Is it wise to use the internet? This may seem like a very hypocritical question! After all I am writing for an online blog, and anyone that is reading what I write, is also using the internet! But it is a very important question, too, and I think, worth a little contemplation.
The internet is a wonderful invention of mankind. Perhaps one of the most wonderful. Isn't it incredible to think that only a few decades ago, the possibility of digitally sharing information, images and sounds with people all around the globe, seemed unimaginable? Nowadays we can shop, share our lives, learn just about anything and make contact with people anywhere, all at the press of a few buttons. I find the internet to be a brilliant resource for a home making wife who seeks to use her gifts wisely and frugally. And yes, I have made some very good friends - real friends, people I cherish and trust - through visiting with like minded people on message boards and blogs. It is an amazing tool, with endless possibilities.
But just like any other tool, as my husband will tell you, it needs to be handled carefully and wisely, to make the best use of it. Like any other tool, careless or inappropriate handling, can be very dangerous.
Of course, everyone knows of the risks that the internet presents for children. Any parent has a duty to ensure that, if they do allow their children to use the internet, they do so in a safe and supervised manner, to protect their innocence and to ensure that the information they do access is both wholesome and useful. Us mamas are particularly mindful of that, and never cease in our viligance in monitoring our children's online activities. But oh, how we neglect these standards, when it comes to our own internet behaviour!
There is no quality control on what is available online. There are good websites, and there are some very bad ones. As adults, the worldwide web is available to us at any time at the mere flick of a switch, and it is all too easy for this ready availability to draw us into some dangerous practices without realising just what we are doing.
The internet is a terrible distraction. Who among us, hasn't ever spent more time than they intended to, "surfing the net"? I know I have! It takes a great deal of self discipline to limit your time spent on the internet, because it is so easy to think "I'll just look at this", or "I'll just check there", and before you know it you've spent another 30 minutes of your precious time, away from your family and home, being seduced into the dazzling virtual world behind your computer screen.
I am not writing this to be preachy, or pridefully condeming. I do not seek to judge anyone - that is not my job. Only our Father God can do that. I am writing this simply because I know so well that I have experienced the negative influence of the internet in my life, and I want to share what I have learned, through my experiences, that they may be of benefit to others who have not yet had the opportunity to contemplate this issue much.
Paul, writing to the Philippians, tells us that,
"whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." (Philippians, Chapter 4, verse 8).
Because if we do this, prayerfully, then (and only then) shall we know the true joy of a God centred life, where trusting in our Father for everything brings us real peace and contentment.
We cannot get this in any other way. And yet we seek all these things, and more, from the material world around us. We go to the internet to distract ourselves from what in contrast can seem like the banality and routine of a very ordinary life. We go to seek sensation and entertainment, stimulation and diversion. We go to build ourselves up, to dream, to forget our troubles and create an alternative reality which can be a very powerful substitute for a life which might feel less rewarding in reality.
Sometimes, our motives in seeking the virtual world of the internet do lead us to real treasures - well written, intelligently composed blogs and websites, where we can indeed grow in faith and encouragement, and to information resources which give us valuable knowledge that we would otherwise have to spend many hours searching for in libraries and museums. But we can also be led, quite unknowingly into dangerous territory too. The enemy knows this, and wants us to be lured away from what is good and honest, so he places subtle temptations of every kind in our paths, and without realising it, soon we are engaging in activities which are ugly and damaging.
It isn't just the tragedy of stolen time spent on the internet that we could be using more profitably elsewhere, in our homes, with our families. The neglect of our duties is bad enough, but it is the malignancy of some of the activities we're actually pursuing ON the internet, that is so truely lamentable.
A major element in the appeal of the internet is its anonymity. This facelessness gives people a false confidence in the other people they're engaging with, because all they have, to measure the integrity of anyone else, is what that person is telling them. They have no other standards by which to judge them.
My mother use to tell me as a child, not to trust strangers. In our culture, it’s traditionally expected that we do not mix with anyone outside the wider family group, so strangers are always regarded with great suspicion. They are welcomed, but with caution, and we don’t open our hearts to anyone until we are absolutely sure they can be trusted. We’re polite, but we like to keep our distance until we are certain of their motives.
And I think this maxim really needs to apply to the internet too. You really DONT know who you are communicating with, when you interact with people on the internet. And when you find yourself in a position of false security, thinking you know people better than you do, that is when you allow yourself to become vulnerable, and to open up in a way that you would not dream of were you actually face to face with these same people.
In the light of this, might I suggest that fellow bloggers consider whether they are applying moderation, to what they choose to share on their blogs? I’ve noticed a great many blogs where the authors seem happy enough to share really quite personal details about their lives, including detailled photographs and even videos of their homes and family. Whilse I agree it can be fascinating to step unbidden into the private worlds of other people (and I confess that in the past, I’ve been tempted, and visited blogs where every detail of another’s life is there for all to see), I do wonder whether these well meaning bloggers have given any thought to what they are actually doing. You wouldn’t ever invite strangers off the street to come into your home and look around it, and you certainly wouldn’t think of standing on a street corner and handing out photographs of your children or husband to any old passer-by, would you? But if your blog isn’t private, then this is just exactly what you are doing, online, when you post up personal details like this.
There is also the issue of consent. If your children are too small to be asked whether or not they wish for you to share pictures of them on the internet, then in my opinion, you shouldn’t be doing it. As a mother it is your role to protect them, and to my mind, posting pictures of them on the worldwide web where just about anyone can have access to them, is not protective. Their photographs should be for the chosen eyes of real friends, and family. People that you trust. Of course, we all love to see pictures of new babies, lovely gifts, cute pets. Naturally we are proud, when our home looks beautiful, or we’ve worked hard on a project. And we want to share that pleasure and pride! And there is nothing wrong with that.
But we do need to be mindful of just what motivates us to need to share intimate details of our lives with the whole world online, and not just our nearest and dearest. Is it merely an altruistic desire to give others the opportunity to share in our own joy, that it might bring them a little pleasure too? Or is it perhaps more prideful than that? Are we maybe even hoping that we will generate a little envy? Maybe we should consider keeping those more personal details of our lives, to ourselves, and maybe also, just closing the window on our world, a wee little bit. If you are in doubt about this, then why not consider the well loved passage in the Bible – Titus, Chapter 2, verses 4 and 5, when we are contemplating what to post on our blogs. What we post should be encouraging other wives
“to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed"”.
If it isn’t – then ask yourself why you are posting it. It may be that you’re indulging in vanity, and that certainly isn’t part of God’s plan for us.
One of the most seductive forms of internet time wasting is participating in "social networking" sites. These take all sorts of shapes and forms, and can vary from small message board groups, to the well known sites like Facebook and Twitter (neither of which Papa Bear nor I have ever visited). I know that for some people, having access to this sort of social networking enables them to keep in touch with loved ones across the world, and that can only be a good thing. But it isn't good, if you are occupied with wasting your time, chattering and gossiping with anonymous people on the internet, or scrolling through online shopping sites when you should be doing your chores, or blog-hopping whilse your husband waits to spend his evening watching his favourite film with you. That is not what God wants us wives to be doing, with the gift of each precious day that He has sent to us. What a terrible, shameful waste.
I've done it myself. I've been lured onto message boards where ugly gossip has taken place. I have interacted with people who know nothing at all about me, and told them facts about myself that I would not share with our next door neighbours. I have scrolled through pages of products on Amazon I neither need nor, if I'm honest with myself, really even want, and, shame on me, actually bought some of them, too.
In Titus, Chapter 3, verses 2 - 4, we are told that we are to
"Speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men. For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, decieved, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another".
We are heirs of eternal life - our salvation is God's unconditional gift to us. But we need to repent of our foolishness and disobedience, to receive this gift. By continuing to use the internet for worldly purposes, we are resisting God's plan for us. The draw of the internet is so subtle and alluring that it is easy not to realise that we are making a choice to do this. We think (and again, I know I have), "oh this is OK, there is no profanity on this site, and I am learning something useful" as you waste yet another 10 minutes on a message board, but it is still drawing us away from our real calling - that of wife, mother and servant to our Father in Heaven, God Almighty. And that, incontrovertibly, is a sin. It is a particularly insidious sin, because it is one that isn't easy to recognise, and therefore to repent. We can convince ourselves that really, there isn't anything wrong with spending time on the internet because we're still physically present with our family. But where are our hearts while we are doing this? Are we setting our affection on the things above, or on the things of the earth? We must cast aside the ways of the world - the
"fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry" (Colossians Chapter 3, Verse 5).
We are to live spiritual lives, not ones of worldly self indulgence. Injudicious use of the internet, does not allow us to grow in Christ. It withers our spiritual growth, and, quite subtly, may turn our eyes from what is true and good, to what is impoverished and corrupt.
Dear sisters, how I pray that you will share my fervour in trying to ration your internet time! Defer to your husband in this important issue, and ask him what he would have you do. In our home, Papa Bear does like to watch his TV, which I can take or leave (I would happily do away with the TV all together, but Papa Bear does like to relax with it and therefore, so do I), so we can easily share our time in front of our respective screens and yet be together - side by side on the settee, my precious huggy bear engrossed in his film or sports whilse I tap away by his side on the net book. In addition, I've personally found that the simplest way to avoid losing hours on the internet is just not to switch it on at all. That way I don't know what I am missing. I am tending to write my blog posts offline (sometimes even by hand) and only going online to actually put them up on the blog, which prevents me from ever getting drawn into blog hopping and surfing. I timetable in my internet use - just as I timetable my other interests, as well as my commitments - do you? I have seen many different timetables and schedules posted online - but not many of them include internet time. It should! We should certainly not be spending more time on the internet, than we do in the Word. Papa Bear and I have agreed that for every hour spent on the screen, we should invest another hour in each other and the family - and, most important of all, another hour in the Lord's Word.
Now that surely has to be the best way for anyone to spend their time!
"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever". (1 John, Chapter 2, Verses 15 - 17).