The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade
March 10, 2014
This year for Lent our family decided to give up screens each Sunday. Well, I decided. Having a pastor as one’s wife and mother means the family is subjected to any manner of spiritual disciplines. One Lent we gave up cable television. This year we are eschewing all manner of screens on Sundays – a kind of media Sabbath.
When I first proposed the idea to my husband and two elementary-age children while we were still two weeks away from the 40-day period of fasting and preparation for Holy Week, there was much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. A whole day without television? Without Minecraft? Without movies? Without mind-numbing video games? Without endless advertisements?
But what will we DO?!? We’ll be so bored!, they protested. I promised we would do fun things. Play board games, listen to music, do puzzles, take walks, read books. The sour looks on their faces were telling. But then my daughter asked, “Does this mean you don’t get to use your computer on Sundays either?”
Yes, the screenless Sundays apply to me, too. “No texting? No email? No church work after you come home?” Their eyes were wide with the delicious thought of the media-exile being imposed on their mother. “Yep,” I replied. “No screens for me either.” Okay, we’re all in!
We actually did a trial run last week on Transfiguration Sunday. There were, of course, periods of boredom. But we were challenged to find creative things to do with each other. I came home from church to find my daughter had pulled out her Easy-Bake kit and had made a wonderful pink, floury mess of the kitchen. My son, usually a bundle of energy, was actually lying on his bed just listening to music. They made sure my phone was tucked away and the computer stayed in the bag the rest of the afternoon and evening. We spent the day alternating between cooking together, doing puzzles, doing piano lessons, and playing “make me laugh.” The highlight of the day was making chocolate chai pudding, popping popcorn, and playing an intense round of the board game Clue.
At tuck-in time, each child expressed pleasant surprise that the day had not been so bad, and that they actually enjoyed the screen-free time.
Yesterday we took a deep breath and once again plunged into the day sans screens. I came home from church to find my son playing along to music in the basement with his father’s drums, just as his daddy had done as a boy for hours on end. My daughter engaged in an art project, making a cut-out of a church with intricate stained glass windows.
She suggested that we take a walk across the bridge that spanned the Susquehanna River between our town of Milton and West Milton on the other side. We’ve lived here almost three years and have never done this.
So she and I drove down to the river and parked the car. The air was chilly with a wind whipping up from the water, but we had dressed warmly enough and didn’t mind. The day was bright and cheery and the water flowed ice-free below us for the first time in weeks. She was tickled to be able to touch the top of a tree from the bridge as we crossed over the island of Milton State Park. We have walked the pathways and trails there many times, but to see it all from above gave us a new perspective.
I drive across this bridge every day and always appreciate the beautiful view. But taking it in at a walking pace was stunning. I realized that the “screen” of my car windows as I sped by every day had kept me from appreciating the details of the river. From this vantage point, without the windshield glass and slowed to an ambler’s speed, we could see straight down into the clear water, watching the dots of foam roll down with the current. We could see shells and rocks, and remind ourselves how much we would enjoy dipping our feet into the water when the warmer months arrived.
We observed the flow of the water running brown into the river from the creek that runs through Milton. I reminded her that this is the creek that runs by her school, where we fish for minnows and crayfish in warmer weather. She began to understand the connection between these two interconnecting flows of water in a new way. We both agreed that her idea of taking this walk was one we should repeat often. And we have Screenless Sundays to thank for that.
Later, after learning some basketball moves from his father in the driveway, my son also asked for some alone-time with Mommy to walk the road that runs along our house. He took great pleasure in finding stones to lob into the snowy-muddy fields, calmly waiting for the sun’s warmth and the farmer’s plow.
We watched the sun glow a soft yellow-orange as it nestled in the grey western clouds.
After piano lessons and reading time, our day ended with cheese melted on Triscuits and another board game. The self-imposed discipline of Screenless Sundays no longer felt like something to be endured. They are already thinking up ways to spend our newfound abundance of time next week.