Social Media – What’s the Problem?
Wendy wastes no time in pointing out the potential downsides of social media. “Smart phones distract us from focusing on what matters most: God. Nothing in my life has made loving God with all my heart, soul, and mind more difficult than my constant connection with my devices,” she says. “At the start of each new day I communicate with those I “like” more than I do the One whom I love most, which begs the question, Do I truly love Him most?” She gets to the root of our desire for online connection with a quote from C.S. Lewis: “Human history [is]…the long, terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”
In addition to distraction, there’s a deeper danger in social media that Wendy addresses. “Each ping, buzz, and notification triggers a dopamine release in our brains, synthetically creating a short sensation of happiness. We’ve become chemically and emotionally addicted to these short-lived highs.” While none of us intends to become addicted, she maintains that it happens quickly and easily. “The brilliant folks at Facebook, Instagram, and countless other social media sites are masterminds at cultivating addiction.”
Breaking the Habit
The fast Wendy encourages is not merely a digital detox, but a spiritual fast. The chief purpose, she says, is not to put social media in its rightful place, but to put God in His. She doesn’t give hard and fast rules for fasting, but encourages us to go to God for specific direction, while making an honest appraisal of how every social media platform we use affects us. “Lay down Facebook and lift up your face. Your face in His book: that’s the Facebook you need right now,” she exhorts. “Your identity is not found in how witty or pithy your 280 (Twitter) characters can be. Spend your time digging into God’s word and discover who you are there, based on God’s opinion.”
A study she read noted that the average person spends nearly three hours a day using social media platforms. With that in mind, Wendy made a list of the activities she felt she never had enough time for, things like: reading God’s Word, prayer, being present with the family, planning weekend fun, trying new recipes, cleaning the hall closet, etc. During her fast she turned to one of those items, rather than social media, and felt much better about how she was using her time.
Beyond the Fast
Wendy knows that if we merely white-knuckle our way through a fast without forming some new habits, we’ll quickly be back in the same rut afterward. To prepare for coming off a fast, she believes we need to practice the spiritual disciplines: reading God’s Word, prayer, Sabbath rest, going to church, serving and tithing, solitude and meditation. Wendy believes that setting healthy boundaries on social media is key, and meant to free us, not confine us. She offers these specific suggestions:
- Go to the Word before you go to the world.
- Use a printed Bible, not an online version.
- Choose when to be online.
- Unfollow people whose posts cause you to feel stress or negativity.
- Create a feed that feeds, to bless and encourage others.
- Turn off your notifications, hide your apps, or take social media entirely off your phone.
- Take a social media sabbatical every Sunday.
- Take a 40-day social media fast every year.
Ultimately, the purpose of the fast isn’t forty days of devotion to the Lord but a lifetime, Wendy explains. One example of how it’s made a difference in her own life is being more aware of others. Wendy hopes to write a book one day called Grocery Stories, about God-given interactions she’s had at her local market. She says she now notices people in need because she literally looks up on her way in and out, versus down at her phone. One time, she noticed an older woman sitting in her car, hunched over her steering wheel, crying. Wendy gently knocked on her window and asked if she could pray for her. “She let me in her car and told me how her husband of fifty-some years had recently died.” Wendy was able to pray for and bring a measure of comfort to a stranger that day. “Opening my phone closes me off to others, but closing my phone opens me up to those around me.”