Here are four convictions to think through the next time you pick up your remote.
I am not here to demonize watching TV shows at all, whatsoever. It’s a huge part of my winding-down rhythm in the evenings and a somewhat crucial part of my husband’s and my relationship (I’m not sure where we’d be if we couldn’t laugh at The Office together). Watching TV has always been one of my favorite pastimes, and there is nothing intrinsically sinful about it.
However, we do have a responsibility as Christians to guard our hearts above all else, because it is the wellspring of life (Prov 4:23). With a never-ending onslaught of media options available for us to consume whenever we want to, it is imperative that we guard our hearts with what we choose to watch on TV.
I think TV is so enjoyable because, as humans, God created us to learn and experience life through storytelling. I get a lot out of the TV I watch – I was so inspired by the idea of clinging to blind hope in Once Upon a Time, was comforted by Miss Kitty’s hospitality in That 70’s Show, and processed my own father’s illness while watching Zoe’s Extraordinary Playlist. There’s so much good that can come from storytelling. And even if TV was just entertaining for entertainment’s sake, that’s great, too.
But we can’t forget the evil motives of the ruler of this world. Satan came to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10). With the average American spending almost 3 hours of watching TV a day, you can be sure he has a strategy to use TV to steal time, kill our relationships with God, and destroy our health.
So, here are four convictions to think through the next time you pick up your remote:
1. Will This TV Show Affect My Purity?
It is so shocking to think that in the 50s and 60s, even people who were married had to be depicted as sleeping in two different beds because of the moral codes of the time. And now, full-on nudity and detailed sex scenes are a totally normal part of television. You don’t have to be actively seeking out pornography to be subjected to it–it seems like every show is littered with sex scenes, cleavage, and hook-up culture.
We are visual creatures, and because of the nature of storytelling, we see ourselves as experiencing what the characters on the screen are experiencing. This means that one huge way to guard your heart is to be honest with yourself about the kinds of thoughts that certain shows and scenes cause in you.
If you’re single, is the show you’re watching causing deep discontentment or loneliness inside of you? For anyone, is the show you’re watching causing you to lust after the characters you’re watching, or causing you to become aroused?
Remember what Jesus said about anything that causes us to stumble. Cut it off.
You can do this by simply closing your eyes during kissing scenes (I know that sounds juvenile, but I’m positive that helped my purity while I was single so much), or by having your finger on the fast-forward button when you sense a scene coming on. But if the show centers around sex too much and it feels like a minefield to your purity, it’s probably best just to pick something else. It’s not worth it!
2. Will This TV Show Affect My Anxiety?
Bombs going off, active shooters on the loose, people crying in pain…These are all noises and images that we are designed to react to on a bodily level. God created our bodies to react in fight or flight when we are faced with a threat, and the thing is, our bodies don’t know the difference between living through a real threat and simply watching one on TV.
If we are engrossed enough, our bodies will think that whatever bad thing happening on the TV is happening to us, and you can be sure that affects our overall health.
We all have different levels of sensitivity to these stimuli, of course, but we can honor God by not putting more stress on our bodies than is necessary. So if you notice yourself feeling physically or emotionally worse after a heavy action show, then it might be best to stay away from that genre and choose more calming, wholesome shows instead.
The same can be said for spooky, spiritually eerie shows. Those can be fun of course, but if you find yourself having intrusive thoughts about something scary you saw, it’s probably bothering your spirit, and needs to be avoided.
3. Will This TV Show Become Addictive?
We all joke about losing ourselves in a show and binge-watching it until 3 in the morning, eschewing all other responsibilities. And while I’m not outright condemning a fun marathon every now and then (I have gone through not one but two 24-hour-long Gilmore Girls marathons), there is something to be said for a show causing us to lose our self-control.
I think different shows pull different people in. For me, I notice my self-control being lost when I am watching shows centering around cults, narcissists, or true crime. And it’s not pretty–these shows really affect my mental health.
It feels so good to press “watch next episode” in the moment because the satisfaction of finding out what happens next trumps everything else in my mind. But hours later, my head hurts, I haven’t taken care of my body, and the responsibilities I have ignored feel so heavy. Worst of all, I can tell that I feel more distant from God, because I’ve been so sucked into something else.
Get to know yourself and what types of shows do this for you. If you can set limits by yourself, that’s great. Or it could be fun to set up a weekly watch date with someone else to give you some accountability and something to look forward to.
But, if you feel like a type of show is addictive because it’s doing something for you mentally that it shouldn’t be, stay away from it altogether.
4. Will This TV Show Bear Good Fruit or Bad?
Overall, I think it’s important to ask yourself, “What is this show going to do for me?”
Recently, there was a spooky limited series that my husband and I wanted to watch because it was near Halloween and made by people who have created shows we’ve enjoyed before. But the show was so violent and so sexual that I had to question if any good was coming from me watching it.
I gritted my teeth through the first three episodes, justifying it with the good reason of having bonding time with my husband. But I was having intrusive thoughts about some of the images I saw, so eventually, I just had to listen to my spirit and stop watching.
Sometimes, as much as you want to find out what happens next, it’s just not worth it.
I don’t think TV has to be a spiritual experience every time. Sometimes, you just want to relax, be entertained, or learn something new. But, if it’s negatively affecting you spiritually, then be honest about that with yourself.
Don’t kid yourself; don’t tell yourself, “I can handle it.” It’s okay to have limits while you guard your heart from Satan’s strategies in this world. And God will be so proud of you for putting him first in everything you do–even something as seemingly small as your next choice on Netflix.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/stefanamer
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
Kelly-Jayne McGlynn is a former editor at Crosswalk.com. She sees the act of expression, whether through writing or art, as a way to co-create with God and experience him deeper. Check out her handmade earrings on Instagram and her website for more of her thoughts on connecting with God through creative endeavors.