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Thoughts from the Internet-less Millennial

So, there's something about me you should know.

For the last six months, I have not had internet at home.  That's right -- I'm a millennial who has a job that requires internet access and yet I have no internet at home.  By extension, it means I do not have Netflix, Prime, Hulu, Spotify, or any of the other internet-based subscriptions so common to the American household today (and I don't have cable, either -- just 3 channels that come in when the weather is nice, haha).  I told this to a few people lately, forgetting how uncommon it was and was humored by their reactions.  What has become normal to me is outlandish to a few of my fellow millennials and completely unheard of when GenXer's compute that such a Millennial exists!  To be clear, I still have a smartphone with a (very small) data plan, so if absolutely necessary, I can access the online world... but honestly, my life doesn't require it from 4 PM to 8 AM, so I've foregone the $50+/month price tag (not including all those other subscriptions) in favor of limited access and a whole lot less screen time.

And it's been INCREDIBLE. I didn't think it would last this long and I thought it would get old being cut off from "civilization," but it really hasn't been difficult at all.  In fact, in some ways, I feel more grounded and connected than I ever thought possible.

There's no way to quantify some of the goodness has taken place in the space created by being low-tech.  What I can unequivocally conclude, though, is that I had no idea how much of my life I was wasting on social media and mindless scrolling until it simply wasn't an option.  I was asked to dog-sit last week and had internet access during my week-long stay.  It was great for the first day or two, and then I found myself not liking the fact that I had no reason to exercise self-control.  It's so easy to just scroll and scroll and scroll... and for what gain?  And yet, it was really hard to stop even when I realized what I was doing was totally pointless.

You may wonder, then, how does one use her time without internet or cable?  GenX (my parents' generation) probably has some insight for us since their lives didn't include internet until well into their career ages.  Well, as a household of one, I can use my time however I want! :)  I just have a different set of limitations than other households, one of them being no internet.  My norm has become one of a LOT more reading (real books, with a pen in-hand so I can write my thoughts in the margins), writing or blogging, thinking, and praying with more intentionality than any other season in life.  I invite friends over for dinner or coffee, I go for a lot of walks or go to the gym, and I spend time scouting out different local coffee shops.

But perhaps what has been most surprising about this change of home lifestyle is that I find I have a lot more head space.  When I had internet at home and was on social media several hours per day, my thoughts were often consumed by whatever other people shared because I would start my day by checking my phone and immediately begin processing other people's thoughts, problems, and rants before I'd even had a cup of coffee.  And at night, the same was true -- if I wasn't intentional about my time, my thoughts were hi-jacked by the hashtag of the week or whatever I felt inclined to research via Google.  But this was what changed the fastest when I didn't get internet at my new place.  There's no more "noise" entering my mind because I just don't have access to what others are sharing and re-hashing.  I went from living in a response-based frame of mind to living more proactively because I wasn't processing what someone else had already thrown out into cyberspace.  My thoughts are clearer and I can more easily think something all the way through or past my initial knee-jerk reaction.  The quiet allows me to genuinely ponder something without the pressure to produce an immediate answer.  This has yielded a stretched faith, one more able to withstand the uncertainties outside the home every day because I know there's nothing wrong with honestly answering, "I'm not sure.  Let me think about it and pray over it." I've spent many more hours in the Word than before -- even more than when I was studying for ministry classes in college.  I've heard God speak more clearly and consistently the silence of my apartment -- and I wouldn't change it for anything.  Home has become a sacred space for me to connect better with God because I've disconnected from other parts of the world.  This simplicity is a gift.

I've found a new sense of joy and fulfillment in simple little things.  Often, I come home from work, brew a cup of tea, turn on a downloaded sermon or podcast, and listen to the teaching and wisdom of a pastor while I begin the process of slowly making dinner from scratch.  I may watch the evening news, or go for a walk, or just enjoy some music on my 2nd generation iPod touch from 2008. Not kidding -- it still works.

Cooking and baking has become an even greater sanctuary of worship than I had previously known it to be.  I've always liked to cook, but I'm finding with a podcast on in the background, I'm more of a kinesthetic learner than I thought -- I learn very well while my hands are busy with something. It's an outlet for creativity and an inlet for learning and it doesn't require a screen.  Maybe that sounds old-school to you.  With the rise of feminism, the art of cooking and a woman enjoying kitchen work has absorbed a negative connotation, but please hear me -- no one pushed me into this and no one is keeping me here.  Cooking is the cheapest form of art I have access to right now and I LOVE IT.  My kitchen is my happy place and if you're ever over for dinner, it's probably the only place in the world you'll see me dance and groove along (with both my left feet) to whatever I've got playing.  This introverted Scandinavian does not dance freely -- only with exceeding internal joy and little fear of embarrassment.  All stereotypes aside, the cooking process is a source of joy, mostly because I get to be creative while also solving problems (hunger), and using resources God has given me through my job.  It's a rhythm of decompression and rest and it's a routine I was taking for granted until all the other more flashy entertainment forms disappeared.  I can meaningfully pour out as more meaningful content is intentionally going in.  It's nourishing in multiple ways.

This has been the primary take-away for me: if my mind is full of whatever I read online, I have no space to receive anything else and you can only pour out what you possess.  If you eat too much dinner, you have no room for dessert.  If you eat a bag of Cheetos before lunch, you'll likely not be hungry for the meal you brought with.  And when we're full up to the top in our souls with human opinions and our own ideas, we should not expect God to speak regularly either. We've made no margin for His voice, His leading, His slow process of growth and healing, of work and play and rest.  We're just too busy in a world that's too loud and moving faster every day because nothing and no one ever seems to be quite good enough.  It's hard to hear "Peace, be still" if your ears are full of earbuds and our minds full of whatever we've seen today.  I've decided, at least for now, that I want the "Peace, be still" moments more than I want to know whatever people are outraged about today.  Am I hiding from society?  Nope -- just being more intentional about whose voice gets airtime in my place of residence.  It will likely not always be this way.  If I ever get married, this probably won't be an option.  And that's okay.  But I'm choosing to enjoy this freedom, the quiet, the space to drink deep from the Living Water.  To some extent, it's true: you are what you eat.

But it's bigger than just my decision not to get internet.  When I consume more carefully and more wholistic material, I have more to give to the relationships and teams I'm part of.  If I had a dollar for every time I've said, "You know, I was just reading about that" or "I actually just listened to a really great sermon on that" in conversation in the last 6 months, I'd have a pile of cash.  Having more worth-while content stored away isn't just for some kind of pat on the back for me -- I'm seeing it's actually valuable to others if I'm willing to share.  And, sometimes, I don't need to share anything at all, but having the mental space available enables me to really listen to my friends and ask meaningful questions.  This is priceless.  My friendships have deepened and we've talked more about God than before... and that's a really beautiful thing that wouldn't have happened if I was just scrolling Instagram.  It's worth the investment, even if it's just for a while.

There are two ditches of temptation that come with this shift though: some will pressure you (always) to do more activities since you have the time.  Busy-ness is just a fact in 21st century western civilization.  But we don't have to live fully into it.  The other ditch is laziness.  And honestly, sometimes, it's hard for me to find the sweet spot in the middle that is neither too busy or flat-out lazy.  What I've learned is, the minute you stop moving, both accusations will come your way... Prepare for the double-whammy.  Sometimes one or both will bring their buddy Guilt along and make you feel terrible that you're just not ______ enough.  But the truth is, even the God of the universe, with His infinite energy and power took an entire day to rest and commanded us to do so.  He didn't do it because He was tired, but to set an example for the over-achievers (myself included):  you have permission to take a nap or have a cup of tea by the fireplace.  You don't have to go full-throttle 24/7.  It's okay to put your feet up and enjoy the slowness of this moment.  But we also have purpose and with purpose comes work.  So get to it and live your life contributing to human flourishing... and then have no guilt when you come home and seek rest in the Lord.  Your rest in the Lord may mean not listening to music in the car on the way to pick up the kids just to have 15 minutes of peace in your day.  It may mean instead of putting Netflix on after everyone else is asleep, you read before bed and pray over tomorrow's events.  It may mean taking a personal day and going for a walk in the crunchy fall leaves with a hot cup of coffee just to see what your street is like without rush-hour noise.  Or it may mean something more extreme like cutting out internet for a while or deleting your most-used-yet-basically-useless apps from your phone.  It's up to you.  I'm just here to say it's worth it and it can be done.

By the way, for those who are curious... I publish my blog at work, but often craft the contents offline in this really old-school program called Microsoft Word. ;)  Or sometimes I scoot to a coffee shop to post it live, but either way, there's a simple solution.  Also, yes, I realize the irony of posting a blog online about how I'm living more of life offline... but I never said I'm totally offline, just limiting my access at home.

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