This is a topic I’ve been musing on for a while. I had even written the beginnings of this post. Then I read the following paragraph in our study of Nehemiah and I just had to share these thoughts.
Nehemiah 3 repeats the phrase “they laid its beams and put in its doors with their bolts and bars in place” over and over. Kelly Minter had this to say about the ‘gates’ in our lives:
“Have you ever wondered if “mindless entertainment” might actually be a wide-open gate in your life by which many hurtful and deceiving ideas are sliding straight into your thinking? What about the friendships you keep, the magazines you read, the conversations in which you choose to engage? Are your doors open to the uplifting, truth-telling, and life-giving, or to what corrodes your soul? All day long we choose what goes in and out of our hearts and minds, and if you’re like me there are some doors, bars, and bolts that need tightening”
Let’s start with Webster
This is going to start out sounding like a vocabulary lesson but hang with me if you will, it will all come together in the end.
Muse is not a commonly used word these days…except in the sense of finding one’s muse but I am not talking about the source of your inspiration. According to good ol’ Webster: Muse (verb) to think or meditate in silence, as on some subject; to comment thoughtfully or ruminate upon; deep thought, close attention, contemplation. Synonyms: consider, contemplate, deliberate, meditate, mull over, ponder, reflect, speculate, think, think over, weigh.
Amuse is more common. We have parks dedicated to our amusement and an industry devoted to entertaining—or amusing—us. All may not be as it seems, however. You see, when you add “a” to the beginning of a word it means “not” or “without.” For example: amoral means without moral quality, having no moral standard. So, in a basic sense, amuse means without musing. Going back to Webster we get a somewhat broader picture. Amuse (verb) to hold the attention of someone, entertain or divert in an enjoyable or cheerful manner; to cause laughter; to cause time to pass agreeably; to occupy or detain the attention with agreeable objects; to engage the attention by hope or expectation as to amuse one by flattering promises. Synonyms: Charm, cheer, delight, divert, gratify, interest, please, tickle, wow.
Muse with me a moment
I don’t know about you, but an overdose of amusement leaves me bleary-eyed. I don’t mean sleepy (although there have been countless times that I have stayed up too late watching tv or movies or reading ‘just one more chapter’ and am consequently sleepy the next day) I mean out-of-focus, not alert, dull of senses. A few months ago I felt like I was dealing with a terrible case of mommy-brain. I felt foggy all the time. I wasn’t getting much accomplished in a day and I had a tendency to be short with my kiddos. Then it hit me. I was glued to my new iPhone all day long! Between instant access to email, Facebook, Pinterest and the ‘with friends’ games (not to mention texts and phone calls) my phone was with me all the time and in use for the vast majority of my waking hours. No wonder I was frustrated with my kiddos…they had become interruptions! And you can figure out why I wasn’t getting anything done! I was being amused to the point that I couldn’t muse even when I wanted to.
Looking over those definitions a few other thoughts come to mind.
Most entertainment (tv, movies, magazines, games on your phone, social media, even books) can be considered amusing. It engages our attention, diverts us from our real-life problems and causes time to pass agreeably. But, I believe there are other forms of amusement that we should be aware of. “To charm, to engage attention by expectation as with flattering promises, to tickle” (as to tickle the ears perhaps?) This smacks of politics to me. I don’t care which side of the aisle you are on, politicians generally spend much time attempting to charm people, and they tickle our ears with promises. If we choose to listen, believe and form opinions without musing over what we are hearing, then we are being amused. Am I wrong?
So how do we avoid being taken in? How do we avoid the brain-fog induced by amusement?
We muse! Consider. Deliberate. Think.
Check the gates, tighten the bolts, and make sure the guard is on duty.
We cannot give deep thought and close attention to anything if our senses are dulled. We can either spend large amounts of our time turning off our brains and being entertained OR we can practice the art of musing—engage in thinking, studying, discerning, conversing, weighing each word we hear and read.
Balance, grasshopper, balance
Now before you go and throw away your tv hear me say this: amusement is not all bad all the time. No, I didn’t jump to the other side of the argument here, I am trying to point out that we need to find balance. We all have times when we need to de-stress by doing something mindless, and I believe there is nothing wrong with that. We just need to be aware of and carefully choose what we allow ourselves to be exposed to while we are “vegging out.”
Allow me to share about a time when I was not careful of what was coming ‘through my gates.’ Several years ago, Owen and I got into the habit of watching tv for an hour or so after we put the kiddos to bed. There were 2 sitcom type shows that we enjoyed and that conveniently came on at that time slot. I would consider them both to be ‘good’ shows, no bad language or moral issues, just funny and relatable. One of the shows had the stereotypical tv family…the wife was pretty, educated, gave up her career to stay home with their children while the husband works, drinks beer, lies to his wife to go to sporting events and cannot care for his children for half an hour without an injury or other catastrophe. The other show had similar themes of smart wife/dumb husband. No biggie, right? After all,it was funny. It was several months later before I began to see how these shows were effecting me. I love Owen, I think he is brilliant, capable and a great husband and father. During this period of time, however, I found myself almost despising him in my thoughts, viewing him as stupid, incapable of doing things the ‘right way.’ And those thoughts occasionally turned into words…to him and to others. Needless to say, my thoughts, attitude, and words were hardly beneficial for my marriage! We stopped watching those shows and I spent months purposefully working on changing my thinking, replacing lies with truth. Don’t get me wrong, there are still times when I am mystified by his thought process or way of doing things, and times that I get frustrated with him, but during this period of time it was way beyond that. I firmly believe that having a steady diet of smart wife/dumb husband tv shows (while my brain was turned off!) effected my thought process…and I didn’t even realize it. We now avoid similar shows for the most part and on the rare occasion that we do watch them, I am aware of the negative messages and can guard against them instead of passively accepting them.
I think that is the trick to finding balance, don’t expose your mind to the unknown when your brain is not engaged. That would be like the guard who watches the gate calling out ‘someone is coming’ then opening the gate and heading home for dinner without determining whether it was friend or foe approaching!
Another way to look at it is through the parallel of eating while reading or watching a movie. When we eat while doing something else we often fail to think about what and how much we are eating. If you have ever consumed a whole bag of popcorn before the ending credits roll, then you know what I mean. The theater lights come up and you ask yourself, “who ate all the popcorn?” If we take the precaution of choosing a healthy snack we will likely feel fewer ill effects later even if we ate more than we intended to. Are you catching the parallel? If we choose our amusement carefully beforehand, fully aware of what we are exposing ourselves to, we will likely experience fewer ill effects later.
I hope I’m making sense. It all boils down to: think, choose wisely, check your gates.
Thanks for musing along with me.