Last summer, I felt convicted that social media had become an addiction in my life, and I needed to give it up. Every spare moment I had was spent engaging the world online, and I was sick of the hold it had on me. I deleted the apps from my phone but still found myself logging onto Facebook through the internet browser. Eventually, I decided that I needed to deactivate my account. Even then, I would still pick up my phone out of habit. Over several weeks, I came to the haunting realization that I didn’t know how to fill the void social media left behind.
Maybe you’re feeling these same convictions but are unsure you can really pull the plug. I’m telling my story, not to be condescending toward anyone who uses social media, but because I fear the effect it is having on our spiritual communities and relationships. Many of us have become blind to the ways our engagement in social media hinders our engagement in true, gospel-centered community. I want to encourage you to consider how you are being impacted by social media and reconsider the role it plays in your life.
The Need for Community
After leaving social media behind, I decided to occupy my time by investing in real-life community. However, I quickly realized that community is hard to find in our culture, even in my own church. When everyone around you is addicted to their phones and engrossed in social media, you spend a lot of time sitting in silence, waiting for your presence to be remembered.
Social media gives us a taste of the community we need, but it can never fill the void in our hearts for real community.
To be human is to need community. Even before the Fall, God said it was not good for man to be alone (Gen. 2:18). Jesus is another example: He had intimate relationships within the close-knit community of His disciples. In our own selfishness and pride, we struggle to live this out, and the enticement of all the digital age has to offer only makes it more difficult.
Sure, social media gives us a taste of the community we need, but it can never fill the void in our hearts for real community, to be fully known and to fully know others. This deceptive imitation is what makes it so dangerous. We can scroll through social media and get a vague sense of what our acquaintances are doing, and they, in turn, can get a vague sense of what we are doing, but no one can be fully known through their Facebook profile. This false intimacy thwarts a community's ability to flourish.
Humanity is not designed to live this way. We try to push the limits of community by fitting as many people as we can into our lives, but our minds are not designed to bear the weight of keeping track of everything going on in the lives of our hundreds of “friends.” Instead, we need real friends, real community. I have found that by slowing down and really noticing people, I have been able to care for them more deeply.
Everyone has 24 hours in each day, and time spent with false community only takes away time which could be spent in true, gospel-centered community. Imagine if the time you spent on social media was spent instead dwelling in deep conversation and the study of God’s Word. Paul says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time” (Eph. 5:15-16).
Seeking Approval in All the Wrong Places
As we desperately try to keep up with our endlessly scrolling Instagram feed, we also feel pressured to maintain our end of these surface-level relationships. We exhaust ourselves projecting and marketing our lives to others through perfectly edited photos and 140 characters arranged just so. In many ways, we try to convince everyone that our life is as perfect as theirs appears to us. Yet, when everyone is choosing what to share, no one is getting the full story, and this vicious cycle feeds on itself. Even close friends can be fooled by our social media charade and think that we are OK, when in reality we are wasting away on the inside. When we let our value be determined by whether someone decides to “like” what we have put on display, what we’re really doing is saying that God’s approval isn’t enough—we need it from our followers, too.
Social media is a natural place to share the highs of life, while our lows largely remain hidden. When no one knows the darkness in our life, it becomes even darker, and the impact can be devastating. Gospel-centered communities should be places where we are known and loved, where we are free to share both highs and lows. Through this kind of community, we experience acceptance, not based our our performance, but based instead on the fact that we are all made in the image of God and are called to love one another.
Is It Beneficial?
It didn’t take long for me to feel the benefits of withdrawing from social media and seeking real community. I realized even more that social media was a weight that I needed to set aside in order to run the race set before me (Heb. 12:1). At the end of the summer, I suffered a miscarriage and faced one of the darkest trials of my life. I am so grateful that God had placed it on my heart to get off social media before it happened because that gave me a break from the seemingly endless pregnancy announcements of acquaintances on Facebook during that season. Instead of seeking comfort from the glow of my phone screen, I found comfort in my community of family and friends. I had a meeting with my mentor on the day my husband and I got the bad news, and it meant so much to sit across the table from a real person who had experienced the heartbreak of miscarriage herself. I can’t imagine what that moment would have looked like if I had not been invested in gospel-centered community.
Where are you spending your time? Is it leading to flourishing or to the slow death of true community?
Christians are called to walk in transparent community. Consider the damage it can do, both to yourself and to others, when the life you show on social media doesn’t match the life you’re really living. Ask God for clarity and strength to evaluate your habits and how they impact your spiritual health. Where we spend our time reveals what we love. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). What do you treasure most: God’s Word or feedback on Instagram? Where are you spending your time? Is it leading to flourishing or to the slow death of true community?
Maybe forgoing social media entirely seems extreme to you. You might be asking, “Isn’t it okay for us to use social media and still foster gospel-centered community?” Perhaps. I’ve considered getting back on social media and limiting my friends and “follows” to people whom I regularly commune with offline, but I’m still hesitant. At least for now, the negatives outweigh the positives. My time with God has become more precious to me than ever before, and I do not want to risk losing that; by spending more time reading His Word, I have become more confident in who He has made me to be. So while technology is a gift from God that can be used for good, and while social media is certainly permissible by biblical standards, I don’t consider it beneficial for me in my current season of life. I encourage you to reconsider its role in your own life; perhaps you will reach the same conclusion.