How does God speak to you when you listen?