Counterfeit Rest: When Scripture is hard and Netflix is easy
I have at least three friends who are addicted to diet coke. To be fair, they all say it's the most innocent version of other things they might otherwise be addicted to, but that's not what catches my attention here. I wondered why diet coke is addicting while regular coke seems not to be. I set my mind to researching this peculiarity, and the answer I found is fascinating. It's also surprisingly applicable, even if you aren't a fan of artificially sweetened beverages.
You see, as that delicious-tasting liquid tantalizes our tastebuds, the nerves in our tongue (not realizing the chemical sweetener in diet soda is an imposter) send a message activating the reward hormones in our brain--a mechanism God built into humans to keep us doing healthy things, like eating. But after the immediate satisfaction of flavor subsides, your body is left expecting to be satisfied. However, since aspartame doesn't deliver the sustenance of true calories, the hormones in your brain get upset and demand more of that magic liquid, hoping the second bottle will satiate the brain's need for sugar energy. The second can, like the first, activates the dopamine without the fuel punch to back it up. So the cycle continues.
Now, it's easy to spot the dangers of imposter-sweeteners. Nutrition blogs agree that aspartame can be harmful, so I try my best not to buy it for my family. Easy. And instead of diet coke, I'll drink my uber-healthy bone broth and wind down from a busy day by perusing Facebook before binge-watching 3 to 15 episodes of this week's favorite show. Because I'm just so tired, and my brain is telling me I need a break.
I think we all do this, on some level, but it wasn't until recently that I realized the absurdity of using entertainment as a form of rest. Could you imagine Jesus escaping from the crowds, hiding out in the bottom of the boat, watching Netflix? Or scrolling through Instagram? The idea is laughable. So why is it so easy to spot as erroneous if we think of Jesus binge-watching shows, while we still will defend it in our own lives? Perhaps because the source of Jesus' spiritual sustenance is announced so blatantly in scripture (Mt 14.23, Mk 1.35, 6.46, Lk 5.16, 6.12, etc.), that we all know Jesus had to spend time alone with the Father, praying and listening.
I would submit that we are built exactly the same way Jesus was, and are fueled mentally and spiritually the same way he was. Prayer. Time alone with God. I think you know it, as I know it. When I flee to the Rock that is higher than I, I find that He is a refuge (Ps 61.2-3). Does it feel like work sometimes? Yes. Is it harder than fleeing to Netflix? Yes. It is. Jesus promises us rest for our souls--true rest--but it's found in action, not apathy.
"Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." Matthew 11.29
There is a decisive action of taking up a particular yoke, throwing off all others: a decision must be made that Christ's yoke is desirable. And there is an academic action of devoting our attention to learning from Him. He says that it's in choosing these two actions--essentially, choosing Him-- that we find true, pure, rest, the kind of rest that reaches down into our souls.
What should we make of this?
My goal is not to persuade you to cancel your Netflix or social media accounts. My challenge is that we would recategorize them in our brains as entertainment, and be honest with ourselves that our category for rest is devastatingly lacking. Stop drinking the diet-coke-version of rest, trying to trick our brains that this will satisfy us. Of course we will become addicted, because the counterfeit product leaves us empty every time.
Finally, prioritize drinking from the River of Living Water (Jn 7.38). Remember that Adam's and Eve's first day on planet earth was the Sabbath. This wasn't an accident; God meant for them to begin all their human endeavors from a place of rest. In the same way that God later commanded His people to offer their first fruits to Him, the part of the harvest which sacrificially said, "I will give You my present and trust You with my future," the sacrifice of time that we offer by prioritizing true rest (spending time with Him) must be prioritized above everything else on our schedule.