Let’s call it like it is. Our country is in a time of war. Not armed military action, thank God. But our country is on fire both literally and figuratively with people fighting passionately for the causes in which they believe: police reform, racial justice, religious freedom, public health, the list goes on and on. We are in a time or war, and all of us are the combatants.
I’d like to lay aside for a second the validity or morality of any of these specific battles.
I want to talk about the struggle itself.
No matter what causes motivate us, those of us who are even a little bit engaged in politics or social issues have been busy lately. So busy. We go to sleep late worrying about the world. We wake in the morning and see the news. We read about horrors in the paper or on social media. The TV is always blasting with the latest outrage, the most recent story of fear and pain. We who consume the media are becoming the consumed. It is ever-present. We are jittery, angry, burned out. Exhausted.
We might feel that at this point in history it is irresponsible to look away. How can we disengage from the world if there is such urgent work to be done? Isn’t that a betrayal of the causes we support or the people who are voiceless? Isn’t a step back just a step in the wrong direction?
Only the fool believes that retreat is cowardly.
In a military sense, the concept of retreat is also called “tactical withdrawal.” It is of course used to preserve life and extend the battle when one is overpowered or outnumbered. But it may also be used to gain time, allow recovery, or find a better position from which to fight. In a physical, mental, and spiritual sense, times of retreat are both necessary and beneficial. So armies retreat. Military members and aid workers are allowed furlough. Employees take vacation. Priests and nuns withdraw from their work daily to pray and take recreation. Even the Gospels show that Jesus repeatedly went away to a hidden place to rest and refresh, and his battle was the salvation of the entire world.
Human beings cannot be “always on,” always angry, always engaged and enraged, no matter how important the work they need to accomplish. We will burn out, become too sick and dulled and hateful for any kind of battle.
Here is my challenge to you. Delete your Twitter app for just three days. Announce that you are taking a break from Facebook. Refuse to watch the TV news. Put your newspaper under the couch or in the pile. It will be there later. Don’t even talk to your friends about what’s going on in the world. Change the subject. Just three days. You can schedule them for whenever it is most convenient for you.
During those three days of total media retreat, I would like you to use that time to go outside. Hike, picnic in the park, swim, lay in the sun. Read a book that has nothing to do with current events. Invite your friends over to play poker or sit in your room and play solitaire with a real deck of cards. Go play golf or ride go-karts with your kids. Cook yourself an extravagant meal or make a cake for your co-workers. Volunteer at Open Door. Get out your old school Nintendo and play Mario. Spend an hour just sitting in silence — listening to the clock tick or the fan buzz or the birds chirp in the morning. Meditate. Pray. Do chores that you’ve been putting off. Do things that seem absolutely pointless, even worthless. Do anything you want, just as long as it has nothing to do with any form of news.
When the three days are over, log back on, turn on the television, and pick up your newspaper once again. Notice how you feel, how you act, how you react to the world around you.
In just three days of retreat, you will become calmer, more peaceful, happier. You will also become more clear headed, more energized, and more able to discern where your talents can be of help in the world, which battles are worth fighting, and the most effective strategy for getting the job done.
I guarantee it.
If you take up this challenge, please write to me (care of the paper) and let me know. I will use a future column to talk further about the importance of retreat and the results it has gained for the people in our community.