Media fasting: an explanation, a decision… a lifestyle?


For the last few weeks, I’ve been perilously close to a state of crisis, emotionally speaking. A series of conditions surrounding my life, some of them I’ve spoken about, and many too private to blog about (yes, such things still exist in my world) have contributed to my being short-tempered, overly volatile, and generally living without much faith or hope. Which is a sad state for any human being, much less a worship-leading professional Christian like myself.

So I took a step recently, one which seemed rather drastic at first, but by the time I finished I wondered why it had taken me so long to try it.

I went on a media fast.

Three days without any television, radio, movies, video games, or non-essential internet usage (email mostly).

Now I realize that the true Biblical standard of fasting is to go without food, and so there are some who might read this and scoff. Going without food is a much more serious act of denial, a particularly visceral kind of longing that has especially transformational effects, the most profound of which have been discussed by many people more knowledgable than I.

But considering that, for awhile now, I’ve put much more thought, energy, and intentionality into the various forms of media that I consume than the food that I eat, I thought this move would suit me well, that is, if I had the cojones to actually try it. If nothing else, it would help me to slow down and pay attention to what I’m eating, since half the time I’m eating while I’m reading/watching/listening/playing.

(Not that I’m bragging about this… I want you to hear my heart here… this is definitely not something I’m proud of, but I realized I had a problem when I found myself wolfing down spoonfuls of cereal during a round of Halo 3. And doing pretty well, actually.)

I chose an interval of three days, because, well, it sounded sorta spiritual and my mentor Dan said three days sounded good. And I have to say, that the hardest part was that first Monday morning, when I got off the pillow, went downstairs to fix Holly some tea, and sat down to check my email.

And that was it. No checking headlines at the Tribune. No TrueHoop. No Slate.

Nothing but me and the Lord.

I read the daily Scripture email that comes into my inbox, which took me to the book of Isaiah. I read that verse, and the accompanying chapter, and then I just sat and thought for awhile. Which is not new, of course.

What was new was that I was aware of my thoughts. I could, for the first time in awhile, actually hear myself thinking.

And it made it much easier to pray, because then all I was doing was redirecting those thoughts toward God in prayer.

Now, I take no pride in my prayer life. Not that I don’t pray a lot — I pray all the time. It’s just that my prayer life sucks, because most of the time I’m only thinking of myself. If somehow my everyday, sitting-at-the-computer, laying-on-my-bed, behind-the-wheel prayers were to be recorded, I would be ashamed to play them back, because they would mostly consist of halfhearted commitments, worrying, complaining, and self-centered requests.

The good thing about removing all of the mental noise from my life is that I can actually listen to myself pray. And that is motivating, because the more I do it, the more I can hear how pathetic I sound, and then the more I can instead choose to focus on God and His glory, His plan, His desire for my day.

Now that I’m off of my media fast, I’ve sort of gorged myself. NBA Finals Game 4 last night, Ed Norton in The Incredible Hulk this afternoon, and a rousing round of Halo 3 with friends tonight. I hope I’m not overdoing it, I’m just taking the time to do things that I enjoy with people that I enjoy hanging with (the homies at church, my brother Jomo, and my buddy John, respectively).

Which brings me to another benefit of media fasting… it helps me to prioritize my media consumption, which helps me to differentiate between things that are Truly Important and things that are just Distractions. Which is tricky, because often things that are generally important (paying bills online, listening to gospel music, staying up on local and national news) can distract me from the thing that God may want me to do in the moment.

But not only that, sometimes I get distracted from things that are actually fun and enjoyable just because something else popped up in front of me and it’s taking up my attention. So there’s something good about being able to know that on a Sunday evening I can watch a movie or I can play a video game, but chances are I won’t be able to do both. Whichever one is more appealing and/or important to me, I’ll do — and the other one I’ll also get to do — later.

It’s called delayed gratification, folks. And right now I’m not so good at it.

But if I keep this up, hopefully I will be. Which is what I’m planning to do. I’m going to do it again next week. And maybe the week after that, I don’t know.

I’m hoping that eventually this will become part of my life rhythm. Some days it’s okay to get swept away in fantastic action sequences and heartrending drama. On the other hand, some days you just gotta embrace the real life that’s happening right in front of you.

And if fasting from food can be even more beneficial, then I should try it. I was about to type, “I can’t wait to try it” but then I remembered — fasting means you don’t eat.

Yeah, so it might be awhile before I’m ready to do that.

Umm… I mean… not my will, Lord, but thine.

Don’t take the cup from me just yet, God.

Especially if it has a smoothie in it.

I’m just sayin.’

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