It is summer! Bring on the shorts, swimsuits, and salads. Nothing like sunshine to inspire outdoor exercise. But as we reign in excess empty carbs in the name of “beach body” do we also need to take the time to “cut the fat” for our spiritual health this summer?
In the book, “The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food,” Mama Bear notices that the cubs have settled into some unhealthy eating habits. After Papa Bear’s pants hit the “ripping point,” they become much more conscientious about what food the family eats. Sister Bear asks Dr. Grizzly, “About sweets and goodies-what harm do they do?” Dr. Grizzly replies, “Most of them aren’t very nourishing. Instead of helping build and strengthen our bodies, they just pile up as extra fat…And even worse-they fill you up, so you’re not hungry for the food your body really needs.”
Physical and spiritual health have a lot of parallels. They both require discipline and conscientiousness. We have to be aware of what we are putting in our bodies both physically (no mindless eating) and mentally (no mindless media). Comfort foods may have their place, at celebrations, for example, but you don’t want them taking the place of nutrition your body needs. It seems to me when looking at what’s available for entertainment there is a lot of junk food out there. The Sugar Balls and Choco-Chums Papa Bear struggles to give up could well be a trashy television program or magazine. You may have your own guilty pleasure that comes to mind. Whether getting caught up in YouTube videos of cats for an evening (did you see the ones where they get scared of cucumbers?) or a reality TV show like “The Bachelor,” for a season, entertainment has some value. But we should not allow our comforts to take the place of those things that are good for the soul. Entertainment should not upstage relationships. Relationships with other people and/or our relationship with God. Are we binge-watching Netflix when we should be calling home?
In college I would unwind with “The Bachelor” a reality TV show where a bunch of girls vie for the affection of one “Bachelor” and the dating field is narrowed down week by week before he proposes at the end. There were several of us that watched it and gushed over the unbelievable happenings. Fast forward to life with kids, occasionally I would still catch an episode, but I realized it is like Sweetsie-Cola (another Berenstain Bears reference). I don’t want my kids watching it because I know it is not good for them. Well, wait, if it isn’t good for them and it isn’t good for me why would I want to watch it? Does it do harm or is it harmless entertainment? Well, let’s ponder, is there any better way I could be spending my time during a three-hour finale?
There are so many great books out there and yet secular TV can be a lure. Much like secular radio, it is fun to listen to sometimes, but for the most part I choose Salt & Light Catholic Radio. It is actually a staple of my spiritual nourishment. It seems even only listening 30-60 minutes a day I always hear some juicy tidbit. And just like when you cut that extra sugar out of your diet; you may crave Sweetsie-Cola for a while, but eventually you see it as the empty calories it is and it is no longer as hard to resist.
“The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”
~Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
What do we have on our summer reading and movie list? What about our children’s? Is it comfort food or is it something more wholesome? Are we spending time in spiritual exercise, such as prayer? Or only seeking excellence in our physical health, and settling for mediocre in our spiritual health? There is so much pressure to be perfect in everything in life and yet we know we have to balance. Social media and the internet connects us to so much information, but we end up less connected to each other. Sometimes on Facebook I feel like everyone is doing it better. So, I certainly don’t want anyone to think I’m asking them to put one more thing on their plate. But our mental and spiritual health hinge on us being as choosy about our family’s media consumption as we are about what’s on their plate. I remember the peanut butter slogan from my childhoood, “Choosy Moms choose Jif.” What else do Choosy Moms choose for their children? Books like Chime Travelers and shows like VeggieTales? I wonder if this metaphor is the foundation for VeggieTales, the animated children’s television series that uses vegetable characters to promote Christian virtue in a creative and comical way. VeggieTales are a great way for young kids to watch something “healthy.”
The recent rise in suicide rates is an indication of the mental health crisis some Americans are experiencing. I know I am not alone in wondering if it isn’t as much (or more) of a spiritual health crisis? In secular society, there is nothing that can replace God. Our lives are valuable only because we are made in the image and likeness of God. Our worth is not derived from our net income, our perfect family, or anything else. As Fulton Sheen put it, “God doesn’t love us because we are valuable. We are valuable because He loves us.” God loves us and there is nothing we can do about it! What is especially alarming to me is the increase in suicide in the youth. The rate for girls aged 10-14 tripled between 1999 and 2014, going from 50 to 150 (1). Can you imagine being the parent of one of those 150 girls? I live in a state that is chronically on the list for highest suicide rates. So it hits close to home and the tragedy of it all breaks my life-loving heart! This is the canary in the coal mine; we’ve got to bring God back. I think all the STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) promotion is good. But what I would really like to see is a focus on ‘STEEM. Self-esteem.
My daughter has been a part of American Heritage Girls (AHG) for the past two years. This is such an amazing scouting organization rooted in Christian values that cultivates virtue in our girls. Yet few have even heard of AHG. They are about: Faith. Service. Fun. Such a combination for self-discipline and self-esteem!
As we relax this summer let’s be sure to keep something with substance on our reading list, and limit mindless media consumption! What’s a good book? According to Archbishop Fulton Sheen, “Any book which inspires us to lead a better life is a good book.” Here are some books that I read last summer or have been recommended to me for this summer. Feel free to add more titles in the comments. It takes more effort to be mindful, no doubt!
- He Leadeth Me by Walter J Ciszek, S.J. “An Extraordinary Testament of Faith” by a priest who served a 25-year sentence in a Siberian work camp post WWII.
- Boys in A Boat by Daniel James Brown, Nine Americans and their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
- Glow Kids by Nicholas Kardaras, Ph.D. How Screen Addiction is Hijacking our Kids-and How to Break the Trance.
- Night Lights by Phyllis Theroux, Bedtime Stories for Parents in the Dark
- People are Good by Anna Marie McHargue, 100 True Stories to Restore your Faith in Humanity.
- My Sisters the Saints by Colleen Carroll Campbell, A Spiritual Memoir that is completely contemporary and totally timeless.
- Champions of the Rosary by Donald Calloway, MIC, The History and Heroes of a Spiritual Weapon.
- The End of the Present World by Father Charles Arminjon, The book that inspired the Little Flower over a 100 years ago only recently available in English. “Reading this book was one of the greatest graces of my life!” — St. Thérèse of Lisieux
“Occupy your mind with good thoughts, or the enemy will fill them with bad ones. Unoccupied, they cannot be.” ~ St. Thomas More