Spiritual Messages and Teachings for LDS Youth and Youth Leaders

Thirty Days, That’s All We Ask

By: John Bytheway

From the book: Serving With Strength Throughout All The World

What are you doing? Reading a book? How boring! Aren’t you supposed to be hanging out at the mall, or something? Isn’t there a television set or a Nintendo game nearby? Isn’t that what an average teenager would be doing right now? Well, maybe an average teenager, but you, my friend, are not an average teenager. You are every bit as wonderful as you’ve been told you are. So, congratulations for going against the grain and reading a book, but I have to warn you about something: this is a chapter with a challenge; and you are such a remarkable teenager that you will probably accept the challenge and finish it to the end. I gave this challenge once to a gathering of LDS youth at a stake meeting in Alberta, Canada and was overwhelmed to see about six hundred teenagers rise to their feet, signaling their willingness to accept. I still haven’t finished reading their letters. I’ve given this challenge many times in the form of a talk, but never in a book. I don’t know if it will work in a book. I guess we’ll find out.

What is the challenge you ask? Well, I’m getting to that. You’ve heard the debates about television—you know, whether or not the violence and immorality we watch really affects us. Over the past few months, I’ve collected tons of newspaper and magazine articles, containing arguments on both sides of the debate. I have some really good ones. If I had enough space here, I could reprint all these articles and make a pretty convincing argument that much of television is hurting us. But I think I’m going to try a different approach.

When Moroni inscribed his last words on the gold plates he didn’t provide a lot of proofs that we could look at to tell if the book was true. He didn’t come up with a lot of facts or talk about the archaeological or anthropological evidences for the book. He just said, in effect, “Read it for yourself.” Maybe that’s the best approach to take with the TV issue. Ask yourself these questions: How does it affect me? Does it affect my spirit? Does watching it make it harder for me to live the gospel? Then you decide—not for everyone else—but for you.

Whenever television producers are accused of providing harmful programming, they always say, “Well, if you don’t like it, just turn it off.” Exactly. And that’s what I’m suggesting you do. That’s what I did. For a month. No TV, no movies, no videos. (Okay, I picked February, which is the shortest month, but it’s still a month.) I thought I knew what it would be like, but I was wrong. It was quite an experience. The first few days were difficult. But little by little, I began to find alternative things to do with my time. Using my memory and some notes from my journal, I’ve put together a “play by play” account of what it was like to give up TV for a month.

Day Four

I began to notice how much more time I had! Every day when I would get home from school, I would think, “Hmm, what should I do now?” Before, I used to just plop down on the couch and “watch TV” for a few minutes. But a few minutes would often turn into an hour, or two, or three. And then I’d scratch my head and wonder how I was going to get my homework done. Well, after four days without TV, I had made a list of all the things I was going to do during my “TV fast.” I had books to read, places to go, projects to complete, and so forth.

Day Ten

On day ten, something hit me that I didn’t expect. I suddenly noticed that I was having a much easier time controlling my thoughts! I realized that the main place where “the truth and values we embrace are mocked on every hand” is on television! I was no longer hearing off-color jokes on a daily basis. I was no longer being an eyewitness to illicit situations that made me feel like a Peeping Tom. And, of course, all this was having a positive effect on my thoughts! Satan is relentless. Most of the input from the world makes it hard to keep our thoughts on a higher plane. Is it important to control our thoughts? Are we accountable for our thoughts? Oh yes. “For our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us; and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God” (Alma 12:14).

Day Fourteen

Okay, here’s the hard part. It was really hard not to judge the TV-watchers around me. I stopped watching TV for two weeks, and it seemed like that’s all everyone else ever did! Sometimes I’d walk into my apartment where all my roommates were parked on the couch in front of the tube and think to myself, “Everyone seems so lazy all of a sudden—did I used to waste time like that?”

Day Sixteen

Have you ever been preparing to give a talk or attend church and felt like you needed to take a minute to clean out your brain? You know, a time-out to clear out all the stuff you’ve seen and heard in the last few days and move to higher ground? I think you know what I mean. Well, on day sixteen, I was preparing to give a fireside, and it seemed so much easier! I didn’t have to clear out my brain, because it was already clear. I didn’t have to work around all the clutter from the media, because it wasn’t in there! Bad stuff gets in the way of good stuff. Listen to Elder H. Burke Peterson: “When we see or hear anything filthy or vulgar, whatever the source, our mind records it, and as it makes the filthy record, beauty and clean thoughts are pushed into the background. Hope and faith in Christ begin to fade, and more and more, turmoil and discontent become our companions” (“Touch Not the Evil Gift, Nor the Unclean Thing,” Ensign, Nov. 1993, p. 43).

Day Twenty

On day twenty I’m thinking, “I’m having fun. I’ve read several books, I’ve written tons of letters, my room is cleaner than it’s ever been, I’ve been exercising more consistently, and I feel closer to the Lord. Why didn’t I try this before?”

We are all so hyper about what we put into our bodies. We want to be drug-free, alcohol-free, and tobacco-free. If someone says “You are what you eat,” we agree! We don’t argue about it! But, what about our spirits? If we’re so concerned about what we put into our bodies, why aren’t we equally concerned about what we put into our minds? “For as [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).

Day Twenty-Eight

“Well, tomorrow I’m done with the TV Termination Test. That went by fast. Do I really want to watch again? I don’t know. I know I’ll be more selective that’s for sure.”

It’s interesting the number of ways we protect ourselves from things. We put dead-bolt locks on the doors, motion-sensor lights in the yard, and buy a burglar alarm. To keep things warm inside, we install double-paned glass, insulation, and weather stripping. Then we kneel down as a family and ask the Lord to “protect us from harm or accident.” But Satan is clever. He can find a way into your house. He can come right through the antenna (or the cable). Or, we can actually pay money to “rent” his influence from the video store. Listen again to Elder H. Burke Peterson:

Brethren, I plead with you to leave it alone. Stay away from any movie, video, publication, or music—regardless of its rating—where illicit behavior and expressions are a part of the action. Have the courage to turn it off in your living room. Throw the tapes and the publications in the garbage can, for that is where we keep garbage. . . . Again I say, leave it alone. Turn it off, walk away from it, burn it, erase it, destroy it. I know it is hard counsel we give when we say movies that are R-rated, and many with PG-13 ratings, are produced by satanic influences. Our standards should not be dictated by the rating system (“Touch Not the Evil Gift, Nor the Unclean Thing” p. 43).

My experiment was over on February 28, and I started watching TV again in March. It was interesting. Things bothered me more than they did before. My vacation from TV increased my sensitivity to certain things.

Over the years I guess I had gotten used to hearing the language of television. Now, with the TV on again, I was hearing the Lord’s name in vain and other crude language and innuendo, and it bugged me more than before. My spirit was saying, “Yuck, this is sick.” Listen to Elder Boyd K. Packer: “Profanity is more than just untidy language, for when we profane we relate to low and vulgar words, the most sacred of all names. I wince when I hear the name of the Lord so used, called upon in anger, in frustration, in hatred” (Boyd K. Packer, in Conference Report, Oct. 1967,p. 128).

To put it in a nutshell, my experiment worked. I didn’t need to clip out any more articles. I had proved it to myself. The TV did have an effect on my spirit, and I knew it. All the printed research in the world wasn’t as powerful a persuader as my personal experiment. Someone once said, “A friend is someone who makes it easier to live the gospel of Jesus Christ.” As a result of my experiment, I know that if someone were to ask me, “Is the television your friend?” I would have to say “No—its more like an enemy.” There’s no way I could honestly say that watching television has made it easier for me to live the gospel.

Well, I’m sure you know what’s coming next. You’re right—the challenge. Some of you will accept this challenge. I hope all of you will. Here goes (imagine this next sentence coming from a deep voice with an echo). I challenge you to give up TV, movies, and videos for a month! (Imagine a clap of thunder and the ground shaking). I know you can do it, because I did it. Try it! Prove it to yourself. Keep a journal and take note of how you feel and of what happens to your spirit. It could change your life. Every youth who has accepted this challenge and written to me about their experience has had great things to say. If you need some further persuasion, listen to Lindsay from Clayton, California:

I liked what you had to say about TV, and I decided to take the challenge not to watch TV for one whole month
. . . and, well, to make a short story shorter, my whole family decided to go without TV. I think it was the hardest on my mother because she doesn’t have a job and is home all the time, but she took up canning. So now we have every kind of jam and jelly you can think of. Name it, and we’ve got it in our freezer. My dad has suddenly found time to figure out our new computer system, and all of us have been able to work on and develop our own talents. It’s incredible to think back and realize how much we had been letting television monopolize our lives. Our home is much quieter and peaceful now. . . . But I think the neatest thing is, that the Spirit can be in our home all the time. . . . I’d like to thank you for giving us that challenge. My family and I have really benefited from it, and we’ve liked it so much that we’re going to try to go for a whole year.

Here’s another—listen to Laura from Delta, Utah:

I don’t know how I can thank you for this wonderful experience of the “TV Blackout.” It has changed my life greatly for the better. I have gained a stronger testimony by using time to read the scriptures. . . . I found that I had uplifting thoughts, and it was easy for me because the garbage that is on TV didn’t come into my mind. I earned a 3.994 in school this term because I found I had more time in the evening to study instead of watching TV. I have also lost fifteen pounds because I have been going to the recreation center instead of watching TV. I have decided that I should only watch the three shows that I really like. TV can be such a time waster. Because I have seen how much I can accomplish, and what a great effect this has had on me, I simply refuse to sit in front of the TV and do nothing.

Now, I don’t know if you’ll lose fifteen pounds, but I think I can promise you four things:First, you’ll have much more time. (They say the television is on an average of seven hours, four minutes per day!). Second, you’ll have an easier time controlling your thoughts. (You know what they say in the computer programming business—”Garbage in, garbage out!”) Third, your spiritual sensitivity will increase. As you “deny yourselves of all ungodliness,” you’ll feel closer to the Lord (see Moroni 10:32). Fourth, you’ll be more selective in the future. You won’t just sit down to “watch TV.” You’ll choose carefully what you watch instead of punching the remote from a slouched position for three hours. Like everything else, any powerful tool can be used as an awful weapon. Of course there are some excellent programs on TV, but Satan has found a way to use the media as a weapon as well. We are foolish if we just sit there and let him parade all his evils before us.

Well, this chapter is over. It went by fast, didn’t it? And so will your thirty days. There are many great chapters ahead, so keep reading! Once again, congratulations for reading a book. I’ve read a million of those “chosen generation” quotes about you, and I believe every one of them. I know you’re working hard to live up to your potential and that it is not always easy. I hope you will accept this challenge to cleanse your spirit, and at least for a month, be TV-free. You believe in the thirteenth article of faith, right? Well, don’t let Hollywood make you a hypocrite! May the Lord bless you to truly seek after those things that are lovely, virtuous, of good report, and praiseworthy.

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