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 11:13; 1 Samuel 12:24; Psalm 119:10; John 12:26; 1 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:
- Fasting from social-media
I began taking a one day break from social media after a short vacation where my husband stayed home from work. We couldn’t afford to travel, so we planned fun things to do in our city and lots of time together. The first day a Monday, I was excited to have him home even if I was not used to it. I wanted to reach for my phone many different times but would look up and realize he was home! I was so thrilled to have him that I would resist the urge and focus on him, our conversation and our plans.
After a week of doing this I realized I felt emotionally energized and more focused and present in whatever I was doing. The experience impacted me deeply. The difference was too obvious to pass. So, I decided to fast from social-media one day a week. I’ve been doing this for nearly a year now and it’s been freeing and refreshing. I usually disconnect the weekend,either Saturday or Sunday. I will swap days according to what’s going on or how drained I feel. One thing that catches my attention every single week, is that by the time I reconnect I don’t feel eager to do so or needing to be active, afraid of what I might have missed. It really helps reset my mind. I am also more focused to start the week’s projects. My attention feels less divided.
- Heart check
Realizing I often felt drained and even sad after spending a lot of time scrolling and reading I set out to create filters to help me enter social-media more self-aware and purposeful. Because that was part of the issue; I entered it with no real purpose other than curiosity and fear of missing out on the latest. So I came up with three filters comprised of honest questions I ask myself to help me use this tool well and protect my heart from pointlessly serving it. I revisit these periodically.
Filter 1- Questions to gauge the condition of my heart:
- Am I running on empty?
- Am I going to get from it what I should be getting elsewhere?
- Have I gotten my fuel from healthy sources, like God’s Word, or spending time in real life with loved ones?
Filter 2- Questions to help me discern what I share or consume:
- Is it truth based? I.e. from God’s Word, consistent with it? Does it honour it?
- Is it true? About me, my life? And not to make me look/feel better?
- Is it life-giving?
Filter 3- Remember when sharing or consuming:
- Don’t try to speak to everyone about everything. (Refer to filter 1)
- Don’t try to consume everything from everyone. (Refer to filter 2)
- Using social-media to cultivate prayer for others
I can grab my phone with genuine desire to know how loved ones are doing and connect with them by checking social-media. However, in the process of scrolling and reading through my timeline it doesn’t take too long to end up feeling jealousy, envy, alone, left out, less than, superior; you name it. Exposing my eyes and thoughts to so much information can trigger all sorts of insecurities to a heart already too willing and susceptible to such impulses. After all, we are all hungry for affirmation. We dread falling behind whatever curve we’ve set for ourselves. We long to be among the cool, the accepted and respected; those in the know.
So inspired by a friend who intentionally uses social-media to pray for others, I’m now using it as a way to cultivate a heart of prayer for others too. When I learn someone’s good news, I praise God for their blessing. Especially when I read something that tempts me to feel bad about myself because of something good happening to someone else. It’s me practicing wisdom to re-align my heart and focus on God, the giver of all good things rather than my skewed and limited point of view which has a natural tendency to be self-centered.
When a person posts something critical like a medical diagnosis or being fired, I stop what I’m doing, put the phone down and pray for that issue right in the moment. If I have a relationship with them in real life, I make a point to ask them about it and encourage them any way I can. It humanizes what is otherwise digital and far away. If it’s an endeavour someone is sharing, I pray for wisdom to steward it well. And the amazing thing is that slowly my heart has peace and I feel genuine joy for them. Prayer for another changes my heart in the process.
If you find that social-media is often more hurtful than it is helpful, pause for a moment. If it distorts how you view yourself or others; if it subtly places the opinion of others above God; if it creates a sense of well-being that lasts only as long as a few clicks and then dissolves making you come back for more,please stop and consider. It is not serving you; it is using up your time and driving your emotions.
If I’m active in social media to feel approved, gain popularity, and to see and be seen by others, I am using it to fill in me something that social media is not capable of filling. And in the process, out of my need to have these things, I will keep going back to social media. In the process, I am serving it with my time and attention.
A heart that is at the service of social-media, is a heart at the mercy of what others think, say, like, or do. If our opinion of ourselves lives and dies with the number of followers, or clicks, or comments, we will exhaust ourselves by looking to others to confirm our worth and importance. Thus, it puts our focus on ourselves, which may reveal we are in it for our own gain rather than for the glory of God.
If I share a beautiful sunset in Instagram to celebrate its beauty; that is a praise to its Creator. If I share it in hopes to have a lot of likes, and experience deep disappointment to have it noticed by only a few, my focus is off. I can use my social media accounts to share my creativity, my writing, my concerns, my joys, my hardships, or my last vacation, with a heart in the right or wrong position. Also, I can use social media as an outlet to feed and sustain my ego, or as a tool I use to point to the One who feeds my soul and sustains me.
Social media can be another tool we use to give God attention and make much of Christ. Whether we use our own account to that end, or consume content that does that, we can help our tired minds with the use we give this tool. We don’t need to consume everything we see. That is, we don’t have to read, like, and comment, every post. We can engage with discernment, and ask about our own content and others’, “Does this make much of Christ? Is this God honoring?”
We are to be stewards of the resources God has placed under our control to use them as we see fit. Our calendar, our smartphones, and social-media are among those resources. In the same way the Sabbath was conceived to help man position his heart toward God, how we use our time and resources can elevate our focus from the pressing allure to like and be liked, to the timeless promise of being accepted by and belonging to God through Christ alone.