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It’s amazing how allowing myself one small comfort leads me to desire more small comforts—and before long, I’ve become spoiled and coddled.
It all started with laser eye surgery.
I’ve had coke-bottle-lens glasses for as long as I can remember. I’ve never been able to see more than six inches in front of my face without squinting (or without wearing some sort of lenses). Needless to say, getting laser eye surgery has always been a secret dream.
When I turned 35, the dream became a reality. We had money saved away! I had two weeks of vacation time set away for surgery recovery! It was my birthday! New eyes, here I come!
But a “dream-come-true” is also often a “dream-with-catches”. Recovery time was looong...and a doozy. Two weeks after surgery, I could drive, cook, and clean. But computer work? Not a chance. Computer work was still so visually challenging that my desk job morphed into one huge chore. And I lost my favorite pleasure: the ability to curl up for the evening with a book on my lap, a scented candle by my side.
I could barely read anything without straining my eyes. I couldn’t surf the Internet, read magazines, or even spend time on Facebook. So to unwind, I started playing a smartphone game. Think Candy Crush—but with numbers.
It was an innocuous little game. Sliding rows of numbers. Cute little noises. The rush of advancing levels. I rationalized, “The numbers on this screen are soooo big! I can actually see them post-surgery. This will be my healthy way to relax.” But before long, I—the queen of “no screen time” and previously avowed video-game disdainer—became an addict.
Every free moment, I gravitated to my game.
I argued that it was my special form of relaxation. My eyes were still recovering. I was developing memory and math skills. But really, I was just addicted to the subtly satisfying rush of getting right answers and achieving high scores. For those of you who know and love games like Candy Crush or Bedazzled, I’m sure you understand the pull of a well-designed smartphone game!
This innocuous little game started eating up sizable chunks of my time. And one day, the moment came. My son (who already struggles with video-game addiction himself!) couldn’t even get my attention to fill out a field-trip form. My daughter had to hound me to cook dinner. Piles of undone laundry were stacked up willy-nilly all over the house.
I had been sucked into a virtual universe of high scores and “one-ups”. I was neglecting my family, my prayer life, and my work—because of a game!
I wrestled with God for a week or so. “It’s just a game,” I whined. But the Holy Spirit prevailed. With trembling fingers, I heard God’s still small voice, and I deleted the app from my smartphone.
For the first little while, the empty space seemed odd. Whenever I sat down to rest or relax, there was a hollow in my life. My fingers itched and I craved the rush of another high score. But I resisted the urge. Instead, I began to fill my time with more constructive pursuits.
That’s when I suddenly realized that my eyes had long healed! I hadn’t even clued in that my vision was back! So I began to read again. Reading inspired thinking and creativity. I found that I had more to offer in conversation with others. My life was suddenly richer (though definitely not as comfortable or easy). I also started listening to sermons, worship music, and educational podcasts on my commute to work. I chose reading over of watching TV at the end of a long day. I started biking to work more often than driving.
I made incremental, but difficult, healthy lifestyle choices.
Henri Nouwen once said: "The way of the Christian leader is not the way of upward mobility in which our world has invested so much, but the way of downward mobility ending on the cross... the downward-moving way of Jesus is the way to the joy and the peace of God, a joy and a peace that is not of this world."
Ah, upward mobility. Oh, American dream.
Yes, I had “upgraded” my eyesight with laser eye surgery. My quality of life had also been “upgraded” by smartphone technology and by easy Internet access. But my upgraded quality of life and increased leisure time did not give me the license to waste time playing games—for sheer comfort in this world.
You'd think that the discipline of a game-less life would be binding or restricting. But no. I've found immense liberty within the discipline. I have more energy. I have better focus. My children, friends, church community, and family all benefit from that overflow.
Who would have thought that deleting one single smartphone app would revolutionize one little life in such meaningful ways!
But our God does always shows up in the small things, doesn’t He?
Julia Cheung is a cultural analyst and journalist of relationships, always on the lookout for stories of beautiful misfits. She lives in Vancouver BC with the loveable motley crew of her pastor husband and two preteen children. She is a bundle of antitheses, a lover of truth, a teller of tales, a too often emotional egoist and a fervently curious anti-narcissist. You can find her online at wifeinredemption.com.