As a child, I was given a series of videos that followed the life of a boy as he struggles to grow up and embrace a Christian life. In one of the episodes, he sets up an elaborate plan to sneak out to a movie his parents have forbidden him to see. Despite escaping to see the film, he finds himself unhappy at having watched it. His father’s explanation of why they forbade him in the first place has always stayed with me: “It’s garbage in, garbage out: you’ll never get it out of your mind.”
On a physical level, we know that to be true. We know that eating McDonald’s every day for a week means excess weight, bad skin, and lethargy; and eating it every day for a year means risk of serious heart disease.
But what about on a spiritual level? Are we conscious about what we consume in our hearts and minds and souls? Do we consider ourselves immune from the effects of what we imbibe?
It might be glaringly obvious that things like p*rnography or media that celebrate graphic violence should be avoided. But are we careful to consider what we consume on a more “regular” level?
The truth is, the kinds of things we listen to, watch, or read on a daily basis are formative. They shape us: our beliefs, our instincts, and our reactions.
Someone who constantly listens to a media source reporting with a particular political slant will fail to hear news from the other side. He or she may begin to think that there is no news from the other side.
Someone who studies science without reference to philosophy or faith may begin to believe that only science can answer our most profound questions; that there is no truth beyond the material universe.
Someone who regularly watches Hollywood romances may begin to think that self-sacrifice and marital fidelity aren’t as important as chemistry and passion. In fact, maybe they aren’t important at all.
Most of us don’t notice these changes happening in ourselves. They are gradual, unconscious shifts that happen over long periods of time.
Why? Because so much of what we consume is done thoughtlessly.
How often do we stop to evaluate the news we listen to or the stories we hear? How often do we think carefully about the underlying message, the biases, the belief systems that may be in deep conflict with our own? How often do we pause to consider if our “input” is so narrow as to blind us to the wider reality we are a part of?
It’s tempting to just let ourselves be swept along.
But what if we chose to be conscious consumers?
Just as with our bodies, if we want to care for our souls, we have to be attentive to our intake.
We all know that if we want to eat well, we should fill our refrigerator with fruits and vegetables and our cupboards with healthy snacks. We’re less like to order takeout every night when there’s a good option ready and available.
Our souls are no different. The best way to care for our them is to surround ourselves with good things.
Soul-care starts with an awareness of our own limitations. We all have varying levels of sensitivity: some of us are more easily impacted than others, and we need to know ourselves well in order to be honest about where we draw our personal boundaries. (We all know someone who can manage more cheeseburgers than we can!)
It continues with an appreciation for how we were created: to love goodness, seek truth, pursue beauty. Our souls flourish when we follow these paths. Do we let them guide our consumption?
We don’t need to reach for junk if goodness is easily available. And we’re less tempted to limit ourselves to one way of being when there are many good options to choose from.
We can choose to limit the amount of news we consume, and we can choose what kind of news we consume.
We can choose not only our course of study, but the context for that study.
We can choose the stories that shape us.
The best part is that the more we choose good things, the more we will want to choose good things. The more we eat healthy foods, the less we want junk food. Good habits build good habits. (It’s tied to the compound effect.)
If we shift our mindset to being conscious of what we consume, we can more easily choose to fill our souls with good things – leading to greater happiness and more peace.