A part of the Christian faith is the practice of Lent, a season of giving up something that you really like for 40 days – starting on Ash Wednesday and ending on Easter Sunday. This is supposed to replicate Jesus’ time spent in the desert where he sacrificed and resisted temptations for 40 days. This year, I gave up social media for lent. As a 23 year old with a degree in Communication (and a blog), I’m sure it isn’t surprising that I like social media. In its many platforms, social media can encourage joy, knowledge, connection, and inspiration. It can also serve as a vehicle for comparison, distraction, and self-consciousness. This is why so many people find themselves saying “I need a social media cleanse” and “I had to unplug for the weekend”, because it is so easy to get caught up in all of the stuff. I have known and thought about this for a long time, and yet I have never given up social media (1. because I like it so much and (2. because I always considered myself someone who could manage my social media use. But what I hadn’t realized was how social media was influencing the way I interacted with the people around me, and ultimately, distracting my heart. I began to notice the way good conversation would get interrupted during dinner with friends because someone needed to SnapChat their tacos and margarita. I noticed that any idle moment became browsing time, even if that meant taco in hand. In the presence of my friends, some of my favorite people, I could feel the distraction. The most shocking thing for me to realize was that the only reason I noticed this at all was because I didn’t have the app to do so myself. I began wondering, how often do I neglect the hearts of the people I love most in this world for the sake of a SnapChat? How much have I been sacrificing to scroll through Instagram?
When I deleted my social media apps, I didn’t know what to expect from this season of Lent. I prayed that it would help me grow, and that God would reveal something to me during this time. I think that God often speaks to us in a subtle way that kind of resembles that feeling you got as a kid when you went to sneak another cookie after your mom told you not to. Or when you feel a stirring inside to make a big change in your life that maybe seems unfeasible or illogical – in both instances, God is trying to guide you. This is the way I have felt God speaking to me, helping me understand things about myself during this time.
My friend Kate and I were discussing social media over craft beer and sriracha-lime boiled peanuts recently. She also gave up the apps for Lent, so we were comparing our thoughts and struggles. She said she realized social media was a distraction to her heart when she caught herself going back to check the number of likes she had gotten on her last post. Admittedly, I have done the same thing. When did we become so obsessed with being liked? And what does this say about the condition of our hearts?
I believe that relationships are one of God’s greatest gifts to us. Social media provides fun and easy ways to interact with the people in your life and even strengthen relationships, which are God-pleasing things. But social media becomes a problem when we allow it to influence the way we feel about ourselves. Have you ever posted a photo and felt bad about yourself when you realized it didn’t get many likes? Have you ever scrolled through someone’s feed and thought, wow this person’s life seems so much more fun or successful or full than mine? Yeah, I have too.
The problem with this is that it takes away joy, and it distracts us from our blessings and our purpose. It also paints a picture in our head that we aren’t good enough. Why is it that we can show up on Easter Sunday, and eat a meal with our families and swell up with gratefulness and love but then forget what it all means on Tuesday? God created me in His image, and he loves me so much that he sent his only son to suffer the pain that I deserved so that I can experience eternal salvation. It amazes me how moved we are by this truth in our Sunday best, and how quickly we forget it when we leave the church. God loves us immeasurably more than any kind of gratification we could get from 200 likes or a large instagram following. We say we understand this truth but then why do we allow other people, circumstances and comparison to take it away from us and make us feel unworthy or less than? It is easy to blame our fast paced, media-driven culture, but I think if we dig a little deeper we would see that maybe it’s something else. Maybe we have a heart problem.
God doesn’t want us to have the best looking Instagram feed, or to go on more fun vacations or to have cuter clothes – he wants us right where we are, present, and grateful so that He can use us for His glory. Maybe social media isn’t the problem at all. Maybe the problem is more personal, maybe the problem lies within me. On Easter Sunday, I will re-download SnapChat, Facebook and Instagram. But the way that I use the apps and the way that I allow myself to think will be forever changed.