This week, we shared a set of Weekly Rhythms1 designed to provide us with some healthy practices during this time of dissolved routines. We’re encouraging a focus on gratitude, morning and evening meditations on Scripture, taking a digital sabbath, and checking in on members of the church every day. We’re confident that these simple routines can have a profound impact on our lives as we continue to adjust to the shelter-in-place orders. Unfortunately, we’re not the only ones offering suggestions for how to best use our time in quarantine.
Weeks before we shared our Weekly Rhythms, Pornhub, one of the biggest porn sites in the world, offered free premium accounts to the millions of people locked down in Italy.2 Aside from being a very strategic business move (free access was set to end yesterday, April 3rd, and I’m guessing Pornhub just got a lot of new paying customers), what might motivate such behavior? The logic is pretty easy to follow: millions of people are stuck in isolation, they are bombarded with the unsettling news of rising death tolls, and overwhelmed by relentless notifications of depressing and anxiety-producing headlines. Why not kick back, forget all that stuff, and lose yourself in some premium pornography? While whiskey distilleries are making hand sanitizer and fashion companies are churning out face masks, Pornhub is doing its part to bring relief to those who are suffering.
Johann Hari is an author who has spent a substantial amount of time studying addiction. If you have 15 minutes, you should check out his TED Talk.3 One of the more compelling findings he shares is that addiction, whether to pornography, drugs, food, gambling, whatever; addiction develops when we cannot stand to be present in our lives.
This is especially significant for us.
We are in a time when presence is incredibly difficult. The temptation to check out is at an all-time high. For most of us, checking out is not as simple as closing our newsfeed and choosing not to think about that stuff. Most of us don’t know how to turn off the worry and the anxiety, the dwelling and fixating on bad news. It’s not as simple as flipping a switch. So the only way to escape it is to overpower it with something that distracts us and keeps our minds from going back for a while.
Zoning out with Netflix, getting drunk, overeating, oversleeping, overworking, watching pornography; these are really powerful distractions that we use when we are overwhelmed and need to check out. These are the things we go to when we don’t want to think anymore.
When we don’t want to feel anymore.
When we want to be numb, just for a little bit, to all the stress and the anxiety and the fear that we’re seeing every day.
But just like the spiritual practices transform us to be more like Christ, these practices deform us to be less like him. They deteriorate our mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health. They deepen our isolation and destroy our relationships. They cause us to fixate on ourselves and forget others in our lives. Numbing out is not what is going to get us through this time.
In his TED Talk, Johann Hari, shares this wonderful quote:
“The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection”
When we are part of a community, with people who love and care for us, people who we are responsible to love and care for, that’s what keeps us from numbing out. We resist that temptation because we are committed to the difficult but meaningful work of being present to love and care for the people we are connected to.
This is why we must be diligent to put these Weekly Rhythms into practice. Through them, we can cultivate our connection to God, on whom we can cast all of our anxieties because he cares for us.4 We find our anchor and our strength in the God who is always present with us. Who doesn’t numb out. Who remains with us even in the midst of our suffering.
And through these rhythms, we cultivate and protect our connection to one another. We love one another by committing to reach out to one another every day, to offer care and support and encouragement and prayer.
And as we care for one another, we care for ourselves. By fostering this connection to our community, we protect ourselves from the temptation to isolate and numb out. We are stepping into our responsibility to care for one another, to be present to one another and to ourselves, rather than abdicating our responsibility and checking out.
So, let’s be intentional about putting these Weekly Rhythms into practice. So that we might be present to God, present to one another, and present to ourselves. Resisting the temptation to numb out is hard work; being fully present in our lives can be excruciating at times. But it is possible.
It takes training.
It takes grace.
But it is what we were made to do.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.5