Is Media King?
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What holds our hearts’ attention and affection? Wendy Speake asks us to evaluate whether our phones are actually the ones sitting on the throne of our hearts.
Is Media King?
Ann: You’ve done a lot of fasting over the years, Dave.
Dave: —food fast?
Ann: —food fast. What has been your longest food fast?
Dave: Twenty-one days. And I’m not always the nicest during the food fast; I should be better.
Ann: Okay, so what if it was a social media fast? Do you think—
Dave: I don’t think I could do it—definitely couldn’t do 21 days—I mean, you’ve got to be connected to the world.
Ann: Oh! Interesting; sounds like it could be a little idol.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: It sounds like we need help.
Ann: It does.
Dave: And we’ve got help; [Laughter] she’s sitting right here today. Wendy Speake has been here before—author of The 40-Day Sugar Fast—which I should read.
Ann: And you were here with Triggers.
Wendy: Yes; that’s right. I was here with Triggers with Amber Lia,—
Wendy: —talking about all of our parenting triggers.
Wendy: I know we’ll share lots of stories coming up; but in a roundabout way, all of these fasting books have come out of, really, the Triggers ministry.
Dave: Have they really?
Wendy: Yes; yes.
Dave: And we haven’t even mentioned that you wrote a social media fasting book; right?—
Wendy: That’s right.
Dave: —The 40-Day Social Media Fast—which is why Ann brings this up. [Laughter] When I even see that title, I’m like, “Honestly, I can do a food fast; I’m not saying it’s easy.
Dave: But when I think of doing a social media fast—that’s why she asked it—she knew!
Ann: Here was the conversation—we had the conversation—I said, “Let’s do this 40 day social media fast.” He goes, “No,—
Wendy: Yes; right.
Wendy: You didn’t even get the whole sentence out of your mouth.
Ann: Exactly! I think other people can feel that as well.
Let’s go back: you’re married; you have three sons—
Dave: —three teenage sons!
Wendy: —teenagers; that’s right.
Dave: We’ve been there; it’s awesome.
Wendy: I know!
Wendy: You’re my heroes! [Laughter] You made it through; yes! [Laughter]
Dave: We made it through.
Ann: —they’re 13, 15, and 17.
Wendy: That’s right.
Ann: What do they think of this book?
Wendy: We haven’t done lots of social media for them; we’ve set some boundaries when they hit junior high. If they would like to have an Instagram® account, it’s on my phone. When they’re done with school and stuff for the day, they can check in with their friends; or if we’re out doing something fun, and they want to post something, they can post something. There’s not a lot of arguing over what their time limit is and stuff, because it’s on my phone; they just check in.
Then once they show that they are making wise choices about who they follow, who follows them, how they communicate online—and I think, for goodness’ sakes, we’re parents; we taught them how you say, “Yes ma’am,” at the grocery store—we can kind of be involved in how they learn to communicate in another realm. So that was my thinking when I put that together.
But as soon as it gets on their phone—wow!—it’s so hard to not get swept away—
Wendy:—in the cultural norm for kids in how social media is being used. We [parents] think that we have an addiction?—we just fall down virtual rabbit holes and watch too many YouTube videos!
Dave: Oh, yes!
Wendy: There is a whole ‘nother world and other pressures that our kids are facing.
Ann: Wendy, do you remember when you started using social media?
Wendy: I remember: before I had a smartphone, I had a flip phone. I remember I had a toddler, and a baby, and I was pregnant. I would put that flip phone down into the diaper bag and take them to the park. If my husband had tried to get ahold of me that day, I didn’t even hear it. He would come home, “What’s the point of even having a phone?” “Oh, for maybe, if I get in an emergency, I can use it!” “No, but it’s so I can get ahold of you.”
I didn’t have empty hands and I had always made the commitment that I would never talk on the phone when I was with my family unless we were going somewhere and I had to make a reservation. But to chat with someone, when I’m already with someone else?—I had just set boundaries, early on, and I’m glad that I did. But man!—as soon as I got the smartphone, it was easy to forget those boundaries, and pick up a phone, and use it as a form of escapism when life is stressful, which life is stressful.
Wendy: It can get a little of both—idolatrous and adulteress—in that something is pulling us away from our first love. Isn’t, really, that what we want to talk about? “Is it possible that the phone does become an idol? If so, what should I do about it?”
I get asked all the time: “But is it bad, Wendy? C’mon!
Wendy: “Is it bad?” I would say, “Well, it’s not good at being God.”
I’m reminded of Isaiah 55: tells us the story about the man, who chops down the tree and uses some of that wood to make a fire; and by that fire, he warms himself. I would say, “Wood is really good at being wood.” With that same fire, he warms up some food; and I would say, “Wood is really good at doing that too.” Then he takes some of the wood, and with it, he carves an idol. I would say, “Oh, but wood is not good at being a god; we need God to be God.”
So: Is social media bad?”—No!—It’s great for social media. “Is YouTube bad?”—No!—it’s great for YouTube. “Is LinkedIn good or bad?”—well, it’s very good at that; but if your/if your identity is wrapped up with it, and if you’re always focused on who’s seeing you and who you’re seeing, or—I would say, even your online apps for news sources—
Wendy: —if the news has gotten in the way of the Good News, and you’re opening yourself up to the news before you open yourself up to the Good News, I would say, “It’s not good at being the Good News.” So is it bad?—no, but it’s not good at being God.
If the phone is on the throne—and the throne is His—then that’s what we’re talking about maybe.
Ann: I think the question is: “How would we know that?” Dave, I wanted you to do this; because he came up with a questionnaire at church.
Dave: I came up with my digital test.
Wendy: Okay! Bring it.
Dave: As you listen to these, comment—go to our Instagram page or Facebook page: FamilyLife—and comment/tell us how many. I just wrote randomly; question is: “Do you answer ‘Yes,’ to any of these?”
A loved one has told you that you have a problem with your phone or device.
Ann: “What would you answer?”
Dave: I would have to say, “Yes”; she’s sitting right here.
You regularly do email, text, Facebook while sitting on the toilet. [Laughter]
Wendy: [Gasp] Did you just say that?! I can’t believe you just said that. [Laughter]
Dave: I believe, if people are honest, they are going, “Busted!”; you know?—which is sad!
Wendy: Yes; yes.
Ann: Do you think more men do that than women, or is it—
Dave: I don’t know.
Ann: —I bet it’s both.
Dave: I mean, what else are you going to do in there?—you’ve got time. Anyway, third one:
It’s the last thing you look at before you go to sleep/first thing you look at when you wake up.
Ann: That’s it.
Dave: That’s sad; isn’t it?
Ann: You talk about that in your book: how 10 years ago, what was the first thing you did?
Wendy: I would do that—I mean, if you could see me—I would do that stretch/that yawn, and I’d reach over—and off the side table or sometimes, if I was really in a desperate state, I had my thin little Bible under my pillow—I would wake up, and I would reach in, and I would grab it. I would just start reading from where I had left off the day before. That was my morning routine of spending good time with the Lord.
Even once I had children, I remember people said, “Oh, even in that season, you have to give God the first fruits of your life/of your day.” I would wake up, and there would be a little kid in my face!
Wendy: I learned early/I made the choice: “Those aren’t my first fruits; they don’t belong to me, because someone needs me in that moment. God has given me the privilege of being a mom and a wife; and when they need me, I’m available to them. As soon as I have my first fruits, I will give that to the Lord.” I would say, until I’ve spent time in His Word, I don’t want to do other things. Of course, I didn’t have a smartphone!
Now, we say, “But I don’t have time for that.”
Wendy: But we get to the end of our days, and we can look at our phones and say, “But I spent three hours and twenty-six minutes on my phone. I guess I did have some time today.”
A time came, where I reached over, and I would pick up my phone and not my Bible. I would open up the Bible app—except all these pings, and rings, and dings, notifying me that I have a comment from that thing I posted late last night; and this and that—but I’m going to get to the Bible app, and open it up, and read it online.
Dave: You didn’t just pick a number out of the air—three hours and twenty-six minutes—did you? [Laughter]
Dave: That’s pretty close to the average,—
Wendy: That’s pretty close to the average.
Dave:—which is just scary to think.
Wendy: I think, this year, it’s supposed to hit about four hours a day. There have been days when it’s been seven. If it’s not the most important thing in your life—but you’re spending more time with those online people than you are your real-life people—I would say you’re priorities are probably not what you would want them to be.
“What’s the difference between a digital detox and a spiritual fast? Why is this a spiritual fast?” If we were talking food fasting, then we’re not just doing a diet; right? We are going to fast from food and feast on our time with the Lord. The same is true with social media: we’re going to fast from being social, so that we can get social with the Lord. That’s why it’s different from just a digital detox or a food detox.
Ann: Talk about your 40-Day Sugar Fast, because you saw some incredible results from that.
Ann: Did that spur you on, then, to do—
Wendy: Oh, goodness! These things go hand in hand; they really do.
Wendy: Just even a little backstory before that. I was ministering to a group of moms online, who struggle with—just overwhelmed; exasperated; even, angry parenting—go to bed, feeling crummy about it, every night. One day, on social media—ironically enough—I said, “What would happen if we fasted from sugar for 40 days? I mean, we see what happens to our kids when they’re all jacked up on Mountain Dew®, or fruit snacks, or—
Wendy:—“whatever it is.”
Ann: Why that? What made you think that?
Wendy: Well, I can see my kids—and I knew, as soon as my kids went down for naps—I would go in my pantry, and I’d grab a handful of chocolate chips to get me through three o’clock and make me stinkin’ feel better for a hot minute.
Ann: Yes; it’s the bewitching hour.
Wendy: It is, seriously. I would do that; but then, they would wake up: I wasn’t more calm; I wasn’t more kind; I wasn’t more consistent; I/I would say I wasn’t more Christ-like. But I know that—when I turn to the Lord in my parenting angst, in my marital angst, in my angst in life—He actually gives me what I need for life and godliness, but those chocolate chips weren’t.
Wendy: For other people, it’s the fourth cup of coffee that’s highly sugared with the sweet Italian cream, or the extra couple pumps of the vanilla syrup; you know, it’s sugar and it’s caffeine.
Christ has said—such a loving invitation—He said, “Come to Me when you’re weary and heavy laden.” He didn’t say: “Run to your pantry,” “Run through Starbucks,” or “Run to social media”; but “Come to Me and I’ll give you what you need. I’ll give you rest.”
I found that, when I was running to the pantry, I wasn’t sweeter; so sugar doesn’t make a mom sweet; right?
Wendy: And when I was running to my phone—because I couldn’t cope with the stress of my little children—so I would run to the bathroom with my phone and just stay there for 15 minutes, it didn’t actually help me cope with real-life stress better when I came back.
But when I would go to the Lord—and I’d turn on my worship or I’d read a Psalm—I would just take a moment and say: “Lord, You know where I’m stressing,” “God, here are my consistent struggles…This is how I’m responding…You know it; how can I respond in a longsuffering way that’s more like You, and how You parent me, than how I’m parenting them?” When I come to Him, He gives my soul rest; He gives me perspective. Social media doesn’t do that, and my chocolate chips don’t do it either.
That’s really where it started. I didn’t know I was starting a movement; I just said, “What would happen…” I mean, it was really off the cuff. Hundreds of people, at first; and then, thousands starting signing up. By the second year, I think we had 8,000 people sign up for the 40-day sugar fast. Over 100,000 people have done this fast with me now.
Wendy: You asked, “So how did that come out of that?”
Wendy: During the fast, I say: “God never asked us for a sugar sacrifice. He asked us for a living sacrifice, so what else are you living for? What else is getting in the way of living for Him? What else are you running to in lieu of running to Him?”
In mass, the response was: “Well, for goodness sakes, it’s my phone! It’s my phone! I turn to my phone instead of turning to Him, all the live-long day.” I’d say, “Okay, as soon as we’re done with this online sugar fast,”—that we do every January online—“let’s all log off. Let’s go dark in order to experience the Light of the world. Let’s fast from social media and get social with the Lord.”
Ann: Do any people say this to you—because this is my thing, even with food—like, “I deserve something! You know, my kids, or—
Wendy: Yes; I call it a “win”: “I just need a ‘win.’”
Ann: Yes! “I’ve been giving of myself all day—even in work—I deserve a little something for myself.”
Wendy: I get that latte at Starbucks; or I get that sweet tea at Chick-fil-A when I’m out running errands for the whole family;—
Ann: Yes; it’s my reward.
Wendy: —or that bowl of ice cream as I binge-watch TV…
I mean, when you start turning to Christ instead of turning to whatever that is, things start to change. You say, “Yes, God, I’d like You to change my/my weight,” or “…what I’m eating”; and He says, “I want to change your life.” You’ll lose weight if you don’t eat sugar for 40 days—you will—but you’re going to gain faith.
People come, thinking they have a sugar problem; but what they learn is that they actually had a God problem: they had stopped turning to God; they started turning to food. They stopped turning to God; they started turning to affirmation from this world online.
Ann: Well, I love—you use one of the verses we use in our book, Vertical Marriage—Jeremiah 2:13,—
Wendy: That’s it!
Ann:—which says, “My people have committed two sins; they have forsaken Me”—and who am I?—the spring of living water!—
Wendy: The fountain; yes.
Ann: “and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”
Wendy: Yes; that’s what they are;—
Wendy: —that’s what they are.
Ann: Yes, you saw that come to life.
Wendy: Absolutely. When you are turning to your news sources, and even your morning cup of coffee, or your afternoon glass of wine—and couldn’t we camp out there?—if you are turning to that to get you through hard days, you’re turning to the wrong thing. They are broken cisterns that can’t hold water; we need to turn to the Living Water.
Dave: In Jeremiah, he’s asking us to go vertical; you know, get your eyes back on where the real source of life is.
I remember saying, in a sermon that I did years ago, about “Digital Deadly Sins” we called it. It wasn’t like: “Let’s talk about porn”; it was like this/it was like: “Digital is awesome—it’s a wonderful gift; think of all the amazing things we have—but if we let it,—
Wendy: —“If it gets in our way—
Dave: —“it becomes an idol, and it becomes almost sinful.” I remember saying, “What’s in front of you is more important than what’s in your hand.”
Dave: I remember one time CJ, our oldest, was having a birthday party. I missed half of it, because something was going on at work. There were emails and texts, and I kept looking down instead of over or up—and I remember I missed the party!—I sort of missed the party. I remember thinking, after it was over/I thought, “I think we’re missing life!”
Wendy: Yes! And that’s it! The first maybe ten chapters really focus on looking up. Actually, Ann, you have the book in front of you; would you open up the Scripture at the very, very beginning? It’s such a beautiful tie-in here.
Ann: This one? Okay; I love this, because it says: “This book is dedicated to those of us, who want to want God most, but grab our phones more.” Then you have
Colossians 3:1-2 from the Message that says, “Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ; that’s where the action is. See things from His perspective.”
Wendy: “That’s where the action is.” I think of the Good Samaritan—and tripping over the wounded man on the side of the road—because our noses are in our phones. Would we even see the needs around us?
The first time I fasted from social media, I made a very specific intention to keep my phone in my purse or in my pocket when I was grocery shopping. I started having gospel interactions in the store. I remember there was one—there was a woman—it was actually outside of the store. I was unloading my things in the car; and there was a woman, who was bent over her steering wheel, and her shoulders were shaking. It was an older woman, and she was crying. I knocked on the window and asked if I could come in and pray for her. She let me in; and she said that her husband had died within the year, and going to the grocery store is one of her biggest triggers; because she’s cooking for one person.
There was another time—there was someone behind the counter, helping cut meat for me—and I had had a really hard day. I had been crying, and he didn’t really look at me. He said, “How was your day?” I said [taking a gasp], “It was hard, but it’s okay; hard days/God’s given us is another opportunity to trust Him more”; and he started crying! [Laughter] I don’t know—more people I cry with at the grocery store now—and he said, “Do you think that’s what the hard days are for?—that we would trust God more?” I said, “I do! I do!”
Wendy: Another time, after the first community-wide—where I invited others, after the sugar fast to then go dark—we shut down social media and just be present with our kids and in God’s Word: “Let’s feast on the real-life people, not the online people.” She wrote back and she said, “Wendy, I/I saw my kid’s faces more—and they saw my face—my face was—
Wendy: What’s more: she said, “They were more enjoyable; I really believe it!” I wrote back and I said, “Sarah, I guarantee it! They were more enjoyable because our children have learned that they want our attention, so they’ve learned negative ways to get our attention; but when they have your intentions, they don’t have to get your attention, they already have that.
Wendy: “So I bet your children’s behavioral issues were less of a problem, because they weren’t fighting for your attention.”
One of the times I remember, during one of the early fasts, I was sitting at the kitchen table. Ironically, I was making a grocery list, I think; because I couldn’t keep it on my phone. My kids were in the pool outside; they started yelling, “Mom! Mom! Mom! Come here!” I looked up; and I saw, outside the window, that there was this massive butterfly migration. I had never seen anything like it. I don’t mean lots of butterflies; I mean you can’t see through the butterflies—
Wendy: —swarming around my children. I got up to run out there and thought, “My phone’s in my room”; because that’s where I would leave it when I was with my family. I pivot to go get the phone; and then I pivot back, because I remember, “No; I’m not going to put a Facebook live. I’m going to live this moment with my children.” I ran out there. They’re all climbing out of the pool, putting their cold, wet arms around my middle and just clapping hands and so excited.
We started counting, “One, two, three, four, five”—we got to multiple hundreds together. I would not have counted to multiple hundreds of butterflies if I was also trying to—
Dave: —video it.
Wendy: —videotape it. I’m sure many other people in San Diego, California, had it videotaped. I could probably do a search on YouTube right now and find it—
Wendy: —and relive it there, but I lived it. I lived it.
I remember, at one point, my oldest, who was—oh, he was probably about 13 at the time—he yelled, “Good job, God!” I remember we locked eyes and shared this moment; because when he was itty-bitty, that’s what I told my kids praise was—is telling someone, “Hey, you did a really great job in that basketball game,”—I gave him praise; right? Well, why don’t we give praise to God when we see Him do something phenomenal in our relationships or in a sunset?—we yell, “Good job, God!”
All these years later, he yelled, “Good job, God!” and I was fully present. I was not recording it; I wasn’t wondering how many people were liking it; I was just there. So: “Yes to the eyes-up living.”
Dave: Yes; I would say to our listener: “If there’s anything you do today, as a result of listening to this broadcast, get your eyes up.”
Wendy: “Put your eyes up.”
Dave: Really! You’re/you’re going to see—it’s everything you’ve just said, Wendy—you’re going to see life. Life’s happening; are you missing it, looking down?
Twenty-one-year-old college kid, who walked by the tennis court, and didn’t see the girl that he had just prayed to meet—
Wendy: “What are you missing?”—yes.
Dave: —was me! I didn’t have a phone then, and I saw Ann; and here we are. I’m just thinking: “There’s not three kids; there’s not a church started; we’re not FamilyLife hosts; we may not [have] ever dated if I missed that moment.” There she is/there’s the answer to my prayer. So much of us miss right in front of us.
Wendy: —real life.
Ann: —and we miss hearing God.
Ann: When we’re so absorbed in different things, we miss hearing God’s voice.
Bob: I don’t know who said it first, but we’ve all heard it: “Wherever you are, be all there.” That’s part of what Wendy Speake has been encouraging us to do today as she challenges us to consider a fast from social media/a fast from anything that is removing us from the real life that’s happening all around us: our relationships with our spouse, with our kids, with our friends, and our relationship with God, as Ann Wilson mentioned at the end.
Wendy has mapped out for us a way to engage in a 40-day social media fast. She subtitled her book: Exchange Your Online Distractions for Real-Life Devotion. That’s a great challenge. We would love to send you a copy of Wendy’s book; in fact, we’re making this book available this week to those of you who can partner with us in helping to provide practical biblical help and hope for marriages and families all around the world. Your support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today does just that.
Every day, we are reaching hundreds of thousands of moms and dads/husbands and wives, who are coming to us asking for biblical guidance in their marriage and in their family; and that’s what we’re committed to providing. You make all that possible when you donate so that—this radio program, this podcast, our website, our resources, our events—all of it happens because of your generosity. Again, if you could make a donation today, we’d love to say, “Thank you,” by sending you Wendy Speake’s book,
The 40-Day Social Media Fast. Go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to donate, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make your donation. Again, the website, FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to hear from Wendy Speake about how our interaction with social media is having an impact, not just on our relationships with one another, but on our relationship with God as well. I hope you can tune in for that.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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