Idleness and Idolatry

As wife and mother with a career that demands 40+ hours a week, my days can be full to the brim. I typically come home, set down my purse and briefcase, and head straight for the kitchen to prepare dinner. I love to cook, so this is not a burden, and I do it right away because I am afraid if I sit down, I won’t want to get up to do anything!

Usually, my husband cleans up the dinner dishes (and the mess I usually leave in the kitchen in my rush to get food on the table), and he shoos me off to change clothes and “relax.”

Here is where the trouble starts. After being in high gear all day, it is challenging for me to just relax. If I don’t have a specific thing to do in that time frame—read a book, read the mail, or shift to a home-based project—my tendency is to pick up that pocket-sized golden calf called my iPhone.

I intend to just check an email or two. Maybe the weather. And then, well, because I haven’t really started anything yet, I will just hop on Facebook “for a minute.” That minute typically turns into 20, 30, 40 or more, and I end up feeling depleted.

In the time I spent on my device, all I essentially did was scroll through other people’s lives:

  • Three more friends got to go on an awesome vacation (while I just stayed home)

  • Two people went to that concert I was hoping to see (while I just listened to the band on Spotify)

  • Four friends found a new topic to rant about and started angry comment strings among their “friends”

  • Another friend had a birthday yesterday and had 98 people wish her a happy day.

In addition, I get all caught up on the lives of people I haven’t seen for 20 years, but just happen to be “friends” on Facebook, and realize I haven’t called my own son, or sister, or good friend for a couple of weeks and I have no idea what is going on in their lives—unless they happen to put it on social media.

What does social media have to do with the Ten Commandments?

I don’t know if you can relate to any of this, but I have been feeling quite a bit lately like the problem with me when I’m idle, is that I have begun to turn to idols: my phone and social media.

Our God is loving and good. He not only knows what is best for us, but he was gracious enough to put what is best for us in His Word, the Holy Bible.

Many people who may not be familiar with the Bible or what’s in it seem to know something about the Ten Commandments, found in the Book of Exodus, chapter 20. While God gave the ancient Israelites many rules and guidelines to live by, these 10 were elevated as essential for living a life pleasing and honoring to God.

The first commandment, found in Exodus 20:3 says:

“You shall have no other gods before me.”

What does this have to do with my iPhone or Facebook? Everything! And I hate to admit, but the combo platter of mobile device and social media leads me to break more than just the first commandment.

You see, when I spend idle time with that device in my hand, I often pay more attention to what is on the screen than I do to the precious people God has placed in my life.

Way more than I care to admit, the number of minutes (or hours) I whittle away scrolling…and scrolling…and scrolling (did you know it’s essentially impossible to get to the end of your news feed?), usually far exceed the time I spend in daily time with God or going to church or church activities. Hmmm. “You should have no other gods before me.” That’s right. Not even a little one that conveniently fits in your pocket or purse.

I don’t even have time here to talk about the concept of coveting—the tenth commandment says not to do it—and the serious FOMO (fear of missing out) that can be caused by idle, or even intentional use of social media.

What you hold in your heart

So, do we have to conclude that using social media or looking at your phone is a sin? Not at all.

And just to clarify, sin is anything that separates us from God. Idolatry is sin because it shifts our focus toward worldly things far more than it helps us focus on God.

As believers who have received Christ as Savior and Lord, we are not under the law of the 10 commandments in the same way the Israelites were, but I believe they are still good guides for living and usually when I am falling outside the bounds of these rules, I am sinning, and I need bring that sin to God so I can be forgiven.

Ultimately, sin does not start with what you hold in your hand; sin starts with what you hold in your heart.

In my examples here, I believe that my excessive and idle use of social media can be a sin problem; because of the condition of my heart or the freewill choices I make, I spend time doing something I know is not the best for me, or for my relationship with God and others. I have recently been sensing God’s leading to spend much less time in this medium, in part because with my personality, I have a hard time utilizing it just a little. So I am trying to replace daily social media browsing with other activities that are more honoring to God.

The point about idleness and idolatry is that God simply wants us to be stewards of all he has given us, including our time, in order to bring him honor and glory. He doesn’t want us to be overly focused on anything that leads us from putting him first and having fellowship with him.

Only you know if your phone and a Facebook account are idolatrous to you. If they are, then ask God for help you change your habits. That’s what I’m doing. I may not be liking as many posts, wishing as many happy birthdays, or keeping up with as many people, but I love having more time to think about and give to the relationships in my real, not virtual world—with God, my family and friends.

I think I’ll go phone a friend right now.

About the author

Nancy Zugschwert is a writer and speaker who lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. She has been married to Jim for 30 years and they have four sons, one daughter-in-law, and a dog. She works full-time as director of communications at North Central University in Minneapolis. Nancy and her family have been attending First Free Church since 1995.

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