rebelling against low expectations

Mental Obesity


“The pursuit of maximum moments drives many a multitasking life and an often-distracted mind,” writes Carolyn Curiel in her recent New York Times opinion piece. “We think of America as a sleep-deprived nation, but we are becoming deep-thought deprived, too. A closed door does not stop interruptions, because we are packing the weapons that can shatter concentration or quiet contemplation. Our fingers are always on a button.”

Even before computers, cellphones, and other wireless technology, the radio was placed in homes and then cars, helping to fill the dead air that accompanies housework and long rides. But now, technology has pushed our escape from quiet thought to dizzying new heights where we never have enough time to mull over a question that requires a long, complicated answer, because we’re constantly beckoned by a million distractions. In the Information Age many of us are a mile wide and an inch deep.

The following words, spoken by Francis Schaeffer decades ago, are increasingly relevant to our generation: “No one seems to want (and no one can find) a place for quiet,” he notes, “because when you are quiet, you have to face reality. But many in the present generation dare not do this because on their own basis reality leads them to meaningleness; so they fill their lives with entertainment, even if it is only noise.”

Such escapism makes sense for non-Christians, yet most Christians act the same way — escaping from meaningful thought through the distraction of technology. I can remember many times when I’ve felt particularly thoughtful, but then the computer would beckon me. Ten minutes later I would have read a few emails, checked the comment section of our blog, browsed Google News and in the end, entirely lost my train of thought. Oh well, it probably wasn’t important. Was it?

Afraid Of Our Own Thoughts

When was the last time any of us took just twenty, undistracted minutes to think about deep, substantial things, like our future or our relationship with God? Did you know that we probably couldn’t? Through media our minds have been conditioned (or perhaps de-conditioned) to avoid deep or prolonged thought. We must constantly be moving and doing, but never thinking and planning. Every empty space must be filled with music or movies or Internet or texting or IMing. Every empty space must be filled, except the one between our ears.

By God’s grace nearly every distraction we face has an ON and OFF switch, a STOP and PLAY button, or an OPEN and QUIT option. Though technology is increasingly prevalent and our generation faces a media onslaught 24/7, we are not forced to watch, listen or play.

We don’t have to listen to our iPods while we’re doing the dishes. We don’t have to text message anyone while we’re riding in the car. We don’t have to surf the Internet while we’re doing our homework. We don’t have to play video games after dinner.

Ironically, we can quit, close or turn off all of these distractions, but we can’t do the same to our minds. Our minds can’t be shut down. They can only be overpowered, distracted, corrupted and/or atrophied, and that is exactly what our culture is trying to do to them.

I’ll be honest, when I have to do a monotonous job like washing the dishes, weeding the yard or mowing the large field at the front of our property, the first thing I reach for is my iPod. When I’m bored my first inclination is to get on the computer and surf the Internet.

The questions I have to ask myself are: “Is there really so little in my own brain that I couldn’t occupy myself for a little while with my own thoughts? Has there really been no sermon or book or passage of Scripture that has sufficiently challenged me recently that I could meditate on and think about?”

We fail to realize what an insult it is to our own intellects that we can’t occupy ourselves with our own thoughts but must be constantly entertained by other things. We fail to see how dangerous it is not to ponder important questions about who we are and where we’re going.

“As Christians,” writes Schaeffer, “we must follow God’s absolute moral standards, and we must not be robbed of a place of quietness with God.” (See Eph. 5:18-19)

“Both in in theory and practice Christians can dare to face the realities of life unclouded, ” he concludes. “We do not need these things to fill the crannies of our lives. In fact, we should want to face reality: the glory of the world God has created and the wonder of being human — yes, and even the awful reality of the Fall and the tragedy of marred men and women, even our own flawed character. We are not to be people of escape. The Christian is to be the realist. To face reality as born again and indwelt by the Holy Spirit is the Christian’s calling.”

Technology Is Not The Problem

Of course, the problem is not with technology — Schaeffer was addressing these same issues long before Steve Jobs ever dreamt of the iPod. Rather, the problem is the way and the frequency with which we have decided to use technology. This means that for most of us the question is not whether to have a cellphone, but instead whether the cellphone will be helpful, used as a tool, or distracting, used as a toy.

There are countless profitable ways to occupy our minds, even with the gadgets that often distract us. I almost exclusively use my iPod to listen to sermons or other audio messages that stretch and strengthen my mind, I frequently find thought-provoking articles online and I occasionally have IM conversations that I feel sharpen me.

The key is to make sure that our use of technology is supplementing our thought life, not distracting from it; that it is providing opportunity for deep thought — not keeping our minds constantly busy dealing with new articles, IM conversations, and song lyrics.

Just as it is ridiculous to think that a constant intake of food will benefit our bodies, it is also ridiculous to think that a constant torrent of information will improve our minds. Like food, information must be carefully selected and properly digested to fulfill its God-given purpose.

Unfortunately, the selection and digestion process takes time that our generation lacks because we can’t say no to mental distractions. We’re constantly feeding our minds mental snacks but never allowing for quiet reflection or thoughtful meditation. Worse still, we’re feeding ourselves “junk food” thoughts — high entertainment value, all sugar, and no nutrition.

The result is a generation of fatties. If you think physical obesity is a problem in America wait until you see our nation’s brains. Mental obesity is the curse of the Information Age.

If we want to lose mental weight we’ll need to go on a radical diet — cutting the fluffy junk food and replacing it with solid, nutritious cuisine. We’ll need to get off our behinds and start excercising. We’ll need to do hard things by thinking hard thoughts.

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About the author

Alex and Brett Harris

are the co-founders of and co-authors of Do Hard Things and Start Here. They have a passion for God and for their generation. Their personal interests include politics, filmmaking, music, and basketball. They are both graduates of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia.


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  • Hi, rebelutionaries, I think your site is really cool. When I first started reading this article I was sort of on guard and not thinking it was going to be good, because I love my cd player. One of the most influential things in my life is the music I listen to, and I listen to a lot of it. However when I finished reading this, it changed my mind about of lot of things, and I realized…there is a time for quiet and contemplation and listening to God. Something I need more of. And will make more time for. Thanks guys!

  • I never thought that living in brazil as a missionary kid and not having all the money to buy all those techo things could actually be a blessing! But like you said, it isn’t just the techo things that distract us. You really have challeged me to give more time to my family and friends, and especially GOD. thnx!

  • Great post. Thanks. Our culture is great at filling our every instant with entertainment and distractions. Filling our every instant with ipods, DVD’s, television, email, and cell phones makes it very difficult for us to hear the still, small voice of God.

  • This is an article I wish everybody would read. It’s very convicting.
    I know the countless times that I’ve walked into my room and turned on the radio because I wasn’t doing anything else. Listening to classical music may be better for my brain than rock, but stretching my brain itself, through meaningful thoughts and meditation, is even better.
    Thanks for helping me to avoid becoming a victim to mental obesity, Brett!


  • Excellent, excellent post! I have felt I needed to say something at times, but I couldn’t have said it that well. Thank you!

  • One thing we can do to help remedy this problem, is to try to encourage others to think deeply. I know that is what this post was about, but I think most people are going to just try to work on this problem on their own. One idea would be to help encourage someone younger than you in their studies. To try to help kindle a love for study, both of the Bible and school studies. By helping to teach others you also teach yourself. I have found that it often helps to have someone older than yourself to turn to with questions about what you are studying.

  • Take EVERY thought
    captive to the obedience of CHRIST !
    THIS is The Will of GOD
    in Christ JESUS for YOU !”
    ( Thessalonians 5:16-18 )
    Perhaps the problem is lack of memorizing, meditating on and OBEYING
    The Word of Our LORD !
    Thank you for a well written article !
    Sincerely, Anna’s Mom

  • Thoughts become actions. Actions become habits. Habits become character. It all starts with thinking hard things. Thanks for the reminder and the hard evidence to support it!

  • Great post! It was great brain food. =) My personality is such that I’m usually a very deep thinker, yet all too often I do things mindlessly. Thanks for the challenge to turn everything off, get quiet, and think! I am very blessed to live in the country, and one of my favorite things to do when overwhelmed is just to go outside and wander through God’s glorious creation, drinking in the quiet (except for common country sounds!), and think and talk to God. It truly is balm to the soul.

    Excellent post again! 🙂

  • That’s so incredibly true, and well I know it. It’s altogether too easy to become distracted by the general hubub of life.

    For instance, this summer I went to a week-long camp somewhere in the middle of Kentucky. In fact, it was pretty much out in the boonies.
    It was just us girls, and we all were determined to grow closer to God in that week. That week was absolutely amazing! The only music we heard all that week was an acoustic guitar and our own lovely voices. The only ambient noises were laughter, tears, shouts of joy, and the sounds of creation. The only real distractions were, oddly enough, mosquitoes and chiggers.

    That week at camp, we could all distinctly hear and feel God working in our lives, and the spiritual battle was clear and obvious to everyone.
    And I threw that away not fifteen minutes after I got home.

    I hate to admit it, but the first thing I did when I got home was turn the TV on. That following week was spent loading up on all of the noise and distractions I had gone without.

    I still feel guilty for tuning God out as soon as I got home. I’ve since realised that it’s good to be silent for a while. It’s better to be alone with your thoughts than to have none of your own.

    Excellent post! God bless.

  • excellent post…although i’m just now getting around to reading it! deep thinking is the meat of our “thought life”, but it’s also critical that we can only hear God when we’re quiet. Sometimes He uses song lyrics or articles…etc. But to really HEAR Him, and not just Him using things, we need th silence. Our God is a jealous God, and He wants our time…He wants to spend time thinking with us, and us thining about Him. i have friends who struggle because they never hear God,, I always cringe. How can you hear your mom when your ears are plugged? The same is true with God.

  • Wow! That’s really something to think about. I’ve always wondered why I fail to retain so much of what I read. Someone will ask me a question about something, something that I know I read or heard just the other day, and though I remember having been informed of it, I don’t remember the answer! I’ve felt so ashamed at those times, thinking of how wasteful my time reading it must have been. Now you’ve supplied me with the solution. I’m going to digest this food for thought properly. Thank you for sharing.

  • Silence does no good unless you’ve fed your mind a diet of only the absolute best. Otherwise the evil images, lyrics, thoughts come back to haunt you.

    It is possible to have such an active mental life that music, movies, cell phones, and the like become annoying distractions from the glory within. It’s all about reading the scriptures and plotting how to become like Christ.

  • Yep, time to lose some mental weight and meditate on God’s truths. Human nature does make it hard to be disciplined in our thoughts. On our own, we can’t give time to deep thought and keep out all of the ungodly sights and sounds. That’s why God sent us His Holy Spirit–to guide our thinking. Stillness and quiet is where He helps us most, and a healthy “mental diet” of truth and Scripture is His reference index.


  • I really appreciated this article as it closely mirrors the conclusion that I had come to myself. I hate it when people are too busy texting on their cell phones socially to speak to those right in front of them in flesh and blood. Therefore, I try not to do the same to others!

  • technology can make us brain dead, suck all the knowledge from our heads unable to hear what someone is saying. But they can give us knowledge, being ignored or even distracted becouse of tecnology we lose all sence of compashion in our lives our sence of what the world is like we think that we have the world in our hands but we should be able to go out and actually see it, with out a picture sent from e mail or computer. Depending on how you look at something you can identify what it would meen, like being a way to talk to someone unable to come to you, or lettin other people know how you feel when you cant exactly be by them. so depending on how you look at it computers and cell phones can be a good or bad thing.

  • i believe i understand
    but if there can be one extreme
    can there not be another??
    can we become so inwardly focused (not referring to self-centeredness, but a more introverted state) that we become far to “skinny” or narrow in our thinking??
    perhaps a healthy balance is in order??

  • Too jolly true. GREAT post! I needed a good slap around the ears on this subject and I took this and used it as one. Amen!

  • It is amzing how much time we have if we just push away all the junk that is cluttering up our brains and distracting us from what is really important. Thanks, guys, for this convicting and yet wonderful post.

  • Very nice article

    As an atheist a relationship with god is completely absent, but the principle still stands. Our Western society is becoming mentally out of shape because of the low quality snacks intellectual. Our minds are getting more and more fragmented, so reserving time to put order in your mind will benefit anyone.

  • I love your every one of your guys’ posts. They make me think harder and show me what I should do. The problem is, I try to do something or want to do something that will change my life or spiritual life for the better, but it never happens for this reason or that, but they are actually excuses. Please pray for me to make everything, like devos and hard thinking, a habit so my relationship with Jesus grows stronger. Thank you for this post

  • Wow! This post is great! If teens just got rid of updating Facebook or texting ALL the time, imagine what they could be doing for Christ! There can be a healthy balance, but most of the time, teens don’t know that. They just spend all their time doing the unhealthy stuff! Thanks for writing this eye-opening article!

  • Many thoughts on this subject:
    I just read Fahrenheit 451 in class. such a small book, but it is moving on this topic. I am said to say some of my classmates did not read it one time. Shows how teenagers are. I think it depends on what we were raised on. Appearantly I used to ask my mom when I was a little kid why the TV was always black.
    I am realizing that Facebook is meant to be a tool, not entertain. If we used it as a tool, only using it for a working purpose instead of turning into zombies when we went online, things might be a little better. With teenagers today, I think we are forgetting what internet used to be like, with the dial up tone every time we went online telling us that the internet has a cost, and that the computer and internet were first designed to make things faster and as a connection.
    Lastly, I work at a Bible camp in central MN for half my summer. I think a lot when I am there. It is a blessing to be in the country, as somebody else has posted — brings us closer to God and we have less man made distractions. I end up craving that life a month or two into being back at ‘home’ in the cities, but even with a month and a half in the country, it trains me to live my life in the cities differently and give myself up for real thinking as shown in this. I prize the times I have when I can just sit silently and wait and I end up thinking in those times, or just observing stuff at the Normal human pace.

  • Wow,

    I totally agree. This is an amazing insight and it is only encouraging when I hear it because as I reflect on my personal life, I have seen myself do the very thing this post/article/thing should have called those who read it to do.

    See whether they have been giving their minds an adequate amount of time each day to process the information that they have been learning/taking in, that is, if they have been.

    I know for me that I am no where near perfect, but when I look back to when I used to consume my life with video games or partying, I know and can see how beneficial it has been for me to get these out of my life.

    Yet even with those gone, I still have filled my life with other things, like schoolwork and reading, and this has definitely encouraged me to have some quiet time in my life each day.

    Thanks guys 🙂

  • Dude please tell me that youre going to publish more I notice you havent written an additional blog for a while (Im just catching up myself) Your blog is just too important to be missed Youve got so very much to say these knowledge about this subject it would be a shame to see this weblog disappear The internet needs you man

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  • I recently was thinking about this. Some people are truly scared of thier thoughts they can’t handle actually thinking about personal things. Later they have no substance to mentally fight for important things.
    They don’t know what to say when something desperately needs to be said.

  • this article made me realize that i’m already distracted. i always had this great ideas and plans in my mind but i never had time to work on it. i ask why. Now this article is the answer. It’s all because I’m distracted by entertainment stuffs. Now, I won’t let my self get distracted anymore. Thanks for the enlightening article! rebelution rocks! 😀

  • I Am Going To have to come back again when my course load lets up – nonetheless I am taking your Feed so i could read your web blog offline. Thanks.

  • (Oops! Didn’t mean to hit the “Submit button”)

    This definitely challenges me. I will have to think about it and go on a pretty radical “diet”. I’ve realized that I wasted my time, but this has really inspired me to actually do something about it. Thank you.

rebelling against low expectations

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