What is escapism? And what does Jesus have to say about it?

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I've been thinking lately about my practice of looking at instagram every morning. What could possibly be so bad about looking at photos? But after a friend of mine called this behavior escapism I began to do some soul searching.  

When you google escapism you read things like escaping a negative reality. When you google entertainment you read fun, amusement, etc. I believe both of these, escapism and entertainment, are a response to boredom - which by itself is a relatively neutral feeling. It’s what happens after you recognize your boredom that there is a problem.   

Let me give you an example. A young girl is in her room snapchat messaging a friend. She switches from her messages to instagram where she sees a picture of a classmate with the girl she is snapchat messaging. Confused she messages the girl, “where are you?” She receives no response. The young girl experiences shame because she was not included. Some people might say she needed this experience to develop “thick skin.” But who would even know she experienced these emotions in the first place? And if no one knows she experienced this sort of emotion, who is teaching her about this type of shame? The girl reaches for her laptop and watches Shameless on netflix for the rest of the evening.

Here is the fundamental problem with escapism - we’re misdirecting our emotions as a way to avoid the pain.

As I see it we’re training our bodies to experience an emotion - more than likely a negative one - and instead of reaching for someone else (a shoulder to cry on) we reach for something else - phone, laptop, ipad. Initially, this doesn’t seem like too great a problem. But I wonder, about its lasting effects. Like say, an inability to comprehend empathy? Or a lack of comprehension around grief. Or even, an inability to experience emotion without the prompting of a technological stimulus? Hello #ThisIsUs.

In the book of John, after Lazarus has been dead for 4 days, Jesus returns to town to visit Mary and Martha. The text says Mary goes to Jesus and falling to her knees, she says, “Lord if you had been here my brother would not be dead.” I’m going to guess that Mary doesn’t say these words with kindness - this sister is in the heart of her grief. And Jesus, well, He’s a little late. We read just after this, that Jesus is concerned and troubled and further on the text says, Jesus wept.

You know what this tells me about Jesus? It tells me that Jesus is with us in our most difficult emotions - like moments of anger and grief. This text also tells me, that Jesus isn’t just physically with us, He is also deeply conflicted and empathetic - to the point of weeping alongside us.

So here’s a couple of questions. By leaving our boredom, and escapism unchecked, are we missing moments of profound spirituality because our heads are faced down toward our screens? Are we missing moments of transformation by the Spirit because we fail to check our hearts before clicking next episode?  And is it possible, that in our boredom, we might actually be gutting ourselves of the things that make us human in the first place - our emotions. And without a comprehension of emotion, how will we ever recognize what others around us are feeling? I know, I know, I know - it feels like a big jump. But is it actually?

What if we tried something a little different during this season of lent. Let’s practice submitting ourselves to an intentional way of living for the next 40 days through a process that establishes ownership over our desires to escape hard things.  

So, check it out. Here’s a 3 step process to try on:  

  1. Observe and reflect upon your boredom.  Start by noticing how you respond seconds after you discover a feeling of boredom or something similar. Then reflect. Ask yourself why you’re bored. Search to discover what you might be feeling. Notice especially if negative feelings begin to arise. Hold those feelings and wonder about them.

  2. Make a plan. This step is critical especially for those negative feelings. Maybe you discovered that your coworker spoke shortly to you and it frustrated you. Maybe you’re not feeling great about how you look today, maybe you’re feeling lonely. Whatever you’re feeling, make a plan to do something other than numbing your emotions. Go for a walk, call someone, read, write, sing, (pray #sponsored.)

  3. Tell someone what you’re doing. Just like the 2nd step, I believe this is the most important part of this process. Tell someone what you’re attempting to do in these next 40 days. Invite them to join, if they’re particularly interested. The important thing is that there is someone constantly walking alongside you as you work to reconnect your heart with your mind.   

It’s important to remember that in this process is abundant grace. Whenever we’re attempting to look like Jesus - we are always met with grace. And also, this is not a perfect process. As you seek to redirect your heart and mind toward your emotions continue to make space for greater moments of prayer because Jesus sits with you and weeps alongside you.  In this season of lent, may you remember that the way of the cross is continuously about being made new in the likeness, image, and posture of Jesus - alongside one another.