This fall, I did a three-month news fast. My teens had been complaining. They felt like they were being driven home from school by a little NPR host. When I quit my daily news intake for a while, they were relieved, not only because I wasn’t delivering daily civics lessons, but because I was a better listener when I wasn’t overflowing with factoids.
If you and I saw each other regularly, you would know within five minutes what I’ve been reading or watching. I'll tell you a joke from the standup special I watched, or share an insight from the book I'm reading. I might even deliver a five-minute speech I memorized from a the podcast I listened to. On the dark side, if I've been taking in information that is ticking me off, you might want to postpone lunch for a few days until I've cooled off. I’m an extrovert, a teacher, and a Two on the Enneagram (the helper). My first instinct is to tell you what I know and hope it changes your life and the world for the better.
It’s also because I am a human, and what goes into my heart is going to come out of me, one way or another. And the same goes for you, no matter your temperament is.
This is such a critical thing for mothers to understand. What we allow inside our hearts, minds and souls will make or break our ability to be present to our children’s emotional and spiritual needs. Some input will help us be present with our people, and other input will drag us away from them.
Jesus said, “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” Proverbs says to guard our hearts because everything we do flows from it. As mothers, we have to do what Paul said, to feed our minds with what is good, noble, true, excellent and praiseworthy. This doesn’t mean shutting our eyes to what is going on in the world, or denying harsh or sad realities. But it does mean to intentionally feed our hearts and minds with beauty, goodness and light so we can overflow with those things.
So I want to share with you a few things I’ve learned about media consumption, and what helps me stay close to Jesus, out of despair, present with family, more pleasant to be around, but still in touch with the world. I don't always follow my own rules. When I don't, it's bad, babies. But when I do, they work smashingly. Here goes:
1. Think of your optional media consumption as a mental health tool. Read books and watch shows and movies that are funny, true and beautiful, my beauties. Laughing helps produce endorphins, and stories that end with hope help us feel hopeful. Education programming keeps our brains agile. Also, embrace repetition: watching stories you know and love actually soothes the nervous system. This is one of the reasons little children like reading the same books over and over again; it's comforting.
I was a surprised recently when a group of moms – who are all overworked and sleep-deprived, said their favorite TV shows were “Game of Throne” and “Breaking Bad.” I didn’t clutch my pearls in moral shock, I swear. But I wondered how series that are dark, violent and sexually explicit could be congruent with waking up early in the morning and being the sunshine in your toddlers’ life.
Self-assessments are key here. Make it a practice to pause after anything you read, watch or listen to and ask yourself:
How do I feel after consuming this media?
What do I have to give as a result of consuming this media?
2. If you’re a social media-lover, curate carefully. It’s not superficial to un-follow “friends” whose posts make you feel consistently jealous or irritated. You don't want to live in an echo-chamber where the only input you get affirms your opinions, but you also don't have to torture yourself online. You should read books and articles that teach you things and challenge your biases, but you don't have to follow accounts that upset you on a daily basis.
For a PHD in Social media intentionality, you can create different accounts to help you stay present. If you have a business, don't mix that feed with pleasure. I have one Instagram account on which I post deep thoughts, helpful quotes, and calls to action; on it, I follow my favorite pastors, social justice leaders, psychologists, and friends. A scroll as @amandaandersonwriter is going to educate, encourage and often challenge me. It’s truly a positive force in my life. But I also have @sew.help.me.amanda, on which I only post pretty things, sewing, and creative projects. Here I follow accounts dedicated to sewing, crafts and gardening, plus the guilty pleasure @zillowgonewild and the always amusing @accidentallywesanderson. So, if I need a total beauty brain break where I won’t get an ounce of news or opinion, that’s the feed I scroll.
3. Edit your news and opinion intake mercilessly. Listen to voices that stir compassion rather than rage. If I had my way, not a single one of you would watch a single cable news program ever again, because on both sides the bias is too strong, the reporting is inaccurate, and so much of the programming is designed to make you afraid or angry. If you feel called to care about current events like I do (if you really don’t, that’s okay), please check out this podcast: Sharon Says So episode 133. Consume Smarter: Recognizing News Media Bias with Vanessa Otero. This podcast helped me understand the difference between bias and reliability, and how to recognize facts from analysis. Knowing this helps me stay present in realty, and keeps me from being emotionally manipulated by what I read.
4. Consume news through this lens: What do I need to know to do God’s will for me in the world? We are surrounded by sorrow and problems that need solving. There’s no denying that. And I don’t believe we can be stewards of Christ while being ignorant of what is going on in our world. Yet each of us is limited, and we can’t possibly engage with every trauma and tragedy, nor be well-educated on every issue. Is God calling you to be an educated voter? A justice advocate? To write your congresswoman an email? To give money to a cause? To pray? Some of us are called to more public platforms; many of us are not. So learn enough to do your part in your community, and don’t flood your mind so much that you can’t concentrate on the people who are absolutely in your jurisdiction: your spouse, kids, and closest loved ones.
Whenever I am going to speak in public or post something serious, I pray Psalm 19:14: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.” I should also be praying this as a mom. I add this, “May what enters my heart through the means of my eyes and ears, be beneficial, Lord. May what overflows from my mouth be good for other’s hearts also.” For you, and for me, Amen.