At the end of last year, I received the images from our recent maternity lifestyle session. I adored looking through photograph after photograph of the last pictures we would take as a family of four, and yet, I kept going back to one particular picture. In this very candid photo, my husband and daughter are sharing a tender moment. I am just off to the left side of them, and although it appears that I am somewhat listening to their sweet little conversation, my eyes are glued to my iPhone.

Questions began to flood my mind…..

Why was I staring at my phone?

What was I looking at that was more important than the sweet moment to the right of me?

How often does my family see me do this?

The fact I had reached for my phone during a family photo session was writing on the wall: it was clearly a habit to grab my phone when I had a free moment.

For the next couple of weeks, I began to take note of how often I let my phone, specifically social media, grab my attention. My days are busy managing a household with three children 6 and under, and my free time is minimal and rather fragmented at best—but just how much of that time ends up devoted to a mindless screen? I wanted a way to measure it.

So at the beginning of 2017, I embarked on a personal challenge. I wanted to train my mind to grab a book rather than reach for my phone. I knew that this would be the easiest way for me to break the habit, as sheer willpower rarely works for me. I needed to create a new healthy habit to replace the old one.

I began bringing a book with me to all the places in which my normal inclination would be to glance at my phone. I took a book to the carpool line and the playground. I read while my kids played in the library preschool room. I read on the porch while they jumped on the trampoline and in the doctor’s office waiting room. I read while I nursed the baby and while the kids had their rest time. If it was an inappropriate time to read, I decided it would also be an inappropriate time to look at my phone.

This wasn’t a break from social media–I could still use it and check it. I just wanted to use it intentionally and after having decided to do so, instead of out of sheer habit. Before I scrolled, I trained myself to read first. And you can probably guess what happened: usually, the pages sucked me in and I forgot about my phone, caught up in the enjoyment of an actual book. I even eventually stopped having my phone in my hands at all times. I would realize I hadn’t looked at it for hours and never even missed it.

By mid-February I had read 8 books. I thought I had very little time in my days, but all those little snippets of time had added up to enough time to read more books than I read all of last year.

As I write this, it is mid-April. We are 15 weeks into the year, and I am on my 18th book. I have read an array of fiction and nonfiction, memoirs, adventures, and mysteries. My heart has been encouraged by Christian writers and my mind has been captivated by talented storytellers. I look forward to the moments in the day when I can grab my current read.

Yes, there are still moments when I am tired or anxious and I grab my phone before I read. There were also a couple of weeks of sickness during the winter season where scrolling won. But I am thankful that I feel accomplishment at what I set out to do: I am way more conscious of when I grab my phone and I am reading more than I have in years.

I don’t want to descend into legalism or set a standard for myself that isn’t set forth in scripture, but I do want to encourage myself (and my friends) toward habits that reflect holiness and contentment–the redemptive work of Christ in me. I didn’t replace scrolling my phone with reading scripture alone (let’s not over-spiritualize here,) but I did replace it with something that is more lasting than the latest Facebook feed. And it feels good to have broken a bad habit and replaced it with a far healthier one.

So who wants to join me? The enCourage blog and engagingmotherhood.com are linking up to host Control the Scroll: a Summer Reading Challenge for Women. From June 1 through July 31st, join us and challenge yourself to read before you scroll. To get in on the fun, be sure you’re subscribed to this blog, and follow engagingmotherhood on Instagram and/or Facebook as we’ll be giving away fun stuff all throughout the challenge, thanks to our sponsors P&R, The Good Book Company, and CDM. You can find more info and details on the challenge at engagingmotherhood.

Happy summer, and let’s get reading!

To launch the summer reading challenge, we are going to do some giveaways! You can enter any and all of the giveaways below. US residents only please. {Update: We have our winners! Natalia, Ashley, Amanda, and Beth. Congrats! You’ve all been contacted via email. Thanks for entering!}

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Heather Patridge is a wife and mother of three in Helena, Alabama.  She is a lover of children’s literature, a constant home redecorator, and usually spends about 20 minutes a day mapping out various road trips she hopes to one day take with her crew. She enjoys reading historical fiction and memoirs, binge watching Netflix with her husband, and buying all the junk your granny left at the thrift store. She prefers to make sense of the world with a sheet of paper, pencil, and a strong cup of coffee. Heather attends Christ Community Church where she serves on the women’s ministry team, teaches Sunday School, and contributes to the church newsletter.