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The myth of a balanced life: Retreating from or retreating to

Getty Images/Oscar Wong
Getty Images/Oscar Wong

In June and July of 2021, my wife and I experienced loss and grief, the kind that just rocks you to your core. We each responded in our own way, but for me, I did a lot of recoiling from things that had previously occupied my time.

As a part of that, I removed myself from the constant flow of news and social media. The social media part wasn’t hard for me (I had an obligatory presence there), but withdrawing from the news was something like a survival mechanism. I was a news junkie, to be honest, but I knew on a deep level that the constant flow of information about the problems of the world was wearing on me, and I needed to shut that flow off for a moment.

I figured it would be a week, but…it’s been seven months.

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Plans have a way of changing me.

Anyway, my months away from the news have been good for me, and I have every intention of returning to the noise and burden of it all soon. First, though, I want to record here what the Lord has taught me.

You see, as believers, we are to be in the world, but not of it. That means we engage and are present, but we should clearly be apart in a way that is noticeable to others.

I want to share what I’ve learned in the hopes that more believers will engage in a news-centric society in a way that makes the world look and be amazed.

Retreating from or retreating to

When I started fasting from the news, I was essentially just trying to catch my breath. I had my own grief and I didn’t want to add anything else to my emotional plate.

Instead of the news, I listened to audiobooks, played chess on my phone, watched more TV, and played more with my kids. I just relaxed. My wife and I have been through a lot and I just wanted to rest.

That’s not wrong…but it wasn’t helping.

Nearly a month after everything happened I went for a walk and turned on a political news podcast. It was time, I figured, to get back to normal life, and walking while listening to this podcast had been an old routine.

I listened to this podcast for maybe a minute past the opening commercial before I turned it off. I don’t know how to explain it except that my ear literally hurtwhile it played. It was as if my body was rejecting the news by making it painful.

For me, it was sort of like that moment in Exodus when the people of Israel were thirsty and they found a spring of bitter water. Moses threw a log into the water and the Lord made the once bitter water sweet to their taste. It was like that, except it was reversed. It was as if the Lord had taken the log out of the water, and now what was once sweet (or at least tolerable) was bitter.

That experience, whatever caused it, was a wake-up moment for me.  

In the Book of Matthew 11: 28-30, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Note: Jesus doesn’t say that those who are weary should just take a break. They should come to Him.

I wasn’t doing that. Instead of going to Jesus, I was just backing away from life.

The lesson for me was this: When feeling the weight of the world, I’m called to retreat back to Jesus and not just away from the problems of this life.

Now, on the outside, retreating from the world and retreating to Jesus may look a lot alike:

  • Listening to less news
  • Pulling away from social media
  • Avoiding conversations that can be high emotion
  • Having more time alone to think
  • Etc.

However, what is going on inside of us is more concerning and more to my point.

At first, I was just dodging stress and anxiety, choosing fun or relaxing activities instead of some of the more stressful ones. But the Lord began showing me that none of that was really working. I had already spent weeks away from the news, but I wasn’t truly rested or strengthened.

I take long walks and I’d love to say here I make them long prayer walks. I don’t.

But I have become more sensitive to my emotions and spirit, and when I feel my heart grow heavy I either wait to put on the news podcast or skip it entirely, and instead I pray or worship.

I go to Jesus and you should, too.

God didn’t design us to find ways to run away from the problems of this world, but instead, He gave us access to Him to find comfort and strength.

Balance isn’t really the key

I’ve heard so many people advise that we find balance in how much news we consume. I’m not saying that’s wrong, but I believe it’s off focus.

The Bible does not explicitly teach “balance” as a way of life. Instead of balance, the Bible exhorts us to acts of love and commitment that, to the outside world, would look radical.

A quick example would be the parable Jesus tells of the man who finds a treasure in a field. He sells literally everythingto go have that treasure.

Jesus gave everything to save us from our sins, and He didn’t wait until we were sort of good enough for it. While we are sinners, Christdied for us.

Again, everything.

Let me explain why I bring this up in the context of being Christians wresting with a news-centric society.

When we strive for balance in our life, we are (generally) trying to take care of and provide for our own needs. However, as believers, we should be striving for ways to meet the needs of others.

When it comes to the news, we as believers shouldn’t focus on the “right balance” since that puts us at the center of the equation. Instead, we should focus on having an awareness of the world’s pain and suffering that the Lord might use us as instruments of His love and mercy.

Focusing on balance says, “How can I take care of me?”

But, as believers, let’s engage with the news and pray, “God, how can I take care of others?”

That shift in your heart and mind will probably lead you to a few things:

  • Listening to less news commentary
  • Paying attention to global and local/community news in addition to national news (since that’s where you’re likely to make a difference)
  • Crying out to God more often for the needs of others
  • And maybe just crying more in general (It takes a hard heart to watch the suffering of others and not weep.)

It may actually lead to listening or watching the news less and having what the world sees as “balance,” but the condition of our heart would be different and that’s a big deal when serving the Lord who sees our heart.

Keep our judgment in check

At one point, when Paul was writing to the church at Corinth about a case of sexual immorality within the church, he writes, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked person from among you’” (1 Corinthians 5: 12-13).

I can sort of remember the first time I read this verse. It was a lightbulb moment because, like most of us, I’ve been in churches that do literally the opposite.

Sin inside the church is often overlooked while discussing the sins of the world is a rallying cry for many, almost as if we’re praying with the Pharisee, “God thank you that I’m not like them.

I bring this up because the moment we discuss the news many of us feel the need to rail against the media and its contribution to the corruption of our society. I’m not indicating that news hasn’t contributed to the corruption of our society, but I have to ask myself, “Who am I to judge the media?”

Paul the Apostle didn’t see himself worthy of judging those outside the church… process that. What arrogance would I have to have to think I can judge those that Paul the Apostle wouldn’t judge?

Lord, please forgive me.

A few months away from the news I realize now my thoughts about other people haven’t been in alignment with the Lord. I’m not just talking about my thoughts about certain news organizations now, but also my thoughts of people who watch those news outlets.

For me, individuals who watched a certain news outlet made me angry and frustrated, and sometimes my thoughts about them were not holy and loving.

You may relate, and if so join me in repenting. Let’s ask the Lord to form us, to take away our harsh judgments of one another, and wait for Him to judge as He sees fit.

Fellow believers, we should approach the news as any other element of the world we live in. It’s not our enemy or our friend.

Do you want to know who your enemy is? Ephesians 6:12 says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Do you want to know who our friends are? Look to our brothers and sisters in Christ who Jesus prayed we would be one with (John 17).

Our brothers and sisters need us to turn our attention to lovingly correcting issues inside our churches (such as our lack of unity or our love for celebrity), and we need to submit to one another as we lovingly receive correction for our own errors.

The world doesn’t need our judgment, they have a Judge and He will deliver justice when He sees fit.

Prayer has, more than anything, changed my heart here. I’d encourage you to pray for blessings for others, specifically those people who watch that news outlet. If you can’t do that, then you may need to repent and accept Jesus as Lord of your life. He commands us to bless others, even those who persecute us or we consider our enemy. To deny His commands means we don’t love Him. Remember, Jesus says, “If you love me, you’ll obey my commands.”

Never forsake unity of the body

This point is like the last, in a way, but I want to take a special moment to talk about it.

During my news fast, a good friend from church came over to help me install a new door in my house. I know it may sound silly, but I’ve had moments of mental struggle in the past with this man because he is such a kind soul, but... he voted for theotherguy. For me, those two things didn’t mix, and I struggled.

Yet a few months into this accidental fast, I’d been praying and worshipping the Lord a lot more, and suddenly there was no conflict in my mind. This guy was my brother, and political affiliation is irrelevant in light of that. Our time installing that door is actually one of my fonder memories of last year, and I’m blessed he was there to support me.

Folks, there is nothing of man worth breaking up the Bride of Christ for, and yet many of us allowed thoughts of our brothers and sisters in Christ not to be governed by the Word of God but by people through social media, the news, and whatever else. 

Now, it’s easy to say, “Yeah, social media and news are the problem.”

Nope, they aren’t.

You and I are the problems.

The world isn’t going to stop being the world, but we are supposed to conform to Christ. True, removing myself from the news gave me clarity to see that, but I should never have allowed it to dictate my thoughts so deeply.

Let us not be like Adam who points to Eve when he sinned. Let’s conform to Christ instead, and let’s repent of our sins and then spend our time serving others even if they hate us, never despising them even if they despise us.

The world needs Christ

This is the crux of it all: the world needs Jesus and He chose to send us out into it to share the Good News.

We can’t do that if we’re avoiding the news and putting our heads in the sand. If we do that, we’re putting our own comfort above all else.

We also can’t choose sides, become judgmental, become angry, or do any of the things the world does in this news-driven era since that does not make us conformed to Christ but instead conformed to the world. 

Conversely, we have to take a harder road and I’d like you to walk it with me. It’s a road in which we watch the news and hear the sorrows of the world, and we pray for what touches our hearts. It’s a world in which we watch the news and see problems and we do what we can to help, whether that’s giving money, time, or talents.

I don’t know what’s next for us, but I do know this: the world is weary and scared and angry. What if we weren’t? What if believers were calm, hopeful, and ready to serve?

In the coming months, there may be ongoing conflict in Eastern Europe, another natural disaster, another surge in Coronavirus cases, or who knows what else.

Let’s not run from it, but let’s go forth in the strength of God to serve others and not ourselves.

The world needs Jesus and He is sending us.

Phillip is a Learning & Leadership Development Consultant at Christian Care Ministry. He acquired his master’s in educational leadership while serving as an English Teacher in public education, prior to moving into his current role at the ministry. He loves spending time with his wife and three boys, building furniture, and drinking good coffee.

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