I grew up without a TV in the house.
When I tell people that, they’re usually shocked (but I politely tell them that, no, I did not grow up Amish), and they ask, “What did you do as a kid??”
And I look at them quizzically because the answer seems so logical to me – “Well, I read obviously.”
I spent hours reading huge stacks of books I got from the library – and hours entertaining myself with imagined stories, fueled by the tales in said books. And if I wasn’t reading them, I was writing them in my many spiral-bound notebooks.
Now, as an adult, I do have a TV in my house, but only for watching movies. The thought has never crossed my mind, “Oh, I’ll just turn the TV on and see what there is to watch” (I tried that once when house-sitting and quickly got bored). Since that wasn’t a habit that was formed in my house growing up, the thought of just “watching TV” seems to be a novelty.
But. Along came Netflix a few years ago.
And I am quickly learning that it can be my downfall if I let it.
Because shortly after I graduated from high school, I discovered that while “watching TV” in general wasn’t too exciting, watching certain TV shows was very addicting. My siblings and I worked our way pretty quickly through several seasons of “Smallville” rented from Hastings, and then started up “The Office” a couple years after it came out.
And the story lines and the characters completely pulled me in – baited me and hooked me.
Now, I can honestly say that I’ve never “binge-watched” a TV show (beyond more than 4-5 episodes in a row), but I will admit that with the ease of pulling up a multitude of new TV shows that I’ve never watched before (hello “Gilmore Girls,” “Once Upon a Time,” and “Sherlock”!), it’s easy to slip in more TV than I even realize.
To the point where when I think about relaxing in the evening, my go-to choice is watching a few episodes on Netflix.
Please don’t get me wrong – I’m not preaching a sermon against the evils of Netflix – I think it can be a truly enjoyable form of relaxation when handled with self-control. But tonight, as I wound down from a busy week of teaching, with a bit of a sore throat and tired feet, I thought, “I just need to not do much. I’m sure it would be okay if I just watched a few more episodes on Netflix.”
And then this novel thought popped into my head:
“Or I could read a book.”
You would think that for such a self-proclaimed avid reader, that wouldn’t be such a novel thought. But the fact that it was a novel thought proved to me how much I’ve let Netflix creep into my priorities.
And let’s just be honest here – how much mind-edification am I really getting from those TV shows? Yes, they are light, happy diversions – needed humor to end a week of stressful moments. But do I really need several hours of said diversions? Or could I benefit more from diving into my tall stacks of books waiting to be read?
I’m always complaining about how there’s too many books and too little time – well, if I really wanted to read more, I wouldn’t be opening Netflix so often on my computer. I would value the turning of pages over the clicking of the next episode. I would look to gaining new ideas and deeper insights into life over online stories that may or may not leave me feeling discontented in the end (probably the former).
Not all books are quality. If I’m reading the same kind of books as the TV shows I’m watching, then no, there is no benefit there. But if I’m reading books of depth, challenge, spiritual growth, development of gifts and talents, and intricate stories – then they are every bit a superior form of entertainment.
So the question is: what am I going to do about it? Well, I’ve already made it my goal to cut back on the amount of Netflix I watch this year, even by adding it to my daily goals tracker. But instead of just cutting back on the one, I want to actively be adding in the other.
Because as I’ve discovered as an adult, it’s really easy for me to read during my meals (I can’t just sit there and not read anything while I’m eating – who does that when eating alone??), but I’ve found that it’s harder and harder for me to just sit, on my couch, and commit to being fully invested in a book. While doing nothing else.
Obviously I have some lessons to learn about stillness and focus in this crazy busy life!
But I know that in the end it will serve me so much better. Because my heart is deliberately swayed by whatever I put into my mind – and if that’s many hours of Netflix, I’m going to end up with emptiness, discontent, and covetousness for what I don’t have.
But if it’s many hours of reading, there’s a wealth of knowledge, inspiration, and delight that will fill my mind and compel me into what God has called me to do with my life.
It’s not good-bye to Netflix for good (although a media fast isn’t a bad idea) – but it’s learning to have self-control and not letting the urge for the next episode control my down time. God has asked me to use it responsibly for His glory – and how will I answer to Him in the end?