I read an article in Bloomberg last week that stunned, convicted and challenged me greatly. Researchers have found that middle aged Americans spend more time on social media than millennials. In fact, 35-49 year olds spend an average of 7 hours per week on social media – that’s a little over 15 days per year! It’s horrifying to me that people in the prime of their life (I say that as someone who sits right in the middle of that demographic!) are wasting this much time. It’s coming at the expense of marriages, kids, careers and significance for Jesus. It’s all so sad.
And all so familiar.
I’m not sitting in judgement of those people. If anything, I’m aware of how much of myself I see in that statistic. As I’ve searched my own heart, I’ve realized my social media obsession is driven by two primary factors:
We’re dissatisfied with our lives.
Truth be told, I think a lot of us are disappointed in ourselves. Life doesn’t seem to be working out according to our plan. We aren’t as extraordinary as we had hoped and are, in fact, struggling to keep up with the ordinary demands of life. Ten years ago, we dreamed of being a CEO and now we’re just trying to pay the mortgage. We wanted an amazing marriage and are learning to make peace with a domestic partnership. We dreamed of significance but now we just dream of retirement.
And social media provides an incredible opportunity to avoid all of that. Why deal with our own lives when we can look at someone else’s? Plus, if we stay on social media long enough, we’ll find someone who makes us feel better about ourselves. So much of our social media obsession is driven by a toxic combination of escapism and comparison. All of the irate political banter, selfies, latte photos and vacation envy helps us avoid our situation. But it’s a lot like getting drunk – it may distract us in the moment, but our problems only grow and our ability to deal with them only shrinks.
So, stop judging or envying others and get busy living your own life. Deal with your problems. Find your own joys. Embrace your reality.
We’re unsatisfied in our souls.
The prophet Jeremiah had never heard of Twitter but God gave him tremendous insight into the human soul. “Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:12-13) For many of us, social media is a broken cistern. It isn’t holding water. It’s leaking like crazy and our marriages, kids, careers and churches are suffering. But we’re only trying to trap water because our souls are thirsty.
It’s not just that we’re looking for an excuse to avoid the laundry. Our souls are crying out for relief – refusing to give up on the belief that we were made for more and demanding we find something to satisfy that thirst. As a Christian, I know that thirst can only be satisfied in Jesus. I know when I’m walking closely with Him, immersed in His Word and connected in prayer, I don’t care that much about Facebook. But when I’m not abiding in Him, the thirst of my soul demands satisfaction and I’ll run to Instagram. It’s so sad because living water is ours for the taking. Our souls don’t have to thirst. We just need to learn how to satisfy them.
So, what do we do about all of this? Let me suggest one simple solution. And, no, it’s not to get rid of all social media. There’s plenty of good, inspiring content out there to be found. It’s a small change born out of a realization I had in my own life – when my phone is in my hand, it’s like whiskey in the hand of an alcoholic, I’m almost powerless not to check it. When it’s in my pocket, it’s not much better. But when it’s in my bag or in a drawer in the kitchen, I don’t really care about it that much.
Just that little separation helps me resist the temptation to check out and actually stay present with Laura and the kids. I can actually get work done. I can actually go to the gym. I can actually address the areas of my life I’m not satisfied with. I can actually make progress, focus on God’s Word, find rest and end up much happier. No doubt, God is doing a lot of work in my soul to deepen my satisfaction in Him. But my contribution to that work is putting the stupid phone down and creating the space for him to work.