“All we do is lie and wait
All we do is feel the fade
I’ve been upside down
I don’t wanna be the right way round
Can’t find paradise on the ground”
– Oh Wonder
I discovered the song quoted above when I was a junior in highschool, and I was obsessed from my first listen. It was one of those songs you love on every level: the vocals, the composition, the lyrics, and the instruments. I was so obsessed with it, I played until I should have been sick of it, but I never did find that point. Instead, the more I played it, the more I wanted to play it. I found myself humming it in the middle of math class, during my after-school workouts, and before bed.
Before I actually researched the lyrics, I thought the phrase was “I’ll find paradise on the ground.” For someone who can be a bit idealistic, this was the most exciting, intriguing statement in the world: I will find paradise, here in this life. Turns out, though, it was the exact opposite; the artist “can’t find paradise on the ground.” I was a bit disappointed, so I would just sing my version of the song in my head.
Though I don’t hum the song 24/7 anymore, I still appreciate that one-liner (even the original version), because it so simply describes the human condition: trying to find paradise in the here and now. Pleasure-seeking is inevitable to humanity in any life stage, and college students are not exempt from this. In fact, I think the search is even at a high during the collegiate season, when we are at the peak of self-discovery. College students look for paradise just like anyone else; in friend groups, romance, fraternities and sororities, campus ministries, classes, experiences, etc.
When I found out I was wrong about the real lyrics, I was disappointed, but also intrigued by the insight it offered to my generation. I don’t think Oh Wonder was writing about something unique to them. Instead, I suspect the song is instead about our generation as a whole, dying to click on the next thing, to watch the latest episode, to turn the next page, to listen to the newest song, trying to drown out the disappointment of their reality.
Though addiction to drugs as alcohol aren’t as accepted as a society at large (and especially in Christian circles), media proves one way to escape reality for a moment. As a plus, no one really seems to raise concern when we find ourselves addicted to a certain media. Be it social media, music, movies, Pinterest, blogs, Youtube, books, etc., media has a hold on many a twenty-first century college student.
The screen promises to make life more exciting, more colorful, more palatable if you will, offering us something that we just can’t seem to find when we look up from our phones or laptops. It often causes us to live in nostalgia of lives we never had and drown out the heartache of helpless disappointment with the media, locking ourselves away from our realities.
“All we do is chase the day.” – Oh Wonder
Funny and relatable memes capture this stamp of our generation with quotes like these:
“People say life is a thing but… Netflix.”
“I like characters more than I like my friends.”
“My dog is better than people.”
Or, put even more poshly from late Portegues writer and poet, Fernando Pessoa in “The Book of Disquiet”:
“Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life.”
This phenomenon isn’t unique to our generation; modern media just gives us the tools to fully indulge our escapism. The ache for a reality better than the one we can perceive has echoed since the Garden of Eden. Since Eve’s first bite of the fruit, our hearts have been in starvation-mode for something more than “the fade” that Oh Wonder describes. This “something more” is full communion with God, to walk in the garden with our Creator, to be with God in His fullness.
Oh Wonder is right. The ground was cursed after the fall, and so we can’t find paradise on the ground.
In search of this paradise, we still taste-test all the fruits of the ground: the fruit of approval, the fruit of appearance, the fruit of career success, the fruit of money, the fruit of adrenaline, the fruit of nature, the fruit of athletics, the fruit of lust and sex, the fruit of social approval, the fruit of entertainment, the fruit of family, the fruit of substance abuse… each one seems to work for a second, maybe even for a season, but these fruits eventually fail. They grow bitter and decay. Though they tasted so sweet at first, they eventually fall from the tree and rot.
Even if you are a do-good, no-drugs-or-alcohol college student, you can turn to this escapism, too. You aren’t exempt. There are those fruits that don’t look so bad from the outside. In fact, they look desirable, good for satisfaction, good for wisdom–just like Adam and Eve’s fruit did (Genesis 3:6).
There are types of escapism and addictions that can be hidden behind words like “nerdy” and “a book fanatic” or “history buff” or “Star Wars geek” or “sports fanatic” or “gamer.” These type of escapisms are socially accepted in many Christian circles, because it’s not bad stuff like pornography and drunkenness.
It’s looking for a new fantasy adventure book to read, because places like Hogwarts are so much better than our world.
It’s checking the football score every two minutes, because my favorite team never lets me down.
It’s waiting for the next album to come out, so I can drown out all my feelings with headphones.
It’s dying for the next video game to come out, because I’ve already mastered this one, and it isn’t doing the magic of distraction anymore.
It’s looking for the Netflix show to watch, because I hate socializing and facing the rejection of others. At least I can relate to the characters in The Office. At least I can imagine I am one of the characters, like I belong for a little bit.
It’s sometimes even “I can’t wait for the next mission trip” because for a little while, I can escape my own problems and lack of intimacy with God; I can focus on someone else’s.
And no one says anything, because it’s so often easily hidden and it’s accepted. It’s not even questioned. It’s honestly considered normal. We are really good at deceiving ourselves, which is why we must pray like the Psalmist (Psalm 119:29, NLT):
Keep me from lying to myself; give me the privilege of knowing your instructions.
The escapist moments of media and whatnot might taste so sweet, but let me gently remind you: these are not real. You can dream all you want (I’ve done it myself), but Hogwarts is a make-believe place. Football seasons come to an end. Fantasy fiction is exactly that: fantasy and fiction. That artist isn’t going to make music forever. Your athletic career will end eventually. The video games will stop at some point. The episodes, beyond being fake, will have a final season.
You can run from it forever, but look up and look around: this is the life you have been given.
And so it rings: can’t find paradise on the ground.
But in midst of this, I hear Christ’s promising words:
…today you will be with me in paradise.
Luke 23:43b, NIV
I realize this verse might seem to be used out of its context, but allow me to explain. The criminal who Jesus was addressing was facing his reality: he was a deep sinner, in need of deep redemption and the way he did life was not what he had hoped. So he didn’t ignore the pain or run away from his emptiness, he simply asked Christ if he could leave behind this disappointing world of sin and fallenness, and be with Him in his kingdom. Christ granted his request, referring to God’s kingdom as paradise.
The criminal-turned-saint dies soon after, but had he lived beyond that hour, his life would be changed. His reality had been altered; he was no longer criminal— he was a son of God. There would be moments when life got the best of him, no doubt; but ultimately, his truest reality would overcome his darkest hours: God had entered into His story, in his here and now.
The reality is yes, we will not find satisfaction on Earth completely, because we are not yet completely with God. But follow this criminal’s example, and don’t try to escape reality so quickly, friends. The truest reality, beyond what our tempestuous hearts can see, is a much different story that this dreary story we paint our lives to be. Paradise is here, if we choose it.
It’s found in letting go of your plan for romance, and asking Him to walk with you today.
It’s found in putting down the book for a moment, and holding fast to Him in the most ordinary parts of the day.
It’s found in cutting off the social media, and sharing His great rescue with the person sitting next to you.
It’s found in putting down Snapchat at the end of a hard day and emptying yourself before Him and meditating on and feeding on the Word of the God-man who would dare to leave His paradise, in order to bring humanity into it.
It’s found in unplugging the gaming system, and pulling out His Word after a long, hard day.
And in this, He will equip you on a journey to real paradise in the here and now: communion with His Holy Spirit, the truest reality.
As we wait for the return of Christ, He has equipped us with every spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 1:7) to take on this life with full-force, to take on the hard days, to give Him your burdens, to let your guards down in humility, to be taken advantage of and still have hope, to engage this world and all its nastiness and come out victorious. Maybe our lives will play out differently than we imagined, but He has equipped us to live in victory, if we stop numbing our pain and bringing it to Him.
The reality is if we stop hunting for the next most colorful fruit, we might find that He has been waiting for us to call out to Him to quench our thirst this entire time. We have been given all the tools you need to engage this dreary world with hopeful eyes and a cup overflowing with joy.
Will we use them, college students?
The reality for those that put their faith in Christ is that the God who spoke bones from ash is pursuing our beating hearts every second of every single day, and He offers you life in the here and now.
Now, dare to believe this reality, and ask yourself:
Why would I want to escape that?
Disclaimer: There is nothing inherently wrong with fantasy fiction, dating, Netflix, social media, music, or anything else I listed. Nor is there anything wrong with being a “nerd” or a “book fanatic.” I take part in most all of these activities! It’s just when we let ourselves turn to these things as a source of emotional-drowning vs. a source of recreation/a way to relax/a hobby, it becomes a problem, because we aren’t bringing forth our emotions to the true fountain of life that can quench all our longings and handle all of our insecurities, fears, etc.
It all goes back to this question:
For what purpose are you using the media/art source?
So don’t for a second think that I think you’re terrible and awful for doing these things. (Who cares what I think anyway? Haha.) It’s the intention behind it. And only really you and Jesus can come to terms with that for you. Only me and Jesus can really know that for me.
But, if you’re reading this, and you know this is something you struggle with, I encourage you to check out one of my favorite blogger’s post Why I No Longer Read Fiction, where she discusses her motives in quitting a draining habit and replaced it with a more life-giving one. Maybe you’ll feel inspired to take your desires before the Lord and do a cleanse from your “accepted” weakness! I know I’ve had to do this before, and the Lord really drew me close through it. 🙂 Best wishes.