Sure, sitting too close to the TV screen will make you cross-eyed, but not turning it on for a week will make your mind melt, which is what I have decided so far. This is D’s husband, writing. She graciously allowed me to write a guest blog, because media week has been a million times more impactful for me than any of the other weeks have been.
Basically, through removing media this week, it made me realize exactly what role it plays in my life. Actually, I realized it within 48 hours. So I think: that was all we needed to do, we can go back to watching TV (and playing video games, if you are me, which for the record, I only do when I work until late and need a way to wind down).
At first, I figured out that TV helped me shut off my mind, which I viewed as a good thing, because without TV my brain runs on and on and on – about injustice, about group therapy techniques, about how to become an spoken word rock musician, about the books I’m reading, which, within the last week have included childhood trauma, pacifism, the Kingdom of God, just war theory, adoption, and therapy. Even when I try to unwind with some fiction, Hermione ends up ruining my mental shut off time by bring up S.P.E.W. which then makes me think about all the injustices that plague both Hogwarts and our muggle world, whether it’s against elves or humans.
So I decided that TV is healthy because without it, I think too much and I don’t know how to rest. I need TV to rest my noggin, and so in the clinical opinion of this counseling intern, I am deeming watching TV very healthy.
Since I came to that conclusion, a few days have gone by and I have primarily focused on an upcoming counseling class titled “Trauma through the Lens of Attachment,” and I have to read The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook. I haven’t even gotten to the chapter of which the title is named, but I have read five chapters so far, each with multiple stories of violence against children, and I will not tell you at all what they are about, because then you would be as sad as I feel right now. And to be honest, it would be easier to sit with these children in a session than to read about it, because sitting with the traumatized allows you to attend to and focus on them, and one may even get to witness the beauty of resilience; but when you read it in a book, or read this in the newspaper, you are forced not only to attend to the victim, but to equally attend to the perpetrator – you are forced to face depth of brokenness that exists in humanity. In fact, it is the violators that make it more difficult for me to have hope – I can hope for recovery for those who have undergone the most heinous crimes, but what about those who commit violence without remorse? It can be downright spirit-crushing.
Then the other stressors in my life are primarily responding to that brokenness; I need to prepare for my oral exam so I can graduate with a master’s in counseling so I can help people (which is actually, in itself a flawed statement that I don’t have time to address here); I need to put together a resume to see if non-profit organizations will take us; I need to respond to the pile of emails from ministry organizations that we might partner with.
So these days, I feel that my brain capacity is filled with (a) emotionally responding to the pain of the world and (b) practically responding to the pain of the world. And in this moment, all I want to do is hear Liz Lemon say, “What the what?” and I am seriously thinking that I definitely deserve some TV.
But then it occurred to me that if I alternate between feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders and feeling the numbness of watching Liz Lemon make witty one-liners, I am missing something big. The weight of the injustice and pain in the world can drive us to TV (or drinking, or other ways to separate ourselves from reality), or it can drive us to God. And I’ve been asking myself this week what exactly it means to rest with God, because up until now, I always think being quiet in prayer is just about waiting for God to tell me what to do next, which usually adds more stress rather than less. And I know that God created the Sabbath, but Jesus taught us that doing good and relieving suffering is not exempt from the Sabbath, so I just feel kind of confused. If there is endless suffering in the world, how can we ever have a sabbath in good conscience?
And I think this is part of what resting with God is, turning to him in the moment you want to numb yourself (and by the way, in the mental health world, we identify this as landing on some spectrum of dissociation, just so you know). I respond through the mind-numbing way all the time, usually courtesy of hulu.com.
So tonight, rather than playing video games or watching TV, since I couldn’t do either of those things, I decided to just sit (well, just sit in some warm bath water with candles lit) and read out of Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. Of course, I also did a little free-style praying as well. But basically, I prayed for the kids in my childhood trauma book, not only them specifically, but the demographic they represent (including many teenagers I interact with on a regular basis), and it was really relieving. more relieving than ignoring my emotions and watching Parks & Rec. Even though I felt that I was caring more and not less, nor was I shutting off my brain, I felt invigorated rather than drained because I felt connected to the Holy Spirit as I joined Him in grief over injustice, and at the same time it was also so relieving that He is much more powerful than I.
Out of Common Prayer, I prayed the compline prayer which is the last prayer of the day. Part of it goes like this:
This is what we are about: we plant seeds that will one day grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects are beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
You guys know that D is a radical, but so you know, — me, not so much. In fact, two weeks ago I prayed that God would give me love for the poor and the disenfranchised because I pretty much didn’t care. And over this past weekend, the Holy Spirit moved my heart in this way, and pointed out to me that there were demographics of people that I had simply given up on, which is not the way He sees things. And I think part of learning to care is learning to rest in God (and maybe not in TV as much). We might be afraid that if we care, if we really give it our all, we will care too much and our we will be crushed under the weight of stress, powerlessness and hopelessness. Basically, I trust the writers of Friday Night Lights to bring redemption and justice to the town of Dillon, Texas more than I trust God to bring the same to my neighborhood and community, and thus I am more invested in those characters than I am in the people I see every day. But through this TV- and videogame-less week which I have resented every step of the way, I’ve learned that rest is not just about shutting off our brains, but it’s about hope, it’s about trusting that God is still working, even when while we ourselves take a moment to catch our breath.
(And also, maybe we kind of broke the lent rules today because it was D’s birthday). Edit: ok, by that my husband means we watched 15 minutes of Parks and Rec before my baby woke up very very very early from her nap. It’s the birthday rule, OK????? Also, isn’t my husband the coolest?