Lent can be a wonderful time of spiritual renewal.
As we sacrifice some of the worldly luxuries that occupy our lives, we grant ourselves space and time to enjoy the Lord and to reflect upon all he has done for us. In this season leading up to the commemoration of Christ’s death, many choose to give up indulgences such as chocolate or alcohol as a way of remembering Jesus Christ’s desolate journey into the desert for 40 days. This year, however, research shows that most people are giving up something entirely different: social media.
In a recent survey taken by DecisionData.org, 586 American adults were asked what they would be giving up this Lenten season. Of these respondents, some 21% said they would be sacrificing their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts — three percent more than those who said they’d be cutting out alcohol consumption.
So why are so many people twigging on to the fact that social media can be so detrimental to our health? Well, because it never, ever lives up to its promises.
Social media is often a time-waster
While chocolate, alcohol or fast food might not be fantastic for your health, social media plagues us in a different way — by eating into our time. Take a look at your weekly screentime report — Instagram and Facebook are likely eviscerating your productivity levels. Perhaps ahead of this Lent season, many are finally realizing the absurdity of this and deciding to reclaim their time for things of greater worth.
Ever found it increasingly difficult to concentrate on reading the Bible? Try deleting your Instagram for a week and see if it makes any difference! When we spend hours of our week filling our minds with other people’s semi-interesting lives, and when we start the day by gorging on the holiday snaps of a distant acquaintance, is it any wonder that our brains become a little dead to the word of God?
Through the overuse of social media, it is possible to become starved of true, meaningful content that will enrich, challenge and provoke us spiritually. Perhaps, there is an invitation to take back our time for good and increase our appetites for things of spiritual merit.
Social media breeds discontentment
Social media, and particularly image-sharing apps, are fueled by comparison. With each photo uploaded, users are often attempting to present themselves living an exciting, attractive and even “holy” life.
There are some who attempt a sort of faux-vulnerability by sharing images of their messy (yet pinterest-worthy) living rooms. Dulled to the very boredom it is invoking within us, we reluctantly lap it up with a disingenuous double-tap “like,” then scroll on to the next offering.
It is addictive! How often do you find yourself reaching for your phone first thing in the morning or last thing at night? What about when you are in line at the grocery store, or simply sitting down on your own attempting to pray?
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,” said a 17th-century theologian, Blaise Pascal. Some 350 years later, this statement rings truer than ever! In part due to social media, we cannot sit still, and the problems associated with this are nothing short of profound.
All the while, during the hours spent on social media, we can find ourselves engaging in a sort of subliminal comparison that is almost always detrimental to our spiritual lives.
Of course, personal experience of social media can be wildly subjective. Many who are prone to comparison and jealousy may find it spiritually ruinous to be spending hours mindlessly scrolling through their Facebook feeds. Others, however, may be more healthily rooted, and their intrigue in the lives of their friends might go no further than a well-balanced interest in those they know.
In all these things, it is important to be honest with yourself over your core motivations surrounding social media usage. Asking yourself a few pointed questions may result in an overhaul of your spiritual life for the good!
Gratitude kills comparison
I deleted my Instagram account over the entire Christmas period. Knowing that I would be spending some rare, quality time with family, I didn’t want to waste time gazing at a screen when I could be present in the moment with loved ones. While I wouldn’t consider myself to have a huge issue with jealousy or comparison, I did notice a significant change in my mood as gratitude began to replace the fear of missing something juicy on social media.
There was a sense of liberation knowing that no-one was forcing me to share my life on a virtual platform, and no-one was insisting that I gawk at the lives of others! Instead, I was able to engage in a habitual practice of gratitude for all those real relationships that I have been blessed with. As I made more space to open up my lungs and breathe in the wholesome experience of spending time with family and friends, I really sensed the presence of God filling me with gratitude, peace and spiritual refreshment.
“Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful” — Hebrews 12:28
True identity and security can only be found in Jesus
I imagine that for many of those who have chosen to ditch their social media accounts this Lent, they will be desperately counting down the days before getting back online. The fear of missing out, more commonly dubbed “FOMO,” is a real experience, especially for millennials. However, I have no doubt that some of those who have chosen to unhook themselves from social media for this season will delete their accounts for good when Easter finally rolls around.
Well, discontentment, jealousy and frustration are byproducts of an over-indulgence in social media — and when those entangling feelings begin to lift off our backs, we experience a sense of freedom and deep, spiritual satisfaction that is both compelling and rich.
For Christians taking part in this social media fast, my bet is that it will renew their sense of meaning and security found in Jesus that goes above and beyond a virtual identity portrayed through a digital platform. As we know, it is in Christ that we find true peace — and it is through a relationship with Him that we are able to throw off the shackles of comparison and jealousy. It is by the grace of Jesus that we are made new, and it is by his grace that we can know we are infinitely loved and accepted. Sometimes, all we need to do is engage in a small personal sacrifice in order to realize this afresh.
So remember, no matter how much we scroll, like and comment, the multi-faceted beast that is social media will never, ever be able to fill us with this level of satisfaction and contentment.
Indeed, during this special season, perhaps it is time to cut ourselves loose and get back to an authentic, real-life community with God and others.