It was an interior argument I had waged many times before. Yes, I compulsively check Facebook. Yes, I’m often angered by what I find there. Yes, I spend too much time on the app every day. But I also connect with friends, publish my own content, and stay informed. The argument always ended with me reassuring myself that, while I should monitor my usage, I shouldn’t completely delete Facebook from my phone. That would be too rash a decision and would greatly affect my routine.
Until one day I just did it.
That’s not really all that hyperbolic of a way to frame it. One day I just decided to delete the Facebook app from my phone, along with a host of other apps. The decision had come after I posted a politically-charged status. While it was mostly met with support, there were also the detractors. I tend to enjoy getting into these discussions, but I can’t deny that they take an emotional toll. Finally I just decided to take a break for a while.
I’m still currently on that break.
I still access Facebook on my computer, but that is much, much less frequent than I did when I had the app on my phone. What I’ve realized about my phone is that it is a nearly-unfiltered access point. The apps I have on my phone are the ones that I willingly give access to my time. If I’m not careful with that, I’ve realized that I can quickly let my routines get out of whack.
Now, let me be clear about something — I am *not* telling anyone that they should or should not delete social media from their phone or delete their profiles entirely. This post is not meant to be prescriptive. This is simply the process I’m going through, and I’m sharing what has happened. I hope that my journey can be helpful. That doesn’t mean that what I’ve done will work for you, and I’m not making the claim that I have the market cornered on how to engage with social media. It’s a journey, and I’m still on that journey.
At the same time, I’m a believer in the power of social media. As someone who writes online, social media is a necessity. I know there are many more like me who depend on social media to promote their work. In fact, some depend on it more than I do because their online writing or other creative work is their sole source of income. It isn’t possible for those of us who depend on social and digital traffic like that to fully divest ourselves from social media.
However, since social media does hold such an important place, it is vital that we consider how we use it and whether or not there are more creative ways we can engage with it.
When something has a compulsive control over you, even in seemingly small ways, that’s probably a time to step back and reevaluate. I realized that social media had gotten to that point for me, and that is when I began this process of stepping back a bit.
After the first week of not having Facebook on my phone, my total screentime for the week went down by 55%. What’s interesting is that I noticed a few times when I would compulsively pick up my phone then quickly put it back down when I realized that the Facebook or Twitter app was not right there for me to access. It’s a small thing, but it’s a step in the right direction. It also opened up time for me to use in other ways.
Personal Catharsis vs. Shalom
I woke up on Ash Wednesday and realized that Lent had crept up on me. I still hadn’t made a decision about what I’d give up. If you aren’t familiar with Lent, it is a 40-day period in the Christian liturgical calendar when you take a fast from something. Most people do a food fast of some kind, but many choose to give up other things.
Like social media.
I’ve gone on a social media fast for Lent before, but since this current iteration had started weeks before Lent began, I didn’t initially view this as my Lenten fast. I simply felt like it was a natural reaction that came out of the fact that I have practiced fasting and intentional sacrifice before. I had gotten to the point that I was simply letting social media take up too much of my headspace, and this social media fast suddenly hit me over the head with its sheer necessity. But, as Lent began, I had this overwhelming notion that my social media fast is connected. I just needed to start Lent a little earlier. Now, I have an opportunity to go even deeper into what I can learn from giving up control in this area of my life.
As I’ve gone through this process, one of the tensions I’ve noticed within myself is the notion that things are not as they should be in our world. It’s clear that, in practice, I’ve viewed social media as an arena for this. That’s where I’ve spoken out about the things I see that aren’t as they should be. I see injustices or pains felt by others and, as someone whose personality is that of a peacemaker, I feel the need to speak out and attempt to do my part to bring things back to the center.
Here’s the thing: while that may be the beginning of my intentions, there’s something else that creeps in and makes the way I’ve been using social media sometimes harmful. The following tweet from Rich Villodas, pastor of New Life Fellowship in New York, helps describe what I’m getting at.
Shalom is the Hebrew word for peace. It is often used as a personal greeting, and it is a significant word in Scripture. In our modern context, it is often used to describe a general state of being at peace corporately — as in the way Rich uses it in his tweet above.
I love that tweet, because it really gets to the heart of this journey I’ve been on with social media — specifically, the difference between catharsis and shalom. (Also, if you’re wondering, I do see the irony in highlighting a tweet in the midst of a post about a social media fast. But it underscores the point I’m trying to make about using social media in a healthy way vs. shutting it off completely.)
Too often, I take the posture of coming to social media — especially Facebook — as the avenging hero of my little corner of thought and action. While it may start with the intention of being a force for peace and striving for justice, too often it merges with pride and hubris to involve me taking my views and thoughts on how things should be and projecting them on to others. While there have been some honest, fruitful discussions that have come from my speaking out on social media, there have also been ones that have not been so helpful.
Soon after I deleted the social media apps from my phone, we had a speaker come to the local church my wife and I attend. His name is Scott Erickson, and he designed the logos that our church uses to visualize our four mantras. He is a visual artist, but he also wrote a book called Prayer: Forty Days of Practice that Sarah and I purchased after we heard him speak. It’s an apt read for anyone participating in Lent, as its 40-day template fits perfectly with that practice. I happened to come across one prayer, in particular, and I now have the image associated with it as my phone background to remind me of its message.
“May I have vision and courage to join God in the places He’s already working rather than feel responsible for bringing Him with me.” — Prayer 3 from Prayer: Forty Days of Practice
A tangible example of how this played out in my life is that I noticed something happening in my social media usage that hadn’t happened very often before. I would see something that upset or confused me, and I’d go to share my thoughts on Facebook or Twitter. I’d get the post all drafted and ready to go and then I’d…delete it.
Rather than posting it out into the ether for discussion and possible argument, I let the simple act of writing it be my personal catharsis. It wasn’t something so vital that it needed to be shared. It wasn’t an injustice that demanded to be addressed. It was something that frustrated me, but I received the catharsis I needed by writing it out, getting the thought out of me, but deleting it before I posted it. Posting that thought might have brought some semblance of catharsis, but it would not have brought about shalom. Writing and subsequently deleting it did bring about the catharsis I needed, and I think it also brought me to a place where I can seek out shalom in a more healthy way.
I think it’s good and important and right to speak up about what you believe in and the things that are important to you. I think we need leaders who will speak out against injustice and tell truth to power.
But we also need discernment about when we are actually doing that or when we’re just having moments of personal catharsis.
For me, a big part of it is changing my posture. I don’t mean my physical posture, but rather the way I come to discourse online. Am I viewing myself as the one who’s bringing truth to my online circles? If so, that is simply wrong, and it is the product of pride. Any time that thought enters the arena, I’m probably not going to be having a healthy discussion.
However, if I’m joining in with the work God is already doing and coming at the discussion without that prideful posture, I think powerful discussions can emerge. Our culture needs people who will speak out and use their online circles of influence for good. But that impact cannot come from a place of pride. I’m not sure of where that line is, and it’s something I’m still seeking out myself. But that prayer has been a wonderful rhythm for me, as has the following passage from Psalm 43.
“Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling! Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.” — Psalm 43:3–4
I’m going to trust God to lead me in His truth. I’m not going to view myself as the one bringing truth to conservative circles on Facebook or liberal ones on Twitter.
Recently, I had an actual conversation about politics with two good friends. That conversation showed me that, even for as much as I feel like I stay informed, I don’t know as much as I think I do. Even the things I feel like I know I may not be able to communicate well. At the same time, it was a much healthier discussion than often happens on social media. It was another reminder that there are other ways to go about these discussions, and it underscored the importance of some of the new rhythms that have been forming in my life.
I’m not perfect, and I’m still on this journey. One example of this is that, over the last week, I’ve started using my Safari app to access Facebook and Twitter from my phone. I still do this far less than I did when I had the actual apps on my phone, but it shows that I have a lot more self-training to do.
But it also doesn’t mean this process has been a lost cause. I’m not sure when I’ll download the apps again, if I even ever do. It’s been nice to keep from giving those apps constant access to my time and thought. What’s been even better has been the ways that, on an almost subconscious level, healthier patterns have begun to fill the space that these compulsions used to take up.
At the end of the day, I continue to believe that social media can be a powerful force for good, but we cannot let it exert control over the rhythms of our lives. I continue to believe that we need to speak out against injustice in the world around us, but we cannot do so through pride or vainly viewing ourselves as the arbiters of truth. I still believe that God has given me a gift for writing so that I can use it to glorify Him, but I must take the posture of allowing Him to guide me in truth rather than using my writing to proclaim things as I see them.
I’m in the middle of this journey, and I’m trying to learn all I can along the way.