Buzzfeed. Netflix. Facebook. Youtube. And many others still.
How many of us have wasted countless hours getting lost on one or more of these, getting distracted by who knows what?
We are constantly drawn to their updates, be it random information or funny pictures, gifs, or movies. We crave these oases of distraction. We can’t stay away from them. And yet, if I may speak for all of us, when we do look up hours later and wonder where all the time went, we are disgusted with ourselves. We’ve burnt through so much time, wasting it on – nothing.
And yet, we do have a deep desire within us to live a beautiful, interesting life, a great story. In fact, this is often one of our chief reasons for first beginning to seek these distractions. We buy into the easy escapism of living someone else’s story instead of making the effort to build up our own skills, hobbies, social lives, adventure plans… or our spiritual lives. But that’s really not what’s most at issue in this particular case. The thing is, though we may begin with this desire, not only does it not get satisfied, but it itself eventually becomes forgotten in our frantic search for one thing – more distractions.
Why this addiction?
Why are we seeking, begging, to be turned into little more than screen-glued, iPhone-swiping zombies?
It’s been a long while since I last picked up my copy of C. S. Lewis’ well known book, “The Screwtape Letters.” Recently, however, as I’ve been wondering about this question in my own life, a certain image from it came back to me, an image that resonated far too well. This image, found in the twelfth letter that the fictional older demon, Screwtape, had written to his nephew, Wormwood, is a state which Screwtape advised Wormood to encourage in his assigned human. It is a state of unidentifiable uneasiness, a non-particular guilt, mostly subconscious and therefore difficult to address, but that renders the person desperate to avoid facing reality, avoid facing the just gaze of God. When a person is in this vague place of uneasy reluctance, Screwtape tells Wormwood, “now you will find him opening his arms to you and almost begging you to distract his purpose and benumb his heart. He will want his prayers to be unreal, for he will dread nothing so much as effective contact with the Enemy [that is, God]. His aim will be to let sleeping worms lie.”
“As the uneasiness and his reluctance to face it cut him off more and more from all real happiness,” Screwtape continues, “and as habit reduces the pleasures of vanity and excitement and flippancy at once less pleasant and harder to forgo (for that is what habit fortunately does to a pleasure) you will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention. You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday’s paper will do. … All the healthy […] activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return…”
This state, a state so eerily familiar to our unsatisfying yet addictive relationship to these internet distractions, is a state of life-sapping, empty denial.
Lent is now just around the corner. And with this Church-wide time of fasting, repentance, and retreat, we are called to open our eyes once more to where we’re really at, to wake up from the denial, and to allow God to renew us once more. Letting go of that denial will be painful, and it will be frustrating – if you do it right. But it will be the difference between remaining asleep, in a zombie-like existence, and awakening, greeting the initially painfully bright sunlight before you, and arising from the dead once again (Eph 5:14).
Please check out Naomi’s blog at http://naomitoms.com/
Quote from C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, The Signature Classics, (New York, NY: HarperOne), 2002, p.219