Is Your Phone Making You A Better Person?

In my last post, I described some of the reasons why I decided to take a pretty major step back from social media over the past few months. In short, I could see some ways that my use of social media was harming both my soul and my relationships. So, I expected my step back to have some positive impacts. But, in all honesty, I didn’t really know what to expect, as a person or as a pastor. In this post, I’ll tackle the personal impact and in the next I’ll tackle the pastoral (I have A LOT to say about that one). But, for today, here’s what I noticed over the past few months:

  • I’m going to gloss over the obvious: I was less distracted, less anxious, more present, and less enticed by the comparison trap. Before I move on to the rest of my list, I want you to pause and think about the massive claims I just rattled off quickly as the obvious benefits of stepping back from social media. My guess is you weren’t surprised by any of them, right? That’s just the predictable boilerplate stuff that you’ve heard dozens of times, isn’t it? What does it say about us that we maintain a slavish devotion to something that we know makes us distracted, anxious, less present, and constantly comparing our lives to others? That alone should make us stop and think.
  • I was more productive – and not just at work! Our mornings were smoother around the house. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still chaotic…three kids and two working parents make that somewhat inevitable. But they were better. So were our evenings. And weekends. It’s just easier to run a house when your head is fully in the game.
  • I was more intentional with my friends. Social media breeds a level of complacency in our friendships, even with those we truly care about and want to prioritize. Thanks to social media, we all passively monitor each other’s lives and get lulled into this sense that we already know what’s going on with each other. So, why bother with a phone call, grabbing coffee, or inviting someone over for dinner? We’re already caught up. But we’re not! Watching the highlight reel of your friend’s life is not the same as genuinely connecting with others to learn what’s really going on, how they’re really doing, and what they’re really thinking about for their future. I still found myself picking up my phone but now it was to make real phone calls to real people!
  • I was more attracted to substance. It’s not just that I read more or engaged with more thoughtful content, it’s that I found myself desiring substance. Social media is like sugar – insanely addictive and good for a quick hit. But once you break the addiction to digital candy, you realize how much good content there is out there and how much more satisfying it is. Tweets are fine but I would much rather read something that took more than 30 seconds at a stoplight to compose.

All of this is to say if you’re looking to be a better version of yourself, it might be time to rethink your relationship with social. In my next post, I’ll take about the ways that stepping back from social might make you a better pastor too.

Stepping Back from Social Media

At some point this past fall, I hit a breaking point with social media. I was finally able to admit to myself just how much I hated what Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter were doing to my mind and my soul. To be specific, here’s what really bothered me:

  • Even when I was with my family, friends, or church, I wasn’t as present as I should have been because I was always thinking about getting a picture of every potentially “instagramable moment”.
  • Once I found that moment and posted, insecurity, the desire for approval, and the need for a quick dopamine hit would kick in and I would find myself checking (sometimes a little obsessively) to see how many likes, comments, or views my post got.
  • Even when I wasn’t on social media, I found myself thinking about the lives of people I barely know or have never met. Ever been there? Analyzing and envying the fixtures in a celebrity Christian’s kitchen while the dishes pile up in your own sink?
  • More often than not, checking social media would make me feel some combination of envy, outrage, shame, hurt, or annoyance.

In short, social media was making me miserable…and it was distracting me from God, which is why I love the photo at the top of this post. Instead of enjoying a few quiet minutes with Jesus, I was mindlessly scrolling my way through life.

So, I just stopped posting, checking, or engaging for the most part. It wasn’t planned. I didn’t think it required one final post just so you all weren’t up at night wondering why I wasn’t posting. It wasn’t a spiritual fast. It was just stepping away from something I had come to hate.

And I loved it.

Honestly, I can’t say I missed it much at all. Nor can I say that I’m back. Nor can I say I’m permanently deleting my accounts. But I did learn some things over the last few months and I’m looking forward to processing those in my next post.

But here’s the question for today, are you using social media in a way that’s making you a better version of yourself, more full of life and love? Or are you just making yourself miserable?

What Brings You Life?

Calvert Cliffs State Park, January 2, 2021

Wouldn’t it be great if turning the calendar to 2021 enabled us to leave all of the challenges of 2020 in the past? But, at least so far, that doesn’t seem to be working. Covid is still very much a thing, our politics are still very much a mess, and life is still very far from normal. Turning the calendar doesn’t seem to have magically revolutionized the culture in our home nor has it rocketed me to new intimacy with God. If anything, life seems pretty much the same. In other words, life is still hard.

Which is why I’m trying to be as intentional as possible about prioritizing the things that bring me life. I’ve noticed that I never need to go looking for the things that drain me – they have a way of finding me all by themselves. They don’t need my help. But the things that bring me life are different. They’re never urgent, nobody ever demands that I do them, nobody ever gets angry if I don’t do them (with the exception of myself!), and they all require some effort. I rarely stumble into the things that bring me life. I have to plan for them, protect them, and even fight for them. And that’s the big insight for me. The path of least resistance never brings life. It leads to a Netflix binge or mindlessly surfing the internet or one last check of my email before I go to bed.

And I want more for 2021. I want to live with passion, with vigor, with joy. I don’t want to muddle through my days in the vain hope that tomorrow will be better. I want to work really hard on things that really matter with people I really love. And I want to fight for the things that bring me life.

If you’re wanting to walk a similar path, the first step involves determining what actually brings you life. Crafting this list might end up being harder than you think but you owe it to yourself to know what truly replenishes you. For what it’s worth, here’s my list:

  • Hiking…hence the photo and how we spend just about every Sabbath as a family.
  • Long walks with Laura…it’s where we have our best conversations.
  • Travel…at least I remember it fondly!
  • Fire…fire pits, fire places, candles. Really fire in all its forms.
  • Good conversations with good friends….preferably near a fire!
  • Swimming…for fun and for exercise.
  • Reading….theology, leadership, spiritual formation, novels, biographies, and books about politics.
  • Coffee…probably should have been first.
  • Watching movies…we do this about 3 times a year but I always enjoy it.
  • Lake Ontario…DC is home but the Great Lakes are the best!

Obviously, I believe all of those activities need to be built on the foundation of a vibrant relationship with Christ.

When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you will also appear with him in glory.

Colossians 3:4 (CSB)

Christ, who is your life. Jesus doesn’t just bring life. He is life. And no list of life giving activities can ever take the place of the life of Christ in us. But you also can’t bury the life of Christ under a relentless pile of things that drain you and expect to live with joy. We’ve got to fight for the things that bring us life.

So, what’s on your list? Are there any that you can build into the ordinary routines of your life? How can you build more life into your calendar this year? However you do it, fight for the things that bring you life!