We’re down to the final weeks of 2016, which always gets me in the mood to have deep thoughts– thoughtful reflections on the year that is passing, hopeful plans for the year to come (although with another baby on the way, I’m definitely continuing my “non-resolutions” approach to the new semester).
The big theme I’ve kept coming back to over the past few months, and the practice I hope to develop even more thoughtfully in this new year the habit of mindful input.
As a culture, we’re very in tune with the connection between our physical input and output– when I eat X, I feel Y; when I avoid X, I can accomplish Y. We wear our food preferences as proud badges of identity: I’m a foodie, I’m paleo, I’m gluten-free.Our “splurges” on a piece of holiday fudge or a festive cocktail are carefully considered and compensated for accordingly in the next day’s workout. We make no apologies for snobbery- who wants to be the one on the record defending processed, non-organic, artificially flavored so-called food?
Striving for purity in my food intake is not actually high on my priority list (because, Dr Pepper, among many other things). But I’ve found the comparisons helpful as I’ve grown increasingly convinced of the importance of taking more responsibility for the diet of my mind.
Information is so readily available, it’s easy to go days and weeks without ever having to feel “hungry” mentally- I’ve snacked on social media feeds, clicked on articles about parenting and politics, listened to that podcast that everyone was buzzing about, watched that show that Netflix recommended, skimmed the headlines on my news app, read the book I snagged on a Kindle deal, glanced through thousands of pins and photos like so many handfuls of M&Ms. Having a smartphone in my hot little hands is like being at a 24-7 party buffet for my mind. (There are nourishing options on the table, of course, but who ever gets past the Chex Mix and mini sausages?)
If I think about it that way, it’s no wonder my brain is simultaneously overstimulated and unsatisfied. One of the most influential things I read this past year was Alan Jacobs’ article “Habits of Mind in an Age of Distraction,” which, ironically, I stumbled upon in my Facebook news feed.
Jacobs cautions: “[The church] cannot allow our habits and practices to be determined by the massive multinational corporations that control our technologies, and have their own agendas for how we use them, agendas that care nothing for the development of true personhood in Christ.”
Related is the admonition of Paul in Philippians 4: “Whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, praiseworthy– think about these things…practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
Peace. Wholeness. A mind– well nourished, thoughtfully fed, is a mind at peace, just like a body fueled by a moderate, healthy diet.
It’s not as simple as saying, “I need to read my Bible more, get a dumb phone, and not watch the nasty stuff on Netflix.” It means paying attention to the balance of everything I take in, and monitoring my own reaction to each element.
What kinds of articles are encouraging and uplifting to me, and which make me feel discontent, unsatisfied, or perpetually guilty? (Sometimes it’s Christian writers talking about contentment that make me feel the worst!)
What podcasts, feeds, or playlists energize my creativity or calm my mind, and which ones just add to the noise in my house and in my head?
Am I taking time to read long articles that challenge my thinking and my practices?
Am I making space for reading books–not just easy fluff, but a good variety of ideas, styles, and themes?
And while everything I consume will not be not overtly “spiritual” in nature, am I keeping a balance, and filtering everything through the lens of truth?
And when I do want to veg out, do the shows or apps I spend time with leave me feeling truly rested, or kind of gross and hung over?
The goal of all this is lofty– continuing “the development of true personhood in Christ,” as Jacobs put it, remembering that I am not just a consumer and screen-watcher, but a whole person with a soul to be fed.
So now I’m praying and planning for 2017 to be a year of nourishing, rich soul food. And I’m trying to start right away– I’ve got a stack of good books waiting for me beside my favorite chair (and I’ve found they’re especially delightful with a bowl of ice cream in hand!).