Have you noticed that as a general rule our culture really doesn’t like limits? You don’t have to go farther than your phone screen to see a wide range of political opinions on the subject of limits to one’s body, ranging from abortion, to vaccines, even use of masks during a pandemic. 🤦🏻♀️ And that’s just limits to our bodies! Right or wrong, we just don’t like limitations.
But God’s system for our lives tells us that we have limitations. Our most foundational limitation is that we cannot obtain perfection and need a Savior. This primary soul limitation is a framework for why we struggle so much with limits that are imposed on us.
But we have other limitations too: There is day and night, and we cannot thrive unless we rest during one of those periods. We are limited physically in that we can’t live forever…in this body anyways. This is a fact that I am becoming more aware of with every passing year. These I would call our natural limitations. They come by simply being human and will not end until we are out of these bodies. When we recognize and live within our natural limitations, we can actually flourish. When we don’t, we get ourselves into spiritual, emotional, and even physical trouble.
God has also given us explicit limitations. These He has written down in His Word. God is not a cosmic killjoy. He wants us to enjoy the beauty and wonder of the World He created. But He was also intentional in His design. He created relationships and sex and the church to function within certain limits for His glory and our good. Pleasure is good! But any pleasure that is not found in Christ alone must have boundaries, so it does not take His place in our affections.
That being said, I’ve noticed a new wave in Christianity that when I think about it is really not that new at all. We can trace it back even to Greek philosophy. The Stoics said that the rational self was the highest good. Anything experienced in the flesh should be restricted. In Christianity today, there is this tendency to adopt a Stoic’s mindset when we face our culture, adding our own explicit limitations for our flesh that God never laid out for us in Scripture.
The one that has bothered me the most recently is how believers have responded to new technologies. I think technology has often been demonized in Christian circles. But is there anything inherently wrong with a television or a smart phone? No! They are amoral; it is how we use them that can be problematic.
These days, so many in the Christian community have something to say about setting limits on phone usage and screen time. And I wouldn’t necessarily say that they are wrong! We do flourish when we live within limits. We become addicts and consumers without boundaries. I think we have seen that screens in recent years have taken a dramatic toll on us as a society, specifically on our collective mental health.
But I think it is important to note that the Bible does not talk explicitly about these new technologies, so any application of Scripture to this real word issue is extrapolated. It’s good and right to apply the Word of God to our modern day problems, but we have to be careful of applying ourselves straight into legalism.
We are by nature lawmakers. It’s a human problem. We make our healthy limits and boundaries into laws. If we then inevitably fail to stay within our self imposed guidelines, we become overrun with guilt. That is what law does; it points to where we fail.
We also tend to make our personal boundaries into laws for others. If another family allows their children more TV than we do, then we are the better family. If someone even looks at their phone before “quiet time with God” then they are less spiritual.
So let’s be very clear. Not having a television does not make anybody more spiritual. Taking social media breaks does make one closer to God. The screens are not the problem. What God really cares about and has always cared about is our hearts. When we are consuming from screens, the question we should be asking is not “Is this too much?” but “Why am I consuming and how is my heart?” This question, posed with open hands before God, trusting that His Spirit will guide us, will help us to know where our personal limit should be. And it will also guide us to where we can partake with freedom and joy.
The bottom line is this: I am a naturally limited human being in that I am a sinner, and I’m not God. I also have limits that God has explicitly set for me in Scripture. Outside of that, it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict me to know where my limits should be, and this conviction is deeply personal. Those limits are not law to me. They are subject to change based on the Spirit’s lead in my life in different seasons. They also cannot be law for others.
I have struggled often with self imposed guilt of how much screen time is too much, specifically for my children. It’s not coming from the Bible. It’s coming from social media and comparisons to others. I’ve noticed that screen time moderation for children has two extremes. There is one camp that says absolutely no screens ever ever ever before children reach a certain (somewhat arbitrary) age, and you’re a bad mom if you give out a screen too early. Then you have another camp that says that there should be absolutely no limit. If the house needs cleaning, turn on the TV. If the child is too unruly, hand over an iPad. You’re a good mom no matter how much screen time they have. One side is trying to be militant, and the other side is trying to mute.
I’m still trying to figure out where I fall on this spectrum, where to embrace freedom and where to embrace limits. In this figuring it out process, I’m trying to train my kids to actually think about these things with me.
On one hand, screens are not going away. I don’t want my kids to be so devoid of screens that when they are allowed to have them they have no idea how to impulse control. And impulse control is a real thing. I am a millennial which means that I am a first generation smart phone user. I’m still trying to figure out how to control my phone screen as opposed to having it control me. I hope that training my kids with technology as they are growing will equip them to self monitor and set their own healthy limits as an adult.
On the other hand, I also don’t want to resort to screens for containment and avoidance of deeper problems. I don’t want to reach for a remote anytime I’m feeling overwhelmed. I don’t want to hand over a tablet to an angry toddler instead of dealing with their heart. When I do that, I’m using technology as a bandaid that is simply covering over the underlying problem.
Instead, I want to ENJOY technology WITH my kids. I have found that when I do that there is a camaraderie that is built through shared experience. We can laugh together watching a funny movie. We can strategize together playing a video game. We can capture joyful smiles with silly filters on our phones. It doesn’t have to be all bad. We can redeem the screen, and we don’t have to feel guilty about it. No one gets to tell you what is best for you and your family. But if we are wise, we will put our screens down long enough to hear the Holy Spirit’s direction on this, to live within the conviction of His limits, to lean into grace when we inevitably make mistakes, and to embrace freedom with our families.