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Let’s do a quick Social Media Heart Check
Before social media, life seemed simpler, uncluttered. Hours in a day were more productive. Focused. No scroll-and-click distractions. Social media has attracted masses of us because we benefit from the connection, the information, and the inspiration. But for Christians, as many of us can attest, there are potential pitfalls as well. Though we desire to glorify the Lord and represent him well, the world of social media can upset those intentions, if we’re not careful. Wisdom would have us check our hearts regularly by keeping these 4 key questions in mind.
- Am I Walking by the Spirit?
Walking by the flesh may be an accepted norm on social media, but it’s not possible to please God in the flesh (Romans 8:8). As believers, we’re called to die to those carnal impulses and walk by the Spirit, perhaps especially on social media, given its reach and impact.
We should ask ourselves if our posts are gracious and edifying. Am I slow to speak? Are love and kindness reflected? Am I blessing or cursing those I deem enemies? We can point people to Jesus with the light of our lives, with eternal truth, and with grace-filled interactions. People are watching. Only as we walk by the Spirit in the social media sphere can we make an impact there for Christ.
- Am I Bragging?
Somehow, bragging got its wings on social media. In “real life,” we don’t routinely unpack our awards and achievements for neighbors, co-workers, or fellow church members. We don’t feel the need to share everything from compliments to the material blessings we’ve received. And before social media, acts of service and Bible conferences were not photo ops. But social media stokes that urge within to promote ourselves, to be seen, even to be praised.
Jesus spoke to this human urge, saying, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1). And there’s this gem: “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips” (Proverbs 27:2).
It’s hard. As our kids insist, “Everyone does it.” And I daresay many of us have fallen prey. We’re excited, in the moment, and want to share. But that’s just it — we’re in the moment. It’s wise to step back and ask: Why am I posting this? Why did I even take a picture of this? To make myself look good? To show how many showed up for my event? To let my friends and followers know I’m “somebody”?
- Am I Battling Envy and Discontent?
Sometimes a heart check will let us know that we need to unplug from social media, at least for a while. It may be that we’re in the midst of a trying time, such that it’s difficult to rejoice with others. If your marriage is troubled, joyous wedding anniversary posts may be hard to bear. If you’ve been praying long to get married, “We’re engaged!” posts may rankle. Whatever we are lacking or perceive to be lacking, we will likely scroll past someone prospering in that very area. And if we find ourselves battling discontent or envy as a result, it’s time to close the app.
If we can keep a healthy perspective and celebrate with those on our timeline, social media can be fun. But if it’s tempting us toward heart attitudes that are sinful, we glorify the Lord by seeking him about those issues — after we log off.
- Is This the Best Use of My Time?
For those of us who engage social media, this should be a frequent consideration. We’re called to make the most of our time, not squander it. Yet, we might be shocked if we could see a daily tally of time spent posting, commenting, scrolling, clicking, and perusing links across various social media platforms.
We each have responsibilities and obligations, whether at home, in ministry, school, or the workplace — many of us with some combination of these. And as believers, we ought to prioritize time in the word and in prayer. Social media can encroach upon the “more needful” things, including the importance of simply being present with family and friends. We need to remain sensitive to the Spirit’s leading as to how much time to spend on social media, and even whether it’s time to deactivate.
Social Media Addicted? SILENCE the NOISE, Seek SOLITUDE, Listen to the VOICE of God
Social Media Addicts! Sounds good. Sounds simple. Just turn social media off. But of course that’s not how it works. Christians know deeper desires are at work behind the digital addictions. For all the social-media habits that plague our lives, for all the inattention we give to those around us, most of us would never seriously consider deactivating our social platforms
Social media addicts each of us — we love matching wits in Facebook comments, nesting the perfect GIF into Twitter, or spreading another throwaway selfie on WhatsApp. The allure of social media is the desire to be seen, omnisciently seen, if not always affirmed, at least always put in view of others. Smartphones promise to protect us from athazagoraphobia — the fear of being forgotten. So we impulsively connect, from the moment we wake up to the moment we must surrender ourselves to sleep.
As one writer put it, “Each social media platform is a drug we self-prescribe and consume in order to regulate our emotional life, and we are constantly experimenting with the cocktail.”
- Facing the Silence
Social media is a brew of emotionally stimulating drugs we mix for ourselves. And it means to leave social media, even for a few days or just a couple weeks, is to encounter the harsh reality that we will be un-missed on our absence, un-noticed in our silence, and even un-anticipated upon our return back. To escape social media is to taste the bitter sting of oblivion, a little hint of elderly loneliness or the midlife identity-crisis brought down now into every age demographic.
Stop attempting to be seen in social media and you vanish entirely. We dare not stop. And that’s why the first step away from social media — that first day disconnected — tastes bitter. It tastes bitter because we use the noise of media in our lives to drown out two things we’d rather not face.
- Creating intentional SILENCE
We seek new noise to avoid ourselves. We flee silence. We race from activity to activity to avoid having to be alone with ourselves for even a moment, to avoid having to look at ourselves in the mirror. We are bored with ourselves, and often the most desperate, wasted hours are those we are forced to spend by ourselves
Repeatedly in Scripture, silence is a demonstration of our steadied faith, a resolved trust in the Redeemer to move and act and deliver. When the temptations and dangers increase, the godly can hush the noisy alarmists around them and reclaim silence. (Read Isaiah 30: 15, Psalms 37: 7, Psalms 62: 1-2, Psalms 62: 5)
Silence is confidence in God. Silence is also a divine invitation. And that’s the deeper modern fear.
- Seeking serious Solitude
Serious solitude in the media age can feel unnatural. It’s weird. Uncomfortable. Too serious. But it is the special work of the Holy Spirit to lead each believer into this serious solitude, into the quiet place where our deepest needs are exposed and the greatest eternal truths can once again wash over our souls. For who alone, without the power of God himself, could desire silent seriousness in an age of incessant self-projection and self-affirmation?
Jesus sought SILENCE and SOLITUDE to be with the Father and to listen to His VOICE. “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” Mark 1: 35
By the power of the Spirit, we learn to embrace the unaccustomed seriousness of solitude, as we pray with the heart of Psalm 139,
Lord, search me, know me, and deliver me from any social-media habits that treat digital media as a cocktail of emotionally stimulating drugs I mix for myself. Cure me of this appetite to be seen by men. Kill in me this desire for endless digital acknowledgement. Draw near to me. Confront me. Comfort me. Equip me to love again. Make your presence known to me again, as I learn what it means to embrace becoming completely forgotten by this world, yet in Christ, always fully known and loved before your eyes.
A challenge for a 2 weeks Digital Fast (a digital detox)
Food fasting is severing yourself from a love of sugar. Digital fasting is the severing of yourself from the sugar of self-approval. Both battles are fights against the sinful flesh, and both experiences are similar.
Of course food fasting is hard, especially the first day or two days. It will be extremely hard, and then it gets easier and we start to see the fruit about day three or four, and that’s exactly what happens with a digital detox. It hurts for the first day or two, but after a while we experience the health benefits and the payoff becomes clearer.
Smartphone fasting, whether one day a week, or for a week or more at a stretch, is a pressing need for most of us. I think fasting is a great model — saying ‘no’ to something good to say ‘yes’ to something better, checking that we have not become addicted and enslaved, and making space for God.
Many of us will need to make physical separation from our phones. “Some people will need to put their smartphone in another room than their bedroom so it is not the first thing they look at in the morning,” he suggests. “They can begin with prayer and Bible reading and have a space for that, rather than immediately jumping on digital media.”
Here are few suggestions on how to step back from social media for a short season for the purpose of recalibrating your life habits and priorities. I want your engagement, but far more importantly, I want you to find digital health and balance in a world without digital brakes. To that end, for most of us smartphone users, we need seasons of digital detox
- Offline on Purpose.
The stats are alarming. Facebook’s average user is now on their family of platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Messenger) for fifty minutes every day. That number is on the rise, all by the brilliant design of Mark Zuckerberg who wants nothing more than to grab more and more of your attention. And many of us are all too willing to give it to him.
- Delete your buttons.
I highly doubt I could pull off a digital detox without first deleting the social media apps from my phone and laptop. Some users hide the buttons into a buried folder. I find it best to get rid of them altogether (I can re-install them in about fifteen minutes). Out of the range of my mouse pointer and click-finger, the apps are, for me, rendered inaccessible. And when Instagram is not immediately accessible, for example, my phone habits change drastically.
- Die to the addiction of personal praise.
Perhaps an even more accurate motto is to say: “I am liked, therefore I am.” We crave approval and feed off likes and shares, little marks of digital affirmation. We want to be seen, acknowledged, and we want our images and proverbs and wit to be seen and recognized and applauded with ticks of affirmation like likes and shares. We feed on this, and this desire must die if we are to pull off a social media detox.
- Die to the adrenaline rush.
There’s also a rush of being first to discover and share content, getting the scoop, being the most timely and prophetic, pulling up first on the scene of a social media catastrophe and offering our own personal insights, tweeting at the speed of a revolver draw from an old western holster. The immediacy of social media is quickly addictive.
- Take up the spiritual disciplines more earnestly.
Most of us tech-savvy believers are eager to postpone or trade our morning devotions for digital distractions in the precious morning hours. We grab our phone, turn off an alarm, and then habitually start clicking around for digital candy. As we remove social media from our lives and our mornings, we push the phone out of sight, and more eagerly and more quickly focus on the disciplines. A two-week detox will help reset this priority in your life.
Whatever else you do, read the Psalms, Proverbs, and the entire New Testament over those two weeks. And slow down in Psalm 139 and there soak your soul in layers and layers of precious truths about God’s acceptance and love for you, his power over you, and let those promises overpower every small gain of digital self-notice and acceptance you seek online.
- Take up big books.
Start reading the kind of books (Textbooks, Novels, Motivational Books) that will take you many days of engagement, the kind that will demand your attention, stopped and then restarted again, for many consecutive days.
- Take up a big project.
In other words, with your free time, get back to your key life goals. Take two or three days simply to define God’s role and priorities in your life. Then, based on those callings, strive to accomplish one big project that aligns with those goals. Writing a book, going for a mission trip, learning to play a musical instrument, learning a new language etc
- Take up face-to-face personal meetings.
We were made to know and be known, and social media edges out (for many of us) the more important relationships in our lives. Be more intentional with meeting friends in person. Meet in person, and fill up your two weeks with scheduled lunches and dinners out with face-to-face friends.
- Take up a journal. Write.
Grab a pen and notebook, and journal your way through the experience. If you are a smartphone addict, few things more expose your loves and desires and cravings than a digital detox. Two weeks offline will force you to face your deepest insecurities, to see all of the desires that you were feeding on, and to confront them head on.
This will be, for two weeks, a season of intense self-discovery, and it’s a season that demands careful processing of what you feel and what you grow to miss more (or less) as the days progress. It’s worth documenting the experience.
- Please don’t announce your return.
At the end of two weeks you will still feel a strong pull to be seen and appreciated online, and I promise you will be compelled to write a Facebook post about 10 things you learned from being off social media for two weeks. Don’t.
The point of social media detox is to experience life away from the digital tabulations of personal approval and acceptance online, not to store up ammunition to use later. If you storm back with an essay on all the lessons you learned, you will have prostituted your offline time for an online purpose, and that pretty much renders the experiment as pointless as telling everyone you fasted from food for a week in order to be seen and noticed (see Matthew 6:16–18)
- Simply Merge.
Once you’re back, simply merge back online, now with better and more thoughtful habits. You will be surprised how few people will notice that you were gone. Some have attempted a similar detox and never returned to social media. It’s a good season to make that determination. Either way — whatever the final result, set aside time to digitally detox. And if you return to social media, you will more likely see the strategic value of your activity, and parse it from the vain digital practices of our lives. And then pick up your phone and use it for God-glorifying purposes. Such a season is life-giving and spiritually freeing, goal-focusing, and horizon-expanding.
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