**A brief disclaimer: I am not perfect at using social media, shocking, I know. I am still learning how to be wise in my own social media practices and thought this article might be helpful for those of you who are also craving wisdom and discipline in this area of life.**
Between reading a few helpful things on technology use, desiring to maintain margin in my life, and noticing highly varied approaches to responding to social issues, I am compelled to outline a few principles for wise social media usage for the thoughtful Christian.
The vast majority of us utilize some form of social media daily, and have become consumers of these developing social platforms without considering the cost to us personally or developing principles for using it wisely. Personally, I have struggled through sin issues which have been exacerbated by my social media usage, such as comparison, discontent, unfounded judgment, and others. Yes, these sinful attitudes would likely emerge under other circumstances, but it is worth noting that Jesus says, “if your right hand is causing you to sin, cut if off” (Matt. 5:30). Perhaps these sinful attitudes are more prevalent in our lives because of the way in which and the frequency with which we use social media.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.James 1:5
Maybe you too, like me, have longed for a better understanding of what it looks like for us as believers to use social media wisely. Let’s keep in mind James 1:5, as we consider these principles:
Understand your level of social responsibility
My purpose here is not to argue against freedom of speech, but rather suggest gently that by virtue of taking out an account on any kind of social media platform, we are consciously (or unconsciously) joining a larger social group. With membership in such a group comes some level of responsibility. Undoubtedly, there are varying levels of understanding of that responsibility, and many contributing factors to navigate. Wisdom is necessary to determine what level of social responsibility each of us has, and how best to use our platforms wisely, whether we have one hundred Facebook friends or 20,000. On a social platform, as in a real life conversation, speaking up about an issue communicates something; in both cases, so also does staying silent.
Richard Foster, in his classic A Celebration of Disciplines, discusses outward and inward practices for the discipline of simplicity. One of his outward principles is to “reject anything that is creating an addiction within you.” This might bring up a number of convicting thoughts; at the moment, it’s worth considering how this might apply to our social media usage. Is Facebook or Instagram the first thing we must check in the morning, or the last thing before falling asleep at night? If we can honestly say we are struggling with addictive behavior in using social media, it’s probably a good time to take a break.
Be in charge of your social media usage, rather than letting it control you.
Use with margin
What did we do before this era of social media? Maybe, we woke up slowly with the sun, read more great books, lingered over the dinner table, dug our hands into fresh dirt more often, took long walks, invited more people into our homes, laid under the stars, played family games. In our tech-crazed world, we have irresponsibly allowed technology to enter into so much of our white spaces, our in-between times, our margin. Those quiet moments during the day. Those empty minutes. What if we claimed those back? What if we looked each other in the eyes more often, and our kids saw our faces gazing at them? Several months ago, one of my daughters articulated this, painfully, when she said, “why are you looking at your phone so much, Mom?” From my experience, it is so helpful to create boundaries around social media, and really, all of technology. Put it away at an early hour in the evening, or during the day if you’re home with kids. Be in charge of your social media usage, rather than letting it control you.
Take regular Sabbaths
In a related way, make a plan to take longer breaks from social media. Andy Crouch, in The Tech-Wise Family, recommends taking a break from technology one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year. How hard would this be? How life-giving might this be?
Personally, we are working on “low-tech” Sundays in our family, which we hope will eventually be “no-tech” after these pandemic days when our church services are online. It requires discipline, but it’s also become a sweet rest from the noise of online life, and we are finding more time to read, to reflect, to just be together.
That fraction, that glimpse into our lives that we’ve chosen to expose to the world, what does it communicate about what’s most important to us?
Consider what you are “all about”
Many people, though not most of us, use social media for marketing purposes. Any social media platform will show only the smallest fraction of our lives, our thoughts, our opinions, our values. That fraction, that glimpse into our lives that we’ve chosen to expose to the world, what does it communicate about what’s most important to us? If Jesus were following our Twitter feed or Instagram, would we be embarrassed by what he might see, or might not see? If we only have a small fraction of our lives to show on social media, ought we not carefully and intentionally choose what glimpse we are giving? Think about it this way… if someone had to describe you, what you cared about, in five words based upon your social media account only, what words would they use?
Do not let social media distract you
In the same discussion of the discipline of simplicity, Foster says, “shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the kingdom of God.” Ultimately, social media platforms are a tool, an optional add-on to our lives. They are something we have each decided to opt into at some point. But if these platforms become a distraction from our walk with God, or our God-given responsibilities, then perhaps it’s time to be take a break, or delete an account. Instead, we actively “seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33)
Or put another way, “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
If, after all, social media is causing our gaze to stray from Jesus, and distracting us from seeking first God and his kingdom, then it is essential that we either learn wisdom for using it or reject it altogether.
It is possible for us to use social media wisely, so that we are not controlled by it. It is a beautiful way to stay in touch with people, particularly for us, in our transient, overseas life. And even more so, it can be great tool for proclaiming the goodness of God and the transformative power of the gospel in our everyday lives, if we choose to use it in such a way.