I have a confession to make: I love television. I always have. In fact, if a movie we own happens to be on television, I’d rather watch it with commercials than turn the TV off and pop in the disc. Crazy, right?
There’s just something about TV. It’s part of my story.
A Programmed Life
Growing up, that big box in our living room was practically a family member. The most severe punishment my parents could inflict wasn’t grounding or extra chores—it was losing my TV time. The thought of spending time apart from the TV made me walk the narrow.
I was almost ten years old when my parents bought a new washing machine and left the box in the basement for play. Of course I made it into a TV. Cutting a giant rectangle on the front, I eventually configured it in such a way that you could see my head through the opening. Holding it in perfect position, I cleared my throat and delivered my first TV lines, “Good evening and welcome to NBC Nightly News, I’m Heather. . .”
In high school I pursued all things broadcasting. From morning announcements over the school’s PA system, to shadowing a local news anchor for a day—television, I believed, was my destiny.
Until the day when I sat in a room with 30 other freshmen, all majoring in Communication. As each student answered, “What do you want to do with your communication degree?” with the same answer: television. I determined to change course.
Through my 20s television—though no longer a specific career aspiration—remained a friend. As a single woman living alone, that box was my company. It didn’t really matter what was on, Wheel of Fortune or vintage reruns; I found the background noise comforting.
As part of my jobs in politics and non-profit management, there were television opportunities. For my bosses, that is. I coached them to smile, picked out TV-friendly ties, and wrote talking points. If I couldn’t be on television, at least I could help someone else succeed there. Just being in the studios, cameras rolling, gave me enough of a rush.
I met my husband at age 30, we married a year later and were given one piece of advice, “Don’t have television during your first year of marriage.”
No television? Sigh. Could marriage really take the place of my TV? I knew marriage would be hard, so if this tip could make it easier, why not? Reluctantly, I agreed.
We made it almost three years without cable or antenna, though we did rent movies on weekends. Being without television turned nights away from home into a special treat. During vacations or weekend getaways, I’d soak in large doses of my favorite channels.
Then the Olympics broke us.
How could we not watch the Olympics? That felt un-American. We bought an antenna, sat with our arms overhead pointing toward the window (to help the reception, of course), and cheered for team USA. A new season of American Idol started shortly thereafter, so we invested in an even better antenna (one that allowed us to sit with our arms down). Once again, I was hooked on TV.
Hooked and relieved. With small children, Sesame Street and Thomas & Friends offered me a much-needed respite—the opportunity to shower, make dinner, or check Facebook. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood taught my children great lessons in sharing (“You can take a turn, and then I get it back.”) and Word World helped them read. What could be bad about that?
The Wrong Comforter
Yet the older I get, the more I’ve come to realize that, like chicken pot pie, warm chocolate chip cookies, or a steaming cup of coffee with lots of sweet cream, I turn to television for comfort. Perhaps because it’s such a remnant of my childhood, I run to it too often.
When I’m stressed and worn—when I feel I have nothing left to give—instead of re-charging, I grab the remote. Minutes quickly pass into hours spent with my friends on the tube. I grow even more lethargic. Television, it seems, does better at draining my energy than restoring it.
As I continue to grow in my faith, I’ve often pondered the question: is there a place for television in our already-packed lives? Do we—as believers and followers of Jesus—have the freedom to binge watch?
I’ve settled on an answer found in priorities. Too often, we seek balance. But balance seems like an eastern idea—the Yin and the Yang, harmony in all things. Our God, the God of the Bible, is a God of order. We work for six and rest the seventh. We give first fruits and yield a harvest. Living biblically means living a well-ordered life, putting first things first.
In my life, this looks like spending dedicated time with God each day, taking my troubles to him and asking him to shoulder the burden of my stress. Should watching my shows become my main stress reliever, then I’ve turned to the wrong comforter.
Should television take care of my children? Of course not. But, after we’ve spent the morning together reading and playing, 30 minutes of PBS Kids can help them wind down before nap time. They only have one childhood, and I’m determined to make sure their best memories are not of the shows they watched, but the time we enjoyed together. But let’s be honest. Sometimes that screen in the family room can calm or distract a child like nothing else can.
Fitting television into a rightly prioritized day may look different in every home. For us, it means the TV can come on at 5pm while I’m cooking dinner and straightening up from the day. In the evening, we feel free to relax with shows that don’t compromise our values or bring inappropriate images or language into our home. But we try to be cognizant of when we’re crossing that invisible line to addiction. When we start to schedule around shows or when we find that the television is on every night of the week and we’re no longer communicating, we know it’s time to make a change.
God’s Love and TV
In our home, we believe that some television is okay. But, I’ve often wondered how God feels about television, in general. He couldn’t possibly love it, right? Between the ways it can distract us from kingdom work and fellowship with other believers, to the filth and smut available 24/7, there’s a strong argument to make for the TV-free life.
But God can use anything to accomplish his purpose. And, somehow, God used my love of television to show the depths of his love for me.
Almost a decade ago, after I’d given up my fulltime job to raise children, God provided an opportunity for me to do an interview on a local morning show. I finished talking details with the producer on the phone, pressed end on the call, and literally wept. God remembered all those long-dead-and-buried dreams. God saw me.
Since then, I’ve had a number of opportunities to appear on TV, and every time I thank God in amazement for fulfilling this heart desire.
But he didn’t stop there. A few years later, God surprised me once again. A television network discovered from my Facebook page that I was an absolutely horrible baker and invited me to be part of a new baking competition for bad bakers.
Though some may have considered this an opportunity for humiliation, to me it was another dream come true. I’d never muttered a word of this secret wish to anyone (my husband included) and have loved baking and cooking shows since their cable network inception. But, as a subpar baker, I’d never have a shot at a Spring Baking Championship.
Yet, God knew. He took that secret dream of mine and opened wide the door for me to be on the first episode of Nailed it!
Aside from the baking stress, filming the show felt surreal. But what amazed me most was how the God of the universe—the God who created the skies, stars, and seas—knew me intimately enough to acknowledge my dream. He saw me deliver the news from the washing machine box and then surrender my career to motherhood, feeling certain I’d never have a chance to do anything related to television again. He knew his plans for me, and they included TV.
Can TV detract from my life? Absolutely. Can I too quickly turn TV into an idol or wrong comforter? Certainly. But, can God also use the medium of television to communicate his love for a lost world and for me in particular? He sure can.
This TV lover couldn’t ask for anything more.
(Photo courtesy of Nailed It!)