How to Get the Best Out of TV…, PART I

Once Upon a Broken Promise
Copyright © 1996, Broadman & Holman Publishers

"…Don't worry if you've suffered a bankruptcy. And don't be discouraged if all the other car dealers tell you that you have no credit. At Sonny J's Auto Mart poor credit, even bankruptcy, is no problem…" A used car commercial flashed across the screen, interrupting the detective show that I had already seen once or twice before.

I picked up the remote control and pushed the mute button. Lowering my size twelve feet from their perch on the coffee table, I rose from my well-warmed dent in the couch, walked the few steps across our small apartment, and quietly opened the door to our bedroom.

It was after midnight, and I wanted to be careful not to wake my wife. But to my surprise, in the dim, dancing television light that slipped through the half-open door, I could see Karen kneeling beside our bed, hear her pouring out her heart to God. She was so deeply involved in her prayer that she was not aware that I had begun to enter. She did not know that I could hear her heartbreaking petition.

My wife was praying for me. She wasn't praying for my health. Nor was she praying for the concerns that I had shared throughout the day. No, with quiet sobs she was pleading, "Dear Lord, please help our family. We're hurting. We don't have our husband and father like we need him. Help him to want to give up this bad habit. There's nothing more I can say to make him change. It only makes things worse. You have to do it, Lord. God, I'm trusting you to help us. We need Dale. Please don't let him waste our lives by the way he watches television!"

I quietly backed out of the room and gently closed the bedroom door. Bewildered, I stood pondering what I had just heard. After several minutes, I walked the few steps back to the couch and sat staring at the silent, moving pictures. Is she really serious? I asked myself. I enjoy watching TV, yes, but I'm not that much different than any average guy. I watch the same basic programs as everyone else.

But the prayer echoed in my mind and slowly began to touch my heart.


I thought back to a day in a Marriage & Family college course when an amiable professor had shared his own bits of married wisdom. The experiences that he communicated easily held the attention of the idealistic group of soon-to-be-unleashed newlyweds. With an air that suggested the wisdom of experience, he voiced a deeply held personal conviction that now filled my mind again. "Don't have a television in your home during your first year of marriage. Establish communication and closeness without the strains that a poorly managed TV can bring."

I had fully intended to follow that advice. In fact, my fiance and I had even discussed the idea after class that day and determined to take his advice. We would be TV-free for one full year. For Karen, this decision was a very welcome, and I believe, a very easy one. She was used to life without TV. But for me, it was a cautious, somewhat timid decision. My habitual viewing was more than relaxation. It was a way of life whose roots extended back to my early childhood.

Like most youths, I longed to hear the loud ringing of the final school bell of the day. I would run home, raid the kitchen pantry, and then flop down on the family room floor in front of the television for an afternoon of kids' programs. Both my first and last thoughts of the day were molded by TV. And as I "matured," the hours I spent sitting or lying in front of the set shifted to a late-night concentration.

Over the years I graduated from Leave It To Beaver to Happy Days. My infatuation for Captain Kangaroo switched to Star Trek's Captain Kirk. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but my early college days even found me addicted to a daily intake of one of the sleazy afternoon soap operas.

For me, a decision not to purchase a television for at least one year was a very big one. But the idea seemed good, so I agreed. (Besides, we didn't have enough cash to purchase a set anyway.)

So, Karen and I entered wedded bliss without the most standard of entertainment appliances. We returned from our honeymoon to a cozy little apartment free of the sounds of sirens, gunshots, canned laughter, and referees' whistles. We enjoyed evening walks and bicycle rides. We invited friends over to play board games at our dining room table, and we spent time reading God's Word and praying. I was enjoying activities that I had never given serious thought to before. But I was aching, also. I remember looking at my watch at around 10:30 each night and craving to tune into M*A*S*H or one of the late-night talk shows. I missed my old "friends," but I was genuinely enjoying a newfound sense of freedom.


Enter one very well-meaning widow. About six weeks after Karen and I had set up home on our own, we received a visit from Karen's mother. She had driven 200 miles to our small, college-town apartment. She carried with her some belated wedding gifts, miscellaneous household items, and a strong desire to please her new son-in-law.

She didn't know of our decision to start our marriage without TV. Therefore, she couldn't appreciate the mental gymnastics taking place in my mind when she enthusiastically offered to buy us a television set as a wedding gift. I reasoned to myself, Well, I've got a pretty good handle on my TV habit now, I'll be okay. …Karen won't want it though! She's not much of a TV viewer. But… this is her mom… I know! I'll tell Karen that I feel obligated to accept the offer, so as to avoid any hard feelings. …Besides, I'll only watch the news anyway.

"Wow! That'd be great," I responded, trying to subdue my enthusiasm enough to be able to build a credible story to Karen once her mom had gone. But that decision—to add a TV to our home without ever having been trained to use it properly—now haunted me. Now the woman that I had married only two years before was, at that very moment, requesting God's intervention to help realign my priorities. Little did my beloved Karen know that, even as she knelt on the other side of the apartment wall less than ten feet from me, God was already beginning to answer her prayer!


It was because God had allowed me to see the woman that I dearly loved, distressed and at wits' end, that I seriously began to re-evaluate the use of my time. I didn't tell Karen that her words had been heard by someone in addition to God. My pride wouldn't allow me to do that. But with her prayer echoing in my mind, I began to seek God's help and to try earnestly to find alternative activities in which to involve myself. I sorely wanted to impress her with actions that would prove that my free time could be spent on something other than watching television.

As I began to pursue non-TV activities, I became much more aware of articles that reported or explored the subject of modern society's use of television. As I read, and as Karen and I observed the habits and attitudes of friends and relatives, we became increasingly alarmed and deeply concerned for the millions of other Christian families who—knowingly or not—are in a situation very similar to ours.

My desire to delve further into this subject intensified. I read everything that I could get my hands on that discussed television and related topics: newspaper articles, magazines, books, research papers, newsletters—all these were fair game to my searching eyes. Now, rather than staring blankly at a glass screen all evening, I was researching the very subject that I was also struggling with. God was using the materials that I was reading to cultivate within me the desire to change. He was showing me, indisputably, that uncontrolled and untrained use of TV can and often does have distressing consequences. And the more I discovered, the more I yearned to share the information with others.

One fact that both comforted and concerned me was the realization of how very similar my habits were to all the other myriad's of TV-viewers. I watched basically the same amount, and basically the same types of shows as the rest of society.

But I also discovered that most viewers—including homemakers, factory workers, business executives, pastors, lawyers, mechanics, doctors, teachers, etc.—are somewhat ashamed of and even frustrated with their own use of TV, and all the other cyber-media. More than just being dispirited with the programs, they are concerned about how their loved ones, or they themselves, use these technologies. Most of us want to see change, but the solution eludes us.

Hopefully, the "cyber-survival kit" that you are holding will provide the tools and answers that so many have begun to seek!

To Part II