Many of my Facebook friends and Twitter followers have chosen to go offline for Lent. By leaving social media behind they hope to use these weeks leading up to Easter in a quieter and more spiritual way. A lot of what’s “out there” can be distracting, silly, and burdensome. I completely understand their need to be rid of all that might keep them from becoming what God wants them to be. Lent is a time for spiritual growth. But I’ve decided NOT to go dark and maybe I can explain why.
I can’t think of a better place to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel than on Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and Instagram, etc. And I can’t think of places that need it more. The internet is the public forum of our day. It’s where everyone in the world comes together. It’s where Christians should be gathering. We can be a presence that shares the love and mercy of Christ in a way that brings light to darkness and hope where there is discord and despair. It’s not always easy or pleasant, but easy and pleasant isn’t what He promised us, after all. Imagine what St. Paul would have tweeted if he’d been on Twitter. Or St. Paul’s Facebook posts or Instagram photos. I’m sure the Apostles would have used social media as another one of their tools in their way of connecting with people. I don’t know about you, but for all its annoyances, Facebook is sometimes where I first learn about what’s going on in the lives of my friends and extended family. I read about illnesses and worries, their troubles and triumphs, even the news that someone I know and love has passed away. Facebook is full of prayer requests as well and I’m humbled and thankful for the chance to add my voice for healing and peace in God’s good time.
Having said all that, I think it’s prudent to be prayerfully and thoughtfully engaged in social media. It’s way too easy to let the internet control you—instead of you controlling your use if the internet. To begin with, remember that the internet is NOT FREE. When you’re online you’re spending your most valuable resource—your time. So make it count. During Lent (and the rest of the year) it’s best to limit your time online and to use some discipline and self-control. Don’t respond immediately to every post or photo. Be thoughtful and reflect on what fruit your response might bear. Sometimes the most loving response is your silence. You don’t need to comment or “like” or retweet everything. Don’t post just for the sake of posting something or updating your status. Posts that prompt others to say “how cute!” or “how sad!” or leave people wondering (e.g. “Feeling lonely right now…”) are self-serving and better left unsaid. Here’s where you can do some more Lenten fasting. Fast from posting selfies, from new profile pix, from gossip and snarky comments. Don’t post photos of what you had for dinner (especially that steak you ate on a Friday in Lent!) or your latest game score or quiz results. Nobody cares what kind of tree you are anyway. These kinds of posts say: Look at me. Think of me. Like me, please. They’re at odds with the spirit of preparing ourselves for Easter. “He must increase but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
On a positive note, there are lots of good digital resources that can help you make your Lenten journey more spiritually-nourishing. I’m following Fr. Robert Barron and Cardinal Timothy Dolan. Both these men offer daily Lenten reflections and prayers that help me stay on track. Using the iBreviary app, I can pray the Divine Office. I use a rosary app that let’s me pray using my iPhone. Lent is a great time to increase our prayer time and develop better prayer habits. Post a favorite prayer on Facebook instead of your Candy Crush score.
Social media isn’t always a bad thing. Like everything in the world, it’s how we use it that gives it value. Moderation and prudence are key. But it’s where people meet to talk things over in our modern world, so I’m staying involved in the conversation this Lent. I’m posting. I’m praying. I’m trying to be a witness.
“It is not enough to be passersby on the digital highways…we need love and to be loved. We need tenderness.”