Saving the Soul from Social Media
At its best, social media provides opportunities to grow, think, and even worship God. At its most routine, it is a quick prescription for boredom and a crutch for procrastination. At its worst though, social media can be soul fracturing. I personally find no rest with the constant influx of channeled outrage pinned on my Facebook wall and lining my Twitter feed. I often walk away tired, jaded, and exhausted.
If you haven’t experienced this yet, just keep scrolling.
Each declaration of indignation or pronouncement of injustice has an effect on our inner life. Every time social media raises its bullhorn to reject, start, or follow a new movement our spirits are thrown in the spin cycle. In a sense, we have all become pinballs in social media’s game of outrage and empathy—and I feel like the game is close to over. I’ve grown tired, overwhelmed, discouraged, and apathetic. Not because I have nothing to live for, but because I am living too much and for everyone else’s causes.
I would guess that many of us—especially the empathizers and people pleasers—feel their souls being horcruxed as well. Conviction gives way to fatigue and so we just wait for our social media to update so things might become more manageable or simply go away. But they never are; they just multiply. By the time we put down our phones, we are empty. We have nothing to give to our family and those we love, which is ironically the central place where activism and empathy can make a change.
Now our impulse in all of this could be to throw our phones away and delete our accounts, but this won’t help. We certainly don’t want to give up. But perhaps there is a better way, one that calls us to change and also leaves us with energy to fight for it. To pave a way ahead, here a few suggestions that might help put some of the pieces back together:
1. Unplug from the Outlet
Be judicious with your time on social media. Know yourself and your temptations. Like all forms of cultural engagement, recognize when it has become an idol or when it is gently leading you off the narrow path. One of the best ways to do this is by unplugging from your social media outlets for a designated amount of time. One helpful test: stay away from social media long enough for you to stop blindly reaching for your phone every time there is a lull in your day. More importantly, replace your social media with real relationships, spiritual disciplines, good works, and acts of service. One of the ironies of virtual diatribes on social media is that, for each moment we spend posting or reading them, we could have spent that time working to solve the problem in the real world.
2. Bend the Knee
Slow down and align yourself with God’s providence rather than the false providence of your Twitter feed. One of the best ways to do this is through prayer. Every time we pray, we bow before the real and true king. Prayer is the declaration to the world, and to our own hearts, that we live in joyful submission to God’s righteous reign. The world needs to hear this. And so do we. Constantly. Everything in the world is vying for you to crown it king over your life; prayer says only the Lord deserves the crown and that we rejoice under his generous sovereignty.
3. Drink the Words of Life
We are drowning is a sea of words and, yet we still thirst for words of life. How often have I reached for my cell phone before I reached for my Bible? I remain empty because of this choice. Allow the Lord to filter every aspect of your life through the gospel of his crucified and risen Son—including your social media. Drink deeply from his word, for whoever drinks of the water that he gives will never thirst again, because this water gives eternal life (John 4:14). Social Media does not.
4. Get Real Advice
Reach out to others to help you understand yourself. This is one of the main reasons for the church. So, as you contemplate ways to infiltrate the world, talk to those who love you and will be honest with you. Take your pastor to lunch; get coffee with your wife; ask your friends real and important questions. Get their take on your strengths and weakness. Be open to hear your weaknesses and bite your tongue when you want to share theirs with them. Ask them to help you understand your gifts. Get their opinion on how and where you might use them to bring about real change. Try to talk with them in person too, or at least not on social media.
5. Attack the Root
There is nothing more frustrating than fighting a fight you can’t win. In many ways, this is what social media is. Wave after wave, refresh after refresh, you are rolled over with movements and ideas, causes and demands to the point that you are running out of breath, pinned to the ocean floor. So do this instead: pick one or two problems to engage and then study their core issues, not their consequences. Social media is like a jungle; you can machete your way through it for a while, but eventually you will grow exhausted and everything grows back even faster than before. So instead of dealing with the branches in your face take a second and deal with their roots at your feet. When you do, you deal with the real problem and can finally see the way ahead.
6. Parts and Limitations
Know your part and know your limitations. This is one of the hardest things to do because it requires self-awareness and self-critique, both of which are largely absent from the platform factories of social media. Regardless, they are incredibly important for your soul. First, we must recognize that we are part of the problem. Sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly. As sinners, we leak sin in the world’s water supply; as saints, we have the antidote. Don’t overlook your sin to highlight opportunities to affect change. When you forget why you needed change in the first place, everything becomes about other people needing to change. Second, and connected to the first, recognize that you are limited. You are not the answer to every injustice but you can be a part of the answer. You can’t change the world by yourself (just ask Moses, David, etc.)—but you can help those find the one who already has. Finally, though you can give your time, thought, and actions to only a select few issues, you can help support other movements and causes with your resources.
7. Fight like Hell for Heaven
The best way to fight apathy is to know that what you are doing matters. If you lack motivation or are just overwhelmed, remember that God is using you to win the war he has already won. Your work is for the advancement of his kingdom—one he is silently expanding across all creation through your hands. This means that if anything we do is uncoupled from God’s kingdom, it will not last. So fight against the world’s injustices so that the final justice of heaven will come down.
Give your life away, but not to the ever flowing tide of causes and movements that rolls across your screen. Give your life to God’s kingdom work and where the two overlap, fight to usher in the kingdom of true and eternal justice. Where you can’t fight, give generously to those who can. When we lose our lives in this way, we actually find it, our advocacy lands in the right place, and our souls remain intact. In fact, they flourish, like the world we are helping to make anew.
Ryan Lister is a husband, father, blogger, author, and professor of theology at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. He is the author of The Presence of God: Its Place in the Storyline of Scripture and the Story of Our Lives. He is also the Director of Doctrine and Discipleship for Humble Beast and co-creator of The Canvas Conference. Follow him on Twitter!