I like to think I have good boundaries and that I’m not one of “those people” who is always on their phone and doesn’t know how to talk to real people anymore. I don’t usually post what I’m eating for lunch or how angry I am at traffic each time it happens. I don’t put up photos every five minutes on Instagram, blowing up the internet with my darling one-year-old. I don’t look at my phone during meals. Like I said, I like to think I have good boundaries with my phone. And to be honest, I think I’ve done a pretty decent job at this. My work in Residence Life required me to be part of an on call rotation, carrying an on call phone every few weeks and to be almost constantly available with my personal phone as well. Turning my phone off was a luxury I didn’t often have, but I worked to have boundaries in other ways.
However, now I find myself in a new season, one where I am no longer required to have my phone on for any particular reason other than my personal preferences. My time is much more flexible as I stay home with my daughter during the day. I’m no longer responsible for responding to emergencies on campus or helping RAs problem solve.
Two Sundays ago, our pastor talked about how seldom technology is used as a tool. It so often takes away from doing good, instead of contributing to it. I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly, and almost immediately assuming this was not a problem for me. After all, I’ve worked hard to have good boundaries with my phone and the internet in the past. I reminded myself that I was the woman who worked with college students for a number of years before obtaining a smart phone, after all! How on earth could this be a problem for me? But as I sat there in the pew, convinced of my morality in this area, I felt the Lord ask my heart, if I really was as free in this area as I claimed.
Later that day, as I sat with my journal, asking the Lord what he would have me do in response to the sermon, he asked me to spend time thinking about how I use technology. As I sat, I was humbled to realize that my heart loves the distraction of my phone more than I care to admit. Even if my first act of the day is not to check my phone, it is where my first thoughts go, and I find myself eagerly awaiting the moment I can check social media. Sometimes I would rather think about how to take a photo to post instead of enjoying being with the people I love. There are times when I find myself scrolling through Instagram during the day, avoiding a chore for a few moments. In the discomfort of transition, I will often turn to Facebook or Instagram to scroll through what others are doing instead of turning to the Lord with the difficulty of the moment. When I use social media for my own comfort, I simultaneously stop using it to connect with others. Instead of a means to care and connect with the people I know and love, it ends up simply being a way I can be distracted and entertained, I’m sorry to say.
How humbled and grieved I was to discover my heart’s propensity to use the people I love as a means of avoiding my own discomfort. It feels so subtle when it takes place in the comfort of my own home through a screen, but I feel convinced that it is incredibly destructive. I feel so grateful that the Lord showed this to me in my early days of finding a routine and a rhythm in this new place. Initially, I thought that the solution might be to avoid social media entirely for a while. But I think the Lord showed my heart that this would not actually be the most loving thing. By depriving my family and friends who are far away of updates and photos, I would be simply choosing another extreme in the same category. The Lord reminded me that there is sometimes a third option, one of moderation and not choosing one side over another.
After thinking and praying about this, I made a pact with the Lord and I share it here. My intention is not to show you how self-controlled or holy I am. Quite the opposite. I hope this shows how deep this problem is for my heart that I would need such drastic restraints, and perhaps help someone else if their heart feels prompted. For this season at least, here’s my pact with the Lord, hopefully reflecting that I want technology to be my tool not my master.
Time with the Lord must come before social media.
The unglamorous and hard work of writing for the day must come before social media.
I want to communicate with someone in my family or home team or someone the Lord puts on my heart to reach out to, with a text or phone call before I get on Instagram or Facebook.
When I see something on social media that is impacting someone I care about, I want to respond right then as appropriate.
I only want to check Facebook or Instagram once a day, no more (unless to check a time-sensitive message, etc.)
I wish this didn’t feel so challenging, but it honestly is pretty hard. I’ve been at it only a little over a week now and it already has been both incredibly rewarding and painfully difficult. It’s difficult because transition is hard. When a song from the radio makes me cry because I miss my family, I’d much rather look at my phone as a distraction than embrace the tears and invite the Lord into my pain. It’s difficult because life is boring and mundane. I’d rather look at the best of others’ lives than be confronted with the monotony of my own in another load of laundry or more dirty dishes. It’s difficult because I would rather be distracted and entertained when I’m having a bad day than sit in the mess of the present and ask for the Lord’s help.
But it has also been incredibly rewarding. I’ve remembered friends’ birthdays and called them right then. I’ve seen the beauty in the mundane as my daughter takes her first steps towards me in the midst of chores. I’ve been able to pray for myself and those I love with a new commitment, as I see social media as a way to connect instead of be entertained. I’ve felt incredibly free, as my phone truly feels like my tool, not my master. I won’t deny that the draw and the pull to be distracted is still there. But the freedom I’m experiencing is a true gift.
The truth is I want to grow in this season. As much as my selfish heart fights it, I desperately want to be used by the Lord MORE than I want to be entertained. I hate how appealing people’s approval is, even on a screen, especially when real life is hard or I’m bored or I’m trying to avoid what the Lord is asking me to do.
I know plenty of people who give the very best of themselves to what they’re putting on the internet, and their church, their friends, or their family gets the scraps. I know there is never enough time, never enough energy, never enough of everything to go around.
There’s only one way I’m going to make the math work in my life: IRL (In Real Life) above all else. If I can’t be present and available every second to the great powerful vortex that is the internet, that’s going to have to be okay. You can trust that I’m reading board books to Mac or sounding out Spiderman books with Henry. I’m with my husband or my friends, people who know me well and keep me sane. When things get crazy, I’ve learned to dig even more deeply into IRL.
The best of me is not in my books and not on my blog. The best of me is what I give to my husband, our boys, our families, our dear friends. In a season that sometimes feels stretched to breaking, I won’t allow them to suffer. My first priority is and will always be IRL.
This strikes my heart with a seriousness that I don’t want to dismiss too quickly. I don’t want the best of me to be in what I post. I don’t want this season to be marked by how much time I spent on the internet. I want this season to be marked by how well I loved, not how good I looked online or how distracted I made myself. I want the best of me to be what I offer to those who are in my present. I want the best of me to be in the breakfast I make for my husband, in the letter I send to a friend, in the post-it notes I leave on the mirror, in the text reminding a friend they are brave and loved, in the snuggles I give my daughter, in the phone call I make to my mom, in the prayers I make, in the tears of missing, in the laughter over a good meal. Real living can involve the internet, but it doesn’t happen there. I want to be known as someone who really lives and loves, someone who is fully present in the mess and magic of today. And by the Lord’s grace, I will be.