I read books because I love them, not because I think I should read them.
-Simon Van Booy
For as long as I can remember, I have been a voracious reader. Our local library always had a summer reading program where kids were rewarded based on the number of books they read. In the summer between my 5th and 6th grade year I read thirty books. Mostly Nancy Drew. I walked around my house with my nose in a book, artfully dodging furniture and objects on the floor without ever taking my eyes from the page. I read myself to sleep, awakening the next morning with the book still open. On my face.
I LOVE to read, but as the years have gone by I realized something important and disturbing about myself. Though I continued to compile a library of books and would tell you that one of my favorite hobbies was reading, the truth is I was reading very little. In fact, it would take months to get through a book.
I wrestled with this, at first blaming busyness and the season of life that I was in. Sure, that was part of it. But I had to take a long, hard look at how I was using my time and be brutally honest with myself.
I spent more time on social media than I spent reading good books that blessed my heart and mind. I could tell you what Susie had for dinner last night and that Jane was now low-carb. I could also tell you that Carrie’s toddler refuses to wear socks and that Mary’s son is a star pee-wee football player and sports a custom pair of cleats. Nothing wrong with any of these things, right? Except that they were gradually eating away something that had always been very important to me: Immersing myself in a beautiful book filled with rich language and beautiful prose. Allowing my eyes to rest from the blue light of a computer screen and settle on the Times New Roman font evenly spaced across the off-white pages of a novel. Feeding my imagination with images of cities far away and encouragement to live simply and live well.
Instead, I was scrolling mindlessly, taking in tidbits of information that would be forgotten within days and training my mind to operate on what I believe to be a very shallow level in the interest of being “connected” and “in the know.”
So I stepped back. I didn’t delete the apps from my phone or deactivate my accounts. Extremes have never worked to break bad habits in my life. Instead, I began to replace the bad habits with good ones. It started with keeping a book in my purse. At first it was largely ignored as I checked my phone in waiting rooms or parking lots, but the mere presence of that book literally called to me. Eventually, I put the phone down and reached for the book. It felt silly, at first, to have to be so intentional about this but that is exactly what needed to happen. I had to make a choice.
A simple choice.
Over days and weeks the choice became easier. Reaching for the book began to feel normal again. Reading in my easy chair became my go-to. My desk, now organized, has become a place of study and journaling and creativity that it had failed to be for several years. And the result of making one choice at a time, of slowly replacing a bad habit with a good one, is that my stress level has dropped tremendously and I have the head room free to enjoy silence and give God a blessed chance to speak.
And speak, He has.
My relationship with Him is growing every single day as I make one choice at a time. My prayer life has deepened and the Word of God has come alive. I have read more books in the past three months than I had read in, probably, the last three years.
Social media no longer sucks me in like it used to. I can put it down. In fact, I am more hesitant to pick it up because I can feel the difference in myself after and hour in a good book vs. an hour of mindless scrolling. Facebook does so many good things, reminding me of birthdays and anniversaries and helping me keep in touch with dear friends who I would have otherwise lost touch with many years ago. But it is also addictive and endless.
And there are few things more satisfying than reaching the end.
We are now in the midst of the most beautiful season of the year, where we stop and give thanks to God and prepare to welcome anew in our hearts our Savior. Nothing is more important right now than really immersing ourselves in the wonder and glory of the Holidays! But if we are not careful, we can allow distractions to suck away precious hours that we can never get back. It’s not worth it. I want better for us, don’t you? I want my kids to see the value of meditation over the crazy beautiful story of the Nativity and get lost in the shadows cast by the candlelight in our family room. I want my life to be filled with music and poetry and scripture so that it drowns out the lies the enemy throws at me in weak moments. I want God to be honored in how I spend my time, down to the precious minutes of “down time” He sprinkles throughout my days. If I’m always looking down I will miss it and I will miss HIM.
So here are a few tips for making the change from screen to page:
- Be honest with yourself. How much time to you really spend on social media? Don’t give in to the temptation to “round down!”
- The best way to stop a bad habit is to replace it with a good one. What do you know you should be doing when you habitually reach for your mobile device? In my case, it was read. So bring along whatever it is…book, planner, etc. Keep it near you and convenient so that you don’t have an excuse.
- Ask yourself why you keep going online? Ann Voskamp has a printable that I posted on my refrigerator with suggestions for things to do before clicking. It was convicting to realize how five minutes here and there can truly make a difference in the level of productivity I achieve on any given day!
- Turn off your notifications. This really helped me! Something about what I call “the little red drops of blood” with flashing numbers screaming, “Attention! You have posts to read! Hey, you! Look at me right now!” would make me crazy and I felt like I had to keep them cleared out. So I turned them off. Simple. And that goes for your email inbox too. That thing can be a beast. If I had a nickel for every minute I spent deleting junk mail…
- Start each day early, making time with the Lord first priority. Open your Bible before you open Facebook. Linger over the Word of God, read different translations and compare, maybe creatively journal the words that God uses to pierce your heart. But keep it simple. Prayer is not complicated, and neither is reading the Bible. It’s a love letter, not a textbook.
- Work before play. An old friend told me this was what she taught her kids when training them to clean up after themselves. (She was much more successful at that than I have been, by the way. Judge away. It is a parenting fail I humbly own.) As adults we can model that adage by choosing not to “play” (go online for pleasure) until all of our work is done. House clean? Dishes done? Laundry put away? Quiet time spent with God? Great. Then reward yourself…but resist the urge to go straight to screen time! Start with a good book. Light a candle and wrap up in a soft blanket. Get really comfy in that big chair and see if, an hour later, you still care about what Susie made for dinner. Chances are, your book is much more interesting.
Now go. Feast and rest and love and enjoy all the beautiful bounty of this season! Look your loved ones in the eye and be all in, not wasting a single moment. Don’t give in to distractions and complications. It’s not worth it! Have a blessed and SIMPLE Thanksgiving!