Years ago, when Dave and I were first married, I enjoyed reading books by Janette Oke, Gilbert Morris, Lori Wick and other authors who wrote Christian fiction. I love to read and once I start I book I can hardly put it down which has not always proven to be life giving for my family.
Some days after reading these books, usually set in the pioneer days of America, I wished for homemade bread and leftover roast beef so I could enjoy thickly sliced bread, slathered in butter and stacked high with roast beef. There was a sense in which I felt like a pioneer woman because I had read it all day. I wanted to chop wood, haul water, do the chores. My reading impacted my thinking and, in turn, influenced how well I connected with people around me. After all, I was living in an imaginary place while those around me were firmly settled in the modern world.
Times have changed and we listen to books as much as we read them today. But we also spend time on Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Spotify, Youtube, podcasts, Ted talks…and on and on it goes.
The really fabulous part about it all is we have access immediately to really great content that, prior to this age of technology, we had to order and then wait for it to arrive at our doors through snail mail. I have scores of cassette tapes with wonderful messages filling each one that I never listen to anymore. I don’t even know that I have a device that would allow me to listen to them.
This past week, on more than one occasion, I had someone tell me about the negative impacts some of what they were listening to or reading had in their life. It came in the form of anxiety, worry, fear and dissatisfaction. The more I heard this, the more I wondered why we subject ourselves to input that ultimately harms us.
The content I am talking about isn’t the normal stuff you would easily identify as harmful. Really helpful opportunities are sometimes the very things we should avoid. Let’s look at a few examples.
How about Youtube channels regarding personal appearance? You know, make-up, clothing fashions, staying fit – information that could truly be life changing. If you are a subscriber to these sort of channels, how do they make you feel when you listen to them? Does it stir in you a dissatisfaction regarding your own value and worth? Does it push you to buy clothes, make-up, work out equipment that you really can’t afford, but NEED because it will make all your dreams come true?
How about Facebook groups that form around a particular need? Several years ago I was in a group that involved a two year old boy who contracted a deadly bacteria. I read every day and prayed for this boy and his family. It was an excellent tool to share a need and garner support from a global community. But if I had a two year old, I may not want to read it if I was struggling with anxiety. When you read posts from groups you join, are you moved to pray or does your anxiety, worry or fear go up several notches? Even individual posts can negatively impact your mental health.
How about the people you follow on Instragram? This is another great way to stay connected with friends, family and events around the world. But do you feel any kind of fear, anxiety or dissatisfaction when you scroll through the posts? Do they encourage you to be the best you or does it confirm the lies you believe about yourself – I’m not good enough. I will never be as successful. I won’t ever have children. I won’t ever be married. My husband/wife isn’t as wonderful. My marriage is dull. I can’t entertain like her/him.
How about watching/listening to news, political TV, public radio broadcasting. Staying informed in an ever-changing global climate is important. It can show us how to pray or make us aware of global needs. But do you have greater compassion for others when you listen? Or does it just fuel the fire against “them” and reinforce what you feel about the other side? Is it bringing out the best version of you?
For many years, I dealt with panic and anxiety in levels that were nearly debilitating. I found it hard to function in life in a normal way so one strategy I developed was avoiding listening to or reading anything that increased my anxiety. As I grow stronger in these areas and experience healing, I am able to listen to and read many of the things I previously avoided with no negative impact.
Too often I think we feel obligated to expose our minds to everything we can get our hands on regardless of what kind of emotional or mental strain it creates within us. We fear missing out, commonly referred to as FOMO. Remember, I am not talking about material that would be considered harmful, rather material that by most would be considered innocuous. But for some individuals, it stirs up detrimental emotional responses. And yet, we continue to access the information because we should and, after all, it is helpful.
There is no standard set forth in scripture that I could turn to that says “Stay away from harmful media.” It just isn’t there. As I thought on this and read scripture, the word WISDOM kept coming to me.
Wisdom is defined by the dictionary as “knowledge coupled with just judgment as to action.” In other words, it isn’t just knowing something (i.e. I know reading this creates anxiety in me.)
It is knowing something coupled with judgment regarding how to act on the knowing. (i.e. I know reading this creates anxiety in me so I will unfollow this group for right now.)
I am really giving you permission to stop reading/listening/following anything that causes you to swirl into bad places. You won’t miss out on anything except a few days of anxiety laden, fear-filled internal conflict.
The first time I heard the doctor tell me I was pregnant I was ecstatic. The first ten weeks sailed by fairly easily with some nausea, but then it cleared up. About the twelve week mark, I developed some trouble and a week later I miscarried. My faith in God remained intact, but I was weak in my spirit. There were certain things I just didn’t do during that time. Of course, the internet wasn’t an option (I know, it is shocking that there was a time when we couldn’t Google something), but I avoided reading certain material. It just didn’t prove to be helpful. I wasn’t in a place where I could process it in a healthy way.
If this is you, you knew it six paragraphs ago. If it isn’t you, skip ahead and come back tomorrow. But for those of you who struggle with saying no to certain material, then read on.
James 1:5-6 says:
If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask, be sure that your faith is in God alone.
Today I was talking with my daughter and she shared something that was making her anxious. She said, “Then I decided to pray about it. Maybe God wants to help me with it.” Brilliant!
If you find yourself stuck in the mire of social media, news, podcasts, etc. ask Him for wisdom. And then believe it. Allow him to check your motives for wanting to listen to or read the material you most often turn to. Ask yourself if this is bringing out the best version of you? Would those around you agree?
And then be sure your faith is in God alone!
Until next time…
May the Lord bless you and protect you.
May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace.Numbers 6:24-26