A Better Way: Pursuing Peace in the Digital Age (Rooted Parent)

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“When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be…”
(from “The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry)

Peace. It’s a lovely idea, tranquil and calm, and, unfortunately, elusive in our modern world. Not only do our over-scheduled calendars rob us of peace, but so, too, does the constant barrage of negativity we see on our televisions and news feeds. With so much conflict in the world, our fears for our children become magnified. What parent hasn’t lain awake filled with worry about their child’s future? Our peace seems to vanish in this age of instant information, where we find ourselves bombarded on an almost minute-by-minute basis by the very worst the world has to offer. However, we are not the only ones affected by this deluge of bad news—our children are as well.

We exist in age of inescapable information. For many of us, trying to limit exposure to the constant conflict that fills our television and computer screens is almost impossible. Our jobs, our schools, and our communities are inextricably tied these days to social media and global communications. It’s sobering to consider that many of our kids have never known a world where a telephone couldn’t function as a computer. The entirety of the globe, in all its beauty and ugliness, is literally at their fingertips. A few swipes on an iPhone screen can bring up both the entire book of Psalms as well as the violent, loathsome manifestos of the world’s most despicable hate groups.

For our children, this is normal. But it can also be profoundly destructive.

According to Dr. Jean M. Twenge, a psychologist with Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, anxiety among children and teens has risen dramatically in the last three decades, and exposure to violent media is directly linked to this increase. Kids today simply worry more than they did in years past because of an increased awareness of dangers, real and imagined, that technology has brought to the forefront. And this stress is not just mental: anxiety is a key factor in physical conditions such as asthma and gastrointestinal issues in children. Clearly, limiting exposure to distressing information is key, but even the most diligent parents can feel overwhelmed at the incredible amount of effort it takes to monitor and restrict contact with harmful websites and images. In a world where conflict is celebrated and avoiding exposure to it is almost impossible, our efforts must be focused on teaching our kids that there is a better way to live, a way that promotes peace over conflict. How do we do this?

First, we pray. Hard and often.

Then, we offer them opportunities to seek and pursue peace instead of living on a diet of constant strife.

We tend to think of peace as a byproduct of something else, usually a desire that has been fulfilled. It is instinctive: even the youngest toddlers believe that if they could just have that toy, they would be happy and content. But as any parent knows, it rarely works that way for more than a few brief moments.

Peace, however, is not a byproduct. It is a goal, in and of itself, and one that is crucial for Christ followers in the age of information and conflict. The writer of the Psalms makes it clear that peace doesn’t simply find you. You must be intentional in your pursuit of it. Psalm 34:14 says “Turn from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it.” Note the active verbs. We must take action; no mention is made of waiting for peace or hoping for its appearance.

The poet Wendell Berry gives us a suggestion on how to pursue peace. After he speaks of the fears he feels for his children’s future, he writes:

I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief.

This beautiful image echoes the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6:26) Jesus’s words speak powerfully about God’s care and provision for us. The same God who loves and cares for the “wild things” loves and cares for us even more. God’s creatures do not worry or borrow grief; neither should we, as it adds nothing to our lives except misery and fear.

As parents, we must be intentional in demonstrating to our kids that pursuing peace, in our own lives and in our relationships with others, is essential to our growth as a follower of Christ. Let your children observe you having a quiet time. Personal commitment to scripture reading and prayer do more to demonstrate our belief in seeking the wisdom of God and the peace it brings than any other action we could take. Other practical suggestions include:

  • Spend time exploring God’s creation. Whether it’s hiking in the mountains, fishing in Grandpa’s pond, or gardening in the backyard, make time as a family to get away from the glare of the computer screen.
  • Designate “unplugged” family times. Make family mealtime a no-go zone for phones. Plan times of the week, perhaps on the weekend, when everyone turns in their phone for a period of time. If your child protests (and they probably will), remain firm. Remind them that phones are a luxury, not a necessity.
  • Encourage your children in their interests that provide an escape from digital overload. Running, music, art – whatever it is that provides a sense of calm and well-being in your child – encourage it.
  • Promote reading. Share your favorite age-appropriate books with them and spend time sharing your thoughts.
  • Look for opportunities to listen rather than lecture. When they ask your opinion on the hot-button issue of the day, answer honestly, but use their questions as a chance to talk about conflict-reducing ideas such as forgiveness and grace. Be vocal in your admiration for those who seem to possess that peace that passes all understanding, and be certain your kids understand that only belief in the goodness of God can produce such peace in the face of trying circumstances.
  • Let them see you pursuing peace too.

Teaching our children the importance of pursuing peace in a relentlessly conflict-driven digital age is a challenge parents must be willing to undertake if we want them to experience “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding.” (Philippians 4:7). We must show our kids a better way to live, a way that promotes the peace that can only be found in our absolute trust in the sovereignty and provision of a loving God.

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