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This article is an excerpt from the author’s book “Sisters, Arise!“.
I’m remembering a summer from my childhood. Each morning, after completing our house and yard chores, my brothers and I played out in the sunshine, enjoying our vacation from school. My mother spent her hours tackling housework and laundry, fulfilling her church assignments, typing dissertations for university students, and feeding her hungry children…But at noon each weekday Mom escaped to the basement—where it was nice and cool—and munched on her sandwich while watching General Hospital and One Life to Live.
I often joined Mom in front of our little black and white TV set. At first I paid little attention to the shows she was watching; I just enjoyed sitting with my mother. Soon, however, I became engrossed in a kidnapping plot, which stretched out over many days on One Life to Live, eventually becoming so anxious about the fate of the characters that I began to lose sleep over it.
Fortunately, it didn’t take long for Mom to realize what was happening, and though she had enjoyed her shows for several years, she made a decision which turned out to be one of the greatest gifts I ever received from her. She told me we weren’t going to watch those programs anymore. She quit her soap opera habit cold turkey that day—proving by her actions that she had better things to do.
Though my mother and I walked away from soap operas, that didn’t mean we gave up TV altogether. On school day afternoons I could usually be found watching Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch with my brothers, before we dug into our homework. On Saturday evenings Mom and I enjoyed The Lawrence Welk Show (yes, really), and the whole family enjoyed Jacques Cousteau specials, and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. But there came a day when our family experienced what my parents now call a lucky break. The television set broke, and we couldn’t afford to have it repaired. What a poor, deprived family we were, “suffering” mild withdrawals as we lived without our favorite shows.
Several months later, our parents announced to us that they had saved enough money to fix the TV. Then they posed a life changing question, “Do we really want to fix it?” In the end we chose not to, and here’s the reason why: during the months our TV sat silent in the corner we found better things to do. We found more time for sports and other outdoor activities. We practiced our musical instruments and took family drives in the canyon. Our grades improved as we made homework a priority, Family Home Evenings lasted longer since no one was rushing to catch the last half of Monday Night Football, and because we actually talked more as a family we became acquainted on a deeper level than before.
We went eight years without a television in our home. Occasionally we saw programs at the houses of friends, and we watched the important stuff like General Conference and [college] bowl games at our grandparents’ homes. By the time my parents bought another TV set I was 20 years old. When I was in my thirties, a friend said to me, “I wonder what I was doing as a teenager during all the hours you were practicing the piano?” Then she answered herself, “I guess I was probably just watching TV.”
I am not encouraging everyone to toss their television—obviously there are worthwhile shows to view—but TV was one of the prime time-wasters of my generation. These days there are ways to entertain ourselves that we never dreamed of all those decades ago, giving us more choices than ever as to how we use our time.
Much of what we do with our time will be dictated by the seasons of our lives. For instance, a mother raising young children will, of necessity, spend countless hours feeding, bathing, changing diapers for, doing laundry for, cleaning up after, entertaining, and teaching her children. There will be countless trips to the doctor and dentist, the grocery store and the school. And without a doubt there will be long hours in the night rocking babies and caring for sick children, comforting little ones who had a nightmare, and changing the sheets of a bed wetter. Many of these tasks seem menial, unfulfilling and even downright unpleasant—but if it is our season to raise children, these activities can qualify for the category of “best” uses of our time.
Our first order of business is to be certain that all of our activities—whether related to work or leisure—are at least classified in the “good” category. We have better things to do than spend our allotted mortal hours in pursuit of anything that drives the Holy Spirit away. With hundreds of options competing for our time and attention, it is imperative that we analyze the way we use our waking hours, viewing our activities within the framework of good, better, and best—remembering that we have covenants to keep. Mentally reviewing our baptismal and temple covenants is an excellent way to see time-wasters for what they really are.
During his teenage years, John Bytheway had an idea for a book he felt would be helpful to other teenagers. He remembers thinking, at age sixteen, One day I’ll write that book. Here he tells his own story: “There I am at BYU and working at Continuing Education, and I thought, When am I ever gonna do that book? And then…I looked at my day—eight hours at continuing education—and …the only time I could even think of was early in the morning. So I decided I would go to bed at 10:00, and that meant I would miss all that worthwhile channel surfing from ten to midnight that I usually did—the news, Leno, Letterman, whatever was on. What a sacrifice!”
For the next month John got out of bed at five, went to his office, and wrote from six to eight each morning. After completing his first chapter, he submitted it to a publisher who wrote back requesting the rest of the manuscript. For three more months John persisted in his new writing habit until the manuscript was complete. “It was a wonderful time in my life. People would say ‘What are you doing these days?’ I didn’t define [my life] by the eight hours that I worked, I defined it by those two hours where I had shut off television, traded my least productive time—ten to midnight—for my most productive time—six to eight [a.m.].
“I remembering one day walking [into a bookstore] and seeing [my book] on the shelf and just thinking, “I wrote that!” Here’s my question: let’s say I had watched TV for those four months? What would I have to show for it? I can’t think of a thing…And then I thought, Gee, John, here’s an idea: why don’t you just do this for the rest of your life?” (1)
Don’t you love that story? Think of the payoff John received by exchanging his channel surfing for something of far greater worth. Do we claim to be too busy for meaningful prayer and scripture study, yet spend chunks of our day surfing the net, repeatedly checking our Face-book account, gaming, or watching our favorite programs? Who are we kidding? It’s time to be honest with ourselves about the way we’re using our precious time. Just like spending money, when we spend our time on something we should expect to get a valuable return.
Early in my college days, I made the decision to serve a full time mission. I determined to make the most of my preparation time by taking extra religion classes at BYU. During one semester I signed up for Mission Prep, Teachings of the Living Prophets, and Book of Mormon, along with other general ed. courses. As a result, I was immersed in the scriptures and scripture commentaries for a large percentage of my study time. To this day, I consider the study hours of that semester to be one of the greatest investments of time I ever made. Each hour I studied the gospel, I wasn’t just spending time, I was investing in my future.
In my years of early motherhood, when it seemed next to impossible to sit down with my scriptures in hand, I was grateful that my mind had been filled with the words of the scriptures during previous years of study, and even if I rarely had uninterrupted study time at least I could ponder gospel principles as I cared for my little ones.
The principle of opposition in all things applies to work and leisure. Spending our time in productive ways, working hard for a good cause, rejecting the temptation to constantly be entertained—these habits make it possible to enjoy whatever leisure time we do have, because we’ve earned the right to take an occasional break from our honest labors. We are able to find joy in simple things, whereas, those who do little meaningful work, overindulging their urge to be entertained, will reach a point at which it is impossible to satisfy their appetite for pleasure. Many of us have yet to learn the lesson that the fruits of honest labor can be vastly more satisfying than any form of entertainment.
In the words of Ezra Taft Benson: “When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities.” (2)
As we pursue a deeper understanding of the plan of salvation and the true purpose of our life on earth we will begin to view each hour as the precious gift it is: “time to prepare to meet God.” (Alma 34:32) Then, as we’re daily faced with the temptation to spend our time in trivial pursuits, we’ll be able to turn away from them, firm in the knowledge that we have better things to do.
1. John Bytheway, “Turn off the TV and Get a Life,” audio recording.
2. Ezra Taft Benson, “The Great Commandment—Love the Lord,” Ensign, May 1988.