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Optimal Consumption

Hey, I don’t want to waste your time. If you’re not really that interested in becoming spiritually fit, you should skip this post. In fact, I will be so not offended if you close this tab right now. But, if you decide to venture on, I want you to know there’s a possibility I may offend you. I’m pretty sure I offended myself just writing this! I’m not trying to call you out; I’m trying to coach you up. If we want to live a spiritually fit life, we must be willing to change even the smallest things. And by small, I don’t mean insignificant, I mean seemingly harmless. Let’s take a look at how our bodies function in the consumption of our spiritual lives.

First, let me define spiritual consumption. This isn’t something you eat or drink, those are both physical. Spiritual consumption is what’s filling your mind and your soul, and the gateways to both are the eyes and the ears. Essentially, the world around you is offering all kinds of content for you to consume, and all types of content providers. From podcasts to subscription services to social media, you literally have more content available to you than you ever have before. And believe it or not, all of it has an effect on your spiritual life.

Let me give you a working example, which has been researched and validated in more than one study. Let’s take the lovely news feed notifications on our phones. Who among us hasn’t seen the screen light up only to be invited to watch a fight in the mall at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, or a passenger brawl with a flight attendant? When you casually click those links and watch the content, something is happening in your brain. It’s a process known as desensitization. Neurologically, your brain is trying to figure out how to get you to look at less content like this. It is, trust me. That weird feeling in your gut you have or used to have when you saw violence is your body’s way of saying something isn’t right. The brain actually downregulates certain receptors which result in less of a “buzz” when you watch.

But here’s what we do. Instead of recognizing the unhealthy spiritual effects of what we consume, we chase the “buzz” by trying to consume more of it. Before long, you’ve binged the whole series, or your social media recognizes your new consumption pattern and starts offering you more violence or sales or sex or content or whatever is desensitizing you. For some of you, it’s simply never running out of content. All you want to do is keep scrolling to see what you’re missing, but you fly by the posts more obsessed with scrolling than reading. Next thing you know, you’re an angrier person, you spend money you don’t have, you pursue intimacy outside the bedroom, or you stay up late so no one knows your binging habit. On the outside you may appear totally fine, but inside your soul is sending you some smoke signals that trouble is on the way.

The great news is that downregulation can be reversed! They proved this in chronically obese people who had no interest in exercising. Researchers found because of their high exposure to food, these people had desensitized the receptors also responsible for stimulating exercise. When they reduced their food intake and slowly started exercising, despite a lack of interest, their receptors ‘woke up’ and over time became stimulated by exercise again. The same thing can happen to your soul. Try taking a daily or weekly inventory of your spiritual consumption. Do you notice any signs of desensitization? Do you find yourself overconsuming certain things more than you used to? If the answer is yes, then start to cut back. I find the easiest way to do that is with replacement. Replacement leads to restoration. All you need to do is replace what you’re consuming with something else. Instead of a few hours of mindless TV every night, try reading two nights a week or going without screens even one night a week. I have friends who set timers on their social media apps. When the time is up, the app locks out and they’re done until tomorrow. Again, this stuff might sound insignificant, but to an athlete in pursuit of fitness, all the little things matter.

Here’s why I said this article isn’t for everyone – because many people don’t want to think of these kinds of consumption patterns as spiritually unhealthy. And to be honest, if you don’t have a quality spiritual program of daily time with God in His word and with others, these tweaks aren’t going to take you anywhere. But, if you’re committed to a journey of spiritual fitness, and you’re looking for ways to enjoy more of the presence of God, these may be just the adjustments you need to live a life of Shalom.

Questions for Reflection:

When you consider your own content consumption patterns, do you find any that may be the result of desensitization?

Can you think of a consumption pattern you changed in order to spend more time with God? If so, what was it?

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