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On Facebook and Fasting and Dying to Self … Lent 2018 (Part 1)

April 3, 2018

I gave up Facebook for Lent, and made it all the way until the Tuesday after Easter before I relented and activated my account again.

That was a mistake.

What I appreciate about Lenten fasting is that, even if I enter into it with an open and obedient heart, having meditated over what to fast from, having taken the time to pray over what God might have for me in this season, my best intentions always get fantastically uprooted.  Whatever discipline I think I am cultivating or dependency I think that I am (so selflessly!) yielding up, God somehow always digs in and unearths the deeper issue in my heart.  The truth hiding behind whatever I thought the issue was.

It’s never just about the caffeine or the TV watching or the Facebook that I’m fasting from, it’s something more.  My own desire for control.  The ways I numb myself.  My persistent and subconscious and utterly fruitless attempts to earn grace and be my own Redeemer.

But back to Facebook (and technically Instagram as well … one fell social media swoop).  Research is pretty clear on the physical and emotional benefits of giving up Facebook — less cortisol (stress), more feelings of happiness, stronger connections (with real-life friends), better sleep, higher self-esteem.  (I know, I know – you read that list and think, what else, science? Clear skin? Toned arms?  Giving up Facebook is right up there with coconut oil in terms of magical health benefits).  I think I’ve given up Facebook a time or two before for Lent, but never with much success … let’s just say I definitely indulged in my Feast days.  And Feast mornings after.  (Not a thing).

So, when I deactivated my Facebook account this time, I experienced some typical (but surprisingly strong) withdrawal symptoms the first few days:  constantly and often subconsciously unlocking my phone seeking some new distraction; aimlessly browsing the Internet; an almost physical itch to stalk the profile of the last guy I dated; a persistent fear of missing out.

My initial reactions made it clear enough that I had a unhealthy relationship with social media.  But honestly, after a few days of withdrawal, being off Facebook just felt really, really good.  Once I got it into my head that I wasn’t actually missing out on anything (my social calendar has not been very packed recently. or ever.), I picked up the phone and called … ok, texted … my real-life friends and asked them to hang out.  And they said yes (well, 3 of them did).  I still had regular phone and Skype dates with the people close to my heart, but far from my home.  Life went on pretty O.K.

And I felt, in a way, free from this pressure to cultivate and advance a self-image in the “public eye” of social media.  I didn’t have to craft a funny story about something my students did or re-post any “good press” about things I was involved in or doing.  Essentially, I resigned the role of P.R. Director of my own life:  turns out, I don’t need a P.R. director.  And that simple fact was actually the most powerful part of my Facebook fast … I’m still reflecting and processing, but I think the decision to let go of being my own P.R. Director is what began to reshape how I inhabit my life.  What if Facebook literally didn’t exist – if I never had to live as though I might post something about this later?  How would it actually turn my attention back to moments, and people, and the sacred in the ordinary, and the thread of grace that already runs through my life?  What would I see in my own hours and days that I overlooked or edited out before?

It’s not as though I was that person who was constantly “doing it for the ‘gram” or regularly posting mundane updates on my life – no, I’ve become very private, and very particular, about what and how I post on social media, and how it might be interpreted.  But that, in a way, is its own burden:  a decision to not be very forthcoming is still a decision on how to present your life.  And I think what I learned — what I most valued about not being on Facebook — is the mental and emotional drain that that decision-making was having.  I really, really liked the idea of being able to walk away from that decision altogether.  And when I thought about going back on Facebook after Lent, my thoughts turned towards a kind of “Swedish death cleaning” (one of those things I discovered in my aimless internet browsing) of my social media presence.  Cleaning out my friends list.  Unfollowing stupid pages and groups I got added to.  Deleting everything I ever said before 2013, because I was young and inarticulate and needed attention (but, again, back to the ways in which I am compelled to act as my own PR director).  It brought a slightly new (slightly 21st-century, self-obsessed) shade of meaning to the Easter Vigil reading about dying with Christ, as I thought about my own social media self-projection dying, and what new and healthy growth might be resurrected in its place.

I made it through the entire fast without going back on Facebook, even on Feast days (with one unfortunate but very short-lived exception that involved a last minute cancelled flight and needing to sell baseball tickets fast and me being generally disgruntled at everything).

So opening the door back into Facebook-land today was kind of overwhelming.  A little bit like stepping into a room where a lot of people are arguing (apparently political rants and comment trolls didn’t go away during Lent) and generally being snarky or sarcastic, oh, and also it’s the middle of someone’s wedding, where five other people are taking the moment to announce their pregnancies, and it’s all taking place in a portrait gallery of all the most photogenic people you know, who have literally beautiful, perfect families that just took Easter pictures and are so happy and fulfilled.

Yikes.

I may need some time to adjust before I Swedish-death-clean my social media accounts.

But all that — resigning as the P.R. Director of my life, dying to self (particularly the projected self), paying attention to the sacred in the ordinary of non-hyper-connected life — all that was just the beginning.

Because then I met a character we’ll call “the Filipino hobbit.”

And that’s when God uprooted something even deeper … in Part 2.

 

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