Within 24 hours of the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics, my almost 4-year-old daughter asked me if she could take a gymnastics class. Then she wanted to begin swimming lessons — finally. Then she asked if we could buy a horse. And just the other morning, she wanted to put on her sneakers so she could go “run like the fast girls” in the driveway.
We had the television tuned to the Olympic competitions for a couple of weeks, and since the games ended, I’ve found different replays and commentary available on Peacock that I’m sure we’ll put on to watch again.
With every sport we’ve watched, from speed climbing to fencing to artistic gymnastics to track and field events to my personal favorites, horse dressage and swimming, Rose sat riveted, asking all sorts of questions about the athletes, the game, and if she can try to do it herself.
I’ve got more videos than I can count of her attempting to do a cartwheel with Suni Lee’s floor routine playing in the background. As we watched the closing ceremonies, Rose said, “I loved learning all these sports. I want to try them all.”
There’s a desire in little kids to imitate what they see, whether it’s athletes competing at the Olympics, cartoon dogs from “Bluey” playing a game with their dad, or a song and dance routine from the latest Netflix show with kids who morph into ninjas to solve neighborhood problems.
They’re sponges, taking in what they see, hear, watch, read and absorbing it all and then turning around and repeating it, sometimes correctly, sometimes amusingly, but always with scary accuracy that makes me more closely watch the shows we put on and the songs we play.
The other day Rose dropped her cup of water, and as it splashed everywhere, she called herself a loser. I hurriedly told her she was of course not a loser, and then asked where she heard that word. When she said, “The mean bird in ‘Rio’ called another bird that,” I realized maybe we needed to take a break from that movie.
It’s not just kids who absorb, though. Young and impressionable, children take in sights and sounds and spit them back out, but adults do as well.
The company we keep, perhaps gossipy and mean-spirited, can influence our thoughts about others. The shows we watch, sometimes in stark contrast to what we believe as Catholics, can make us question if our faith is outdated or wrong.
The social media profiles we follow, sometimes making us jealous, forcing us to constantly compare ourselves to what so and so has or does, can drive us to a place of covetousness and lack of gratitude for our own blessings.
We have to be careful, making sure what we take in does not then, in turn, change the type of life we long to live or drag us further from our faith. Unless, of course, the things we take in — the things and people we allow to influence us — are leading us closer to holiness.
Then, by the grace of God, we want those things and people to help us become better, more prayerful, generous, virtuous people who can in turn positively influence others to pursue sanctity too.
As we are careful, watching closely what we absorb, we can be diligent in finding things that build us up, help grow our faith, and lead us to a vision of heaven as we live life on earth.
Whether the Olympics —the Beijing Winter Games just around the corner — or a favorite sitcom, a documentary, a Spotify playlist or the radio show that’s always on when we go pick up the kids from school, take stock of what you consume. Pay attention to what it’s doing in your life and remember you are a sponge that will put out in the world what you’ve taken in yourself.
Katie Prejean McGrady is an international Catholic speaker and author.
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