social media

Taming the Social Media Beast

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Last year I had an encounter with Scripture that got me thinking about my habits in a whole new way. A reply given by Jesus to the Pharisees regarding the Sabbath invited me to revise my attitude toward the various activities that occupy my energy every day. Particularly towards social media. Not just the amount of time spent there, but more specifically the position of my heart when I use my social-media accounts.


In Mark 2, the Pharisees were appalled to see Jesus and His disciples collect food from a field. The Pharisees saw this as a violation of the commandment to refrain from work on the Sabbath. The reply Jesus gave stopped me in my tracks: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27, ESV).


Two important thoughts looped through my thinking over the next few days. First, the notion that man was not made for the Sabbath, but the other way around. This highlights the truth that there are things that were made for me;  i.e. they serve a purpose in my life.The second, is that the passage offered a picture of what it looks like to live for something that in reality had been designed for us. It looked like serving something pointlessly for the sake of building oneself up.


God designed things for me; not the other way around. I was made for God; every other thing is  there for me to use in a way that honors Him.


We Serve It or It Serves Us


The Sabbath helped man position his heart for worship. This mandated day of rest served him by bringing his mind and heart closer to God. It encouraged him to rest and trust the Lord rather than trusting his own efforts because on that day there would rest instead of toil. It renewed him by restoring his energy and slowing down his pace enough for respite.


The Pharisees’ empty obedience turned God’s commandment to rest into a checklist of rules to follow. It was a far cry from its original intended purpose. With this attitude, they served an empty ritual that afforded them no rest and offered them no intimacy with their Creator. They were serving the ritual rather than allowing the ritual to serve them.


As I thought about how the Sabbath was created to serve us, I began to consider my relationship with social media. Who is serving who? Is social media serving me, or am I serving it? The digital age gives us tools that make us feel connected and in the know. Email, video, and the various forms of social media present what feels like endless possibilities to connect. Paradoxically these same tools can challenge our attention, time management, and emotional comfort.


We know, right away it seems, what is happening around us. We learn our friend gave birth to twins a few hours ago. We see our cousin’s new house and the color she’s choosing for the walls. We like, comment, and learn what others like and comment about the things we are engaging with. Both our capacity for connectivity and our need for affirmation are heightened by what social media makes possible.


It can make us feel seen and relevant, or invisible and unimportant. And these cycles keep us coming back for more. Because when we are connected, we want to perpetuate that feeling of connectedness. When we are affirmed and feel seen, we seek to have that again. When we don’t feel it, we go looking for it. Either way, many of us invest considerable time and energy in social media because it supplies something we want. And in the process, we are left feeling charged or drained. What determines either resulting state? This is where the words of Jesus resonate eye-opening Truth.


I realized that much of how I was handling social-media was essentially me serving it. What I serve owns me. And my misuse of social-media owned my time and determined my mood. I went to social-media for what only God can supply. We want to feel relevant. We want to be affirmed. We want to be seen and be heard. We want to be praised. These are all natural things to want. But if use our digital time to feed these needs, rather than our Creator, then we are letting it use us. We attempt to fill up the empty places in our lives, one square, status update, or tweet at a time.


Like most things at our disposal, social-media is neither evil nor holy. We can make it a tool to use for a good purpose as much as a liability to our spiritual and emotional health.

Here are three practical ways to help us use social media with discernment and wisdom, and prevent it from becoming a distraction that consumes our time. To that end, I want us to see social media as a tool to steward for the glory of God in Christ who alone brings genuine satisfaction our souls crave.

Treating It like a Tool: 3 Practices


A tool implies there is a function to fulfill in a job that needs doing. Scripture informs me that I was made for God. To know, enjoy, and serve Him (Deuteronomy 11:131 Samuel 12:24Psalm 119:10John 12:261 Corinthians 15:58.  That is who I was made for.  What use I give them can mark the difference between life-giving and life-draining. Because I can end up looking in it for what only God whom I was made for can give me.


Over the past year I’ve practiced fasting from social-media one day a week. I also came up with a list to help me take inventory to gauge my heart’s emotions and expectations, which I revisit periodically to keep my heart in check. And, more recently I’ve also stopped and prayed for others. Let me unpack these:



Entering Social Media with An Empty Tank

Last September, my husband took a much-needed two-week holiday from work. He had vacation days accumulated that would expire soon and had just completed a heavy cycle of projects that lasted months with many long hours at the office and often working weekends. We didn’t have the budget to travel, so we decided to make a fun and light staycation out of it. Lots of sleeping in, ordering takeout, watching movies and reading. I was overjoyed to have him all to myself for two weeks. That alone felt like a vacation to me. And that is what motivated me to do the following.

When our staycation began, on a regular Monday of a regular week, my brain went into regular mode. I wanted to grab my phone all the time. To tweet, to check Instagram, see who wrote what on Facebook, etc. Only, this time, I would look up and see that my husband was there in the room. We were together during hours that normally I don’t have the joy of his company. Wanting to not waste the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversation, or simply enjoy him, I’d resist reaching for the phone.

Finally, I decided to regulate my usage. About twice a day for 10 minutes, I would check it and participate by posting, liking, etc., if I felt compelled. Having my husband home for an extended period was much more alluring than endless scrolling, tapping, and commenting.

By the end of his two-week break, I noticed something that wasn’t there before: I had a lot more emotional energy. Not only was there more desire to engage, be present and pay attention, but the energy to do so was in better supply. It was feeling emotionally fully present, more whole (less fragmented?), more focused, and even more content, that helped me realize how much I normally didn’t feel that way.

After that, I became more observant of my own mood and mindset. I began to be more intentional with how I approached social-media, and for what purpose.

I was so taken by the sudden increase of energy, emotional clarity, and focus, I prayerfully decided to create a social-media filter for myself. An inventory if you will, to check up on my emotions and gauge expectations:

1.      Filter to gauge my heart’s conditions.

Am I running on empty? Have I gotten my fuel from healthy sources, like God’s Word, or spending time in real life with loved ones?

2.      Filter to discern what I share or consume.

Is it truth based? i.e. from God’s Word, consistent with it? Honouring it?

Is it true? About me, my life? And not to make me look/feel better.

Is it life-giving?

3.      When sharing or consuming remember…

Don’t try to speak to everyone about everything. (refer to #1)

Don’t try to consume everything from everyone. (refer to #2)

Fast forward to the present. Over the past 8 weeks, I’ve been taking one day a week off from social media. The experience has been revealing. It’s helped me understand on a deeper level our need for connection, and in my case, my own mismanagement to satisfy it. It’s brought full circle those questions I created for myself back in September.

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I chose Sunday to soak in the respite of a slower rhythm and counter the emotional fatigue I often feel by the end of the week. Although sometimes I switch it up and fast Friday or Saturday, I find Sunday works well. Usually, I begin my fast, late Saturday evening. Then on Monday, either late morning or early afternoon, I will re-engage, catch up with notifications, read status updates, and post if I have something to share.

Now two months into this practice, I’ve noticed that I’m less eager to grab my phone come Monday. Willing yes, but not needing to. Finding that I need it less is refreshing, liberating. It’s also very telling, begging the question: What need was I satisfying?

On the other hand, disconnecting on Saturdays stills feels sudden. It’s when I will reach out for my phone and with a deep sigh remember that in a few hours I’ll sign off. Less habit there. Why is that? I wonder. The answer, for me, has to do with why I use it, why I engage with it.

Like most, I use it to connect. Being far from my closest friends, social media is a way to stay in touch and share a bit of our lives. Funny moments, cool adventures, and the occasional rant. Or to consume what I think of as high calibre content; thought-provoking articles, posts written by fellow writers, etc.

The problem occurs when in that myriad of interactions and connections, the pictures and words become my measure for performance, validation, or happiness. In my longing for connection, the small squares and short paragraphs become failed mirrors and definitions, which leave a vague feeling of sadness.

Vague because the cause is almost subliminal. Quiet thoughts that run underneath the regular frequency of my day. Undercurrent narratives like I am not as skilled. My life does not look like that and perhaps it should, oh no another thing I am behind! And so on. They are more a general malaise than a clear statement.

I am reminded of these words found in the gospel of Mark: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27 ESV. What most catches my attention here is the wording. It’s informing me that I was made for something, not the other way around. This verse is Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees, who watching him along with the disciples collecting food from a field, question him, presuming they hold the higher moral ground because a rule they know well is not observed.

Jesus’ words are piercing. The nuance between something being made for us vs. us being made for it marks the difference between life-giving and life-draining. How often I behave toward something as if I was made for it. That is a picture of idolatry. If you think you were made for something, your reflex is to work for it, to serve it. When we see something made for us, our attitude is to enjoy it, soak it up, we use it.

His answer makes me think of how we engage social-media. Like other man-made inventions, is a tool that can be useful. The problem is the heart is always looking for ways to fill its emotional tank. Connection morphs into comparison, validation, and so on. I feel empty. I want to connect. Rinse and repeat. This reverses its role of the tool, something made for me to use and instead makes me a dependent, made for it.

We have a maker and we were made for Him.

 

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This post had been on my mind for a long while, but I didn't feel ready to share. I found inspiration in this piece by fellow writer Carrie Roer. Great tips!

Learning informs my decisions. First from God’s Word, letting it steep deep in my thoughts to rewire them. Also, sound advice backed by solid research. Tony Reinke’s book 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You is a resource I can’t recommend enough. Another excellent book on the subject is Andy Crouch’s Techwise Family.

Lastly, Deep Work: Rules for Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport is a worthwhile read. Heavily researched, the book covers methods to work productively and efficiently in areas that demand focused attention, including writing. I read it in May and I am still chewing on the insights. The chapter on social media alone is worth getting the book.