For their tenth anniversary, Karl Clauson wanted to do something different, something unique for his wife. Not just the ordinary trip to the store to get a card or flowers or a present. Something that had special meaning.
So he decided to ask his wife, Junanne. "What do you want for your anniversary gift?" Karl asked. "You name it and it's yours. I want you to take a couple of days to think about it and pray about it. Then I'll come back and get your answer.'"
True to his word, he came back for her response. And Junanne's answer was clear and decisive … and not at all what Karl was expecting.
"One full year without TV in our home," she said. "That's exactly what I'd like for our anniversary."
Karl swallowed hard. He thought about asking again, hoping for a different answer. He considered whether he had brain damage when he made the request. But he wanted to be a man of his word. If that is what she wanted, that was what he was going to do.
A million miles an hour
Before you declare her request unreasonable, before you assume Junanne was taking advantage of her husband's generosity, it is important to know why she asked what she did.
"Our lives were going a million miles an hour," Junanne recalls, "and it seemed like we would come home and we were so tired, we would do the necessary meal, then we'd sit in front of the TV. It almost became nightly. I was starting to get a little bit embittered that our down time always seemed to be in front of the television.
"I've always felt like that if I could share my heart and have time with my husband focusing on our relationship, having fun or improving it, that would make me happy. At the time, we were talking in front of the TV and we were together, but I felt like the time was not directly focused on improving our relationship or enjoying each other. A lot of people think they're spending time together but they're really not. Their marriage is just sitting in limbo. That's where we were."
It's not as though the Clausons were TV zombies. In fact, their television viewing—a few shows, the news, sporting events—would probably pale compared to the average American family. Still, they realized that the tube time was robbing their relationship of its fullness, and robbing their relationships with their children.
"I know Karl, and I know that he loves to do special things for me, so I knew he wouldn't respond angrily. Still, I knew that what I was asking for was hard. It definitely would have been simpler for him to just go buy something. Truthfully, I wasn't asking for us to turn off the TV. I was basically asking for us to work on our marriage. That's what I really wanted."
Not a pretty picture
Neither Karl nor Junanne would make any pretense that the TV fast was easy, especially during the first two weeks.
"I don't want to paint a pretty picture. The first couple of weeks were like methadone withdrawals," Karl admits. "I've never been a sit-com guy, but I am definitely the sports and news junkie. The first couple of weeks when I'd walk in the home, it was kind of eerie. Most people say they don't watch TV very much, but shut it off for a year and you'll find out how much TV you really do watch. That really shows up in the first couple of weeks."
Their two children, both in upper elementary school at the time, had their withdrawals, too. For the first few days they whined and claimed they had nothing to do. But as each day passed, Karl and Junanne noticed Kaben and Muriel getting creative with all kinds of things—projects, models, going outdoors, spending more time together playing games, and talking. In just a few days, it was becoming obvious that they didn't even miss their time in front of the tube. The decision was already proving itself to be a healthy move for the family.
In fact, revolutionary may be a more accurate description. They went to bookstores, let the kids purchase a book, then returned home to eat popcorn and read. They went on drives and used the time to talk and pray. As Karl remembers, "It ushered in a whole new era of intentional dating of our children."
Karl also used the time to bond with his son. After the initial total withdrawal from television, they made provisions to see special programming, as long as it was not at home.
"Kaben was a budding 10-year-old sports enthusiast. I decided to take in some key playoff games, but I'd make TV watching an event. We'd go to a sports café and watch on a big screen TV, or go over to someone's house."
The parent-child bonds weren't the only things being strengthened in the Clauson home. Karl and Junanne's relationship was at an all-time high.
"We started in that time dating each other once a week for fun, and another day a week getting together and talking about and evaluating the marriage—how we were doing with each other and what we might need to change. It was amazing how the little things that come together to create great chasms between couples were getting dealt with week by week. We really starting falling in love with each other more and more and were becoming better friends."
A happy wife
Karl was noticing the benefits, too.
"Godly men love to see their women rocketing, exploding with joy and fulfillment. Godly men love to see their women admire them. When I saw my wife's response, it made my sacrifice seem like no sacrifice at all. It takes the sting out of sacrifice when a woman is genuinely overjoyed."
The sacrifice was not wasted on Junanne.
"There were two things in our marriage that let me know that my husband really does love me. One was when I was sick for months and could barely do any of my responsibilities. This was the other. Giving up TV was something I knew was special to him and that he liked to unwind with after a long, busy day at work. It had a huge impact when I saw that he was willing to do this for me. It made me fall in love with him so much more."
At the end of the year, the Clauson home was very different, and so was their attitude toward the television when they brought it back. From the start they set clear guidelines for what they would watch and when, and have been following them ever since.
"By the end of that year, we had habits of doing other things in life," Junanne says. "We had more purposeful TV habits. It was more an event where the dad and the son would watch a special thing together. The kids might watch a couple of hours a week instead of seven or eight, because they had so many other things they enjoyed doing. Doing without TV for a year introduced them to so many other avenues. So it never got back to the point where it was before.
"Now we have a policy—no TV until responsibilities are done. Each Friday, Karl and I have a date where we evaluate how we did: Did we get enough communication time? Did we get enough time with Kaben? With Muriel? If not, we plug in things like going out to get smoothies or going on a drive as a family and talk and pray together.
The Clausons say turning off the television for a year isn't for everybody, but declaring a fast from TV is something that would benefit every family. Karl encourages others to consider how it would best work in their own family, but he assures that it can be done.
The clear benefit, say both Karl and Junanne, is redeemed time and rekindled relationships—communication and creativity.
"Unseized time normally goes to our weaknesses," says Karl. "TV is a thief, and it's stealing away our ability to create events with our children. We find ourselves now redeeming a ton more time."
"Time helps friendship," Junanne reminds. "Any quality friendship has quality time with it. Obedience to what Christ calls us to is always connected to our greater joy."
Karl responds, "It's an ultimate act of sacrifice. If we are to love our wife as Christ loves the Church—and that's what we're called to do—then anything we can do to demonstrate a willingness to sacrifice, I think, is met by any level-headed woman with rave reviews.
Copyright © 2005 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.