I’m not normally so thoughtful in my TV watching. But lately I have been spending lots of time thinking about how I spend my days, and specifically, how I avoid cultural trends that I believe will derail me from my top priorities.
Not long ago, I watched a show in which the main character was a super famous TV star who, for many years, had sacrificed most of her time in service of her career. Her family had suffered the effects of being neglected by her, and during this episode, her husband finally asked for a divorce. In one particularly heartbreaking scene, the couple sits down to inform their teenage daughter of the divorce. As the star had predicted, her daughter blames her and her TV career. This star’s daughter had felt neglected–as if she were not a priority to her mom for her entire life. Now, 17 years in, her mom was learning this fact in dramatic fashion.
I sat on the couch with my wife Brynne, thinking about how terrible it would be to have your daughter tell you that she never felt like a priority and to realize, as the star did, that your daughter is right. My own children are four and six. While six years have flown by, I am so thankful that I have many years ahead with my precious kids at home. I have a dozen or more years to deliver the message “You are my priority” every single day. As I sat on that couch, I was reminded again of how easy it is to let work or other priorities crowd out what really matters.
Two cultural trends and messages stick out to me as particularly harmful. I’d like to share them, along with what I’m doing to combat them, in hopes that you might find the ideas helpful as you dive into 2020.
Cultural Trend 1: Your Smartphone Runs Your Life (And Your Kids Lives, Too!)
I recently came across an article in The Atlantic entitled “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” The article details just how dramatically smartphone ubiquity among adolescents has changed an entire generation of kids. As you might guess, those changes are not for the better. As I read the article, the biggest “aha” moment I had was that I do not have a plan for how my kids are allowed to interact with phones. More importantly, I don’t have one for myself either! I have just kind of gone along with the flow as newer and better phones have come along. I’ve never taken the time to step back and ask, “Is this good for me?”
One culture that is especially thoughtful in this area is the Amish community. Most people think of the Amish as taking a very “black and white” approach in their rules against technology, but that is not so. Instead of simply deciding that all new things are bad, the Amish wait and observe as new technologies emerge. Then, they meet within their communities to discuss the merits of this new technology and whether or not it supports their core values and way of life. For example, car ownership was determined to be detrimental to their communal way of living. However, riding in cars is permitted and seen to be of value from time to time. I’m not planning on packing up my family and heading to Pennsylvania any time soon, but I admire this practice. Brynne and I have even spent some time creating a sort of manifesto for ourselves and our children regarding technology. This simple document outlines specific weekly rules like:
- Putting our phones “to bed” at 7pm and not “waking them up” until 9am the next day.
- No phones at the dinner table.
- Watching one screen at a time–no TV and phone together.
- Leaving the phone at home at least once a day while running an errand.
These and other simple rules help create space for the things we truly care about–like being present and connecting with one another. Ultimately, these rules cost us very little in terms of missing out on anything of real value. If this idea interests you, I suggest checking out the fantastic book Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport.
Cultural Trend 2: You Should Always Be Working Towards More Stuff and Better Stuff
I realized last year that almost all of my problems stemmed from one source: not getting what I wanted. I had this revelation one day while reading the 23rd Psalm, which declares “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not WANT.” I thought to myself, Man what an awesome life to be a sheep with a good shepherd that doesn’t want anything. Of course, this can be taken to unhealthy extremes, but my realization here was just that I am a “wanting machine.” I want all kinds of stuff–and more and better stuff.
So, if wanting lots of stuff makes me less happy, then why am I doing it? The obvious answer is that our culture is constantly sending me messages that communicate to me in better and more sophisticated ways all of the things that I should want. The problem this creates is that I, like the TV star from the beginning of this article, start to sell my life energy in pursuit of achieving these “wants.” I constantly think about how to work more or harder and how to make more money. Meanwhile, these precious years with my kids are dwindling away. In this season of life, I’m realizing that I have to be very intentional to combat the constant message of “more” and to live a life present and content with what I already have. Here are a few practices that I have found to be helpful in this ongoing battle:
- Take my kids to the park and leave my phone at home. This allows me to a) judge all of the other parents for being on their phones at the park instead of being present with their kids, and to b) be present with my kids and enjoy them!
- Fasting breakfast and lunch one day a week as a reminder that I will survive even if I’m hungry for a while. Then, I enjoy a great meal with family and no phones to break the fast.
- Taking one day off a week from buying stuff (food, coffee, etc.). This helps me notice just how often I “need” something and over time, helps me learn that I don’t actually need those things at all (I see you, Starbucks Venti Iced Coffee).
While these specific ideas may not be your cup of tea, I hope that these thoughts encourage you to consider how you are interacting with these two current trends. I, for one, have found a great deal more joy in my life as I have considered how to be more intentional in these areas. Happy New Year from all of us at the Gluch Group…May this year be your best yet!