If you read my article at the beginning of Lent, “What I’ve Learnt about Fasting from Social Media So Far,” you might recall that I (re)learnt that fasting is all about Christ (duh!) rather than a narrow understanding of Christian discipline. More specifically, I’ve been learning about moving from the mindless self-indulgence of social media toward focusing more on Christ, which is what Lent is supposed to be about anyway—focusing entirely on Christ and the salvation He won for us. To help us do this, I stated that whatever we give up for Lent ought to be replaced with something that helps us focus on Christ, such as studying the Word, i.e., more time in devotion.
Instead of mindlessly self-indulging on various social media platforms, I’ve been doing that in the form of translating the Gospel according to John from Greek into English. By doing so, I’ve been learning a lot about our Lord more than I would by simply reading the English, even though the translations we have are very good. But that’s not what I’m going to be talking about in this article. As the title suggests, I’ll be relating what it was like fasting from social media—that is, what the experience was like.
If I’m being completely honest, the first thing I experienced was boredom. After all, most of the time I’ve spent my time on social media has been to relieve my boredom. So, I began replacing this boredom with reading a leisurely book (instead books for seminary) and, a lot of the times, binge watching shows on Netflix and Amazon Prime (which is a problem in and of itself, perhaps something I’ll work on for Lent next year). But I also spent a lot of time in the original languages of the Scriptures, mostly the Greek New Testament while dabbling in the Hebrew Old Testament here and there.
It was also extremely difficult. I cannot tell you how many times I took out my iPhone to start mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram while waiting for something or because I was bored or even while waiting for the screen to load on a video game I was playing! It would take me a couple seconds to realise what I was doing before I put the phone down.
Social media has become a normal part of our everyday lives just as electricity is. There was once a time when nobody used electricity because there was a time when we didn’t have it, and humanity had gotten along quite well without it for thousands of years. But now, it’s a normal and even necessary part of our every day lives. How many of us can honestly say we can survive without electricity? Without it, we wouldn’t have heating and cooling and other vital things. The same is true of social media (and the Internet) now. Not too long ago—even in my own lifetime—there was a time without social media, but now it’s become a normal and sometimes necessary part of our every day lives. Even corporations have social media profiles and personalities in order to relate to their consumers. This is how serious social media has become in virtually everybody’s lives (with very few exceptions).
It took a couple weeks, but eventually I began to experience shalom—peace—as I distanced myself from social media. I wasn’t entirely surprised, however. When I went on a pilgrimage to Israel in January 2017 and then a mission trip to Guatemala a year later, I spent about two weeks each away from social media. Of course, this wasn’t a conscious decision to piously abstain from it during those trips but instead not wanting to increase my phone bill for data roaming. Nevertheless, during these brief periods away from social media I also experienced extreme peace.
It’s probably no secret by now that recent studies have shown that “higher amounts of screen time are associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression” (Reed, “Anxiety and Social Media Use”). This data is also supported by longitudinal studies among teenagers that show the increase in anxiety and depression with the high use of social media. To make matters even worse, there’s a vast number of people who already experience anxiety apart from social media and then turn to social media to alleviate their anxiety only to make their anxiety worse!
There are caveats with any scientific study, but the correlations are clear. After all, what can be more anxious than trying to keep up with every cultural thing in order to remain relevant all the while trying to make yourself appear to be the best version of you in order to receive the approval and acceptance of others, even people you’ve never met? And in order to do so, you have to stay connected to social media nearly 24 hours a day! It is not surprising, then, that excessive use of social media increases anxiety and depression.
So, my anxiety has been remarkably low during my fasting. As a result of having less anxiety, I experienced a lot more joy. And not just general happiness, but especially the joy of the Lord when coupled with my time in the Word instead of spending that time on social media.
Besides anxiety, I was also incredibly less angry. I don’t follow any politician or political site (anymore), but it’s inevitable that political things come across my social media feeds because so many of my connections (“friends” and “follows”) follow their political affiliations significantly more than they follow the Lord. So, I would see things that would anger me: babies being killed via abortion, something stupid Donald Trump has said or done, something stupid Joe Biden has said or done, the evil acts of liberals and conservatives alike, and so on. Seeing these things on my feeds constantly made me angry at the world.
Having spent a couple months away from social media and no longer seeing these things, at times I was disconnected from current events because I don’t watch the news on TV and social media was always how I got my news, but the silver lining is that I’ve been less angry. If being out of touch with parts of the world means my mental and emotional health are better, then I think the payoff is worth it.
Having experienced significantly less anxiety and anger during Lent, these last couple months I have been in a state of shalom, which is Hebrew for “peace,” “health,” or “welfare.” The Old Testament is pregnant with the use of this word, but some great passages are worth noting:
- The Aaronic Benediction over the people of Israel in Numbers 6:24-26, “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.”
- Psalm 4:8, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.”
- Psalm 34:14, “Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”
- Psalm 37:11, But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.”
- Isaiah 9:6-7, “For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over His kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”
What about the New Testament? The Greek word for “peace” is εἰρήνη (eirene), which is also abundant in the New Testament. Here are some significant examples:
- Zechariah’s prophecy (John the Baptiser’s father) in Luke 1:79, that God will “‘give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.'”
- Simeon’s praise, which we sing as the Nunc Dimittis in the Divine Service, in Luke 2:29-32, “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel.” What’s significant about this passage is that God told Simeon he would not die before he saw the Messiah. So, when he saw the Christ child, he praised God that he would depart—that is, die—in peace. Thus, here as well as elsewhere, we see that death for the Christian is peace.
- When Jesus said to the woman who anointed His feet with alabaster oil in Luke 7:50, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
- John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” Therefore, the Lord’s peace is entirely different than the world’s version of peace.
- John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
- Acts 9:31, “So, the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.”
- Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
- 2 Corinthians 13:11, “Finally, brothers, rejoice! Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace [the verbal form of peace]; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”
There are many others great passages I could list.
It is clear from all these passages and more that God’s people are to be a people of peace. To put it another way, God’s people—the church—is to be a place of shalom. The church (and her people) is hardly such a place these days; instead, churches are often a place of division and confusion. But God is a God of peace, not confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33)
Besides spending personal time in the Word, a largely significant aspect of my feelings of God’s shalom has been my time spent at church, whether it was the midweek Lenten services or the Sabbath. It’s not just the feeling of peace, however. As Romans 5:1 intimates, I have begun to appreciate even more the peace God has brought between me and Him. In Lutheran terms, we call this our passive/vertical righteousness, or justification by faith—that God is the sole actor of our salvation. We don’t climb the ladder to God; God comes down the ladder to us, which is also what the entire worship service is about. God is the one who comes to us and justifies us by faith—that is, the one who reconciles us with Himself, or brings peace between us and Him and no longer at odds against Him through Jesus Christ His Son.
Yet this peace—this shalom—of God is not content to stay in place. His peace is active and He calls us to give peace to others. The Book of Acts and the epistles consistently state that the church is a place of peace and the people are to live at peace with one another. In Lutheran terms, our passive/vertical righteousness meets the road of our active/horizontal righteousness. God has brought His peace to us by His will alone and He thus calls us to live in peace horizontally, that is, with others.
So, after fasting from social media, I’ve not only begun to feel and recognise God’s peace even more but His peace has also led me toward living more at peace with others, which is not so easy to do on social media. On Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and other platforms, it’s really easy to carelessly type angrily against people with whom you disagree. I am certainly guilty of this. Whether it’s because of politics, religion, or something else, because we’re behind a screen we think we have some sort of anonymity in which we can demoralise people for being different than us. Rather than peace, we use social media to breed discord.
So, now that Lent is over and I can stop fasting, what will I do with my experience? What will I do with what I’ve learnt? As I said in “What I’ve Learnt about Fasting So Far,” there would be no point to fasting if I return to the thing I formerly gave up to the same degree. For example, let’s say I fasted from pop (or “soda”) because I realised that having it for every meal every day while also drinking it without meals was not only unhealthy but also overly indulgent. What would be the point of my fasting if I returned to pop to the same degree as before? My fasting would be in vain and I wouldn’t have learnt anything. In the same way, what would be the point of my fasting from social media if I return to it to the same degree of spending many hours a day on it rather than spending that time in God’s Word?
If you remember from the article, I had shared that I fasted from pizza last year for Lent because I was eating it nearly every weekend and the fasting helped me realise I needed to repent of gluttony. Since then, I still eat pizza, but not to the same degree. The last time I had pizza was a month ago, and before that I hadn’t had any pizza for three months. So, after fasting from social media, now what?
Lent this year helped me realise I shouldn’t be spending so much time on social media for three main reasons: (1) it increases my anxiety, (2) the people on it make me angry, and (3) I need to spend that time on more important things such as family and the Word of God. Now that Lent is over, I’ll be returning to social media, but not to the same degree. I’ll continue to use it to post content for this blog, to stay in contact with friends and family, to share life updates, and to post a funny meme here and there, but not nearly to the same degree as before. Besides these, before Lent I would spend hours mindlessly scrolling through my social media feeds to fill my boredom. Instead of doing that, I will do what I’ve been doing since Lent—using that time to be with the Lord in His Word as well as spending that time with my wife.
I Don’t Hate Social Media
It might seem like I hate social media now or you might be thinking that I’m insinuating it’s evil. I don’t hate social media and it is certainly not evil. Can social media be a medium for sin and evil? Absolutely. But so can everything else in this fallen world. Like everything else, social media is a part of fallen creation and it can be used for great evil. But also like everything else, it can be used for good. Social media allows me to spread the Gospel through this blog, for one. It also gives us the ability to stay in touch with family and friends with whom it would otherwise be nearly impossible to stay in touch without social media. It can even be a source of joy and laughter, such as funny memes or videos, sharing joyful stories, joining a private group for mutual interests, and so on.
Ultimately, however, social media is not the end of human relationships and communication. God created humans for relationship, and no matter how technologically advanced social media gets, it can never replace the face-to-face fellowship God created human creatures to be in. And like everything else in creation, social media can become an idol for some people, taking God’s place in your heart, mind, and soul. So, we must be careful that we don’t turn social media into an idol just as we are careful with other things we enjoy such as sports, food, our children, or a good glass of Bourbon.
Whether you’re on social media or not, “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Reed, Phil. “Anxiety and Social Media Use.” Psychology Today. February 3, 2020. Accessed March 15, 2021. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/digital-world-real-world/202002/anxiety-and-social-media-use.