Do you ever feel like you’re the least qualified to talk about something? That one topic that you consistently struggle with is the one that your heart and the Holy Spirit keeps nudging you to say something about? That’s me today.
I have a love/hate relationship with the internet. I want to be someone who is disciplined and uses it as a tool. But so easily, I find myself using it for comfort or distraction, often unintentionally trading minutes to look at Buzzfeed and someone’s rant for something that matters more.
Hannah More, a contemporary of William Wilberforce, was an incredible woman. I’ve loved learning about her life as I’m reading Fierce Convictions. Among her many accomplishments, she penned the book, Thoughts on the Importance of the Manners of the Great to General Society. I confess that her own feelings as to her “right” to pen these words, mirrors my own as I add my thoughts on the subject of intentionality online.
She released her work anonymously, admitting to a friend that she wished her authorship would remain undetected because, she confessed, “I was conscious that I did not live up to my song.” (203)
Before I begin with any thoughts, please hear me that I am very conscious that I do not live up to my own song. I have a hard time consistently being intentional online. It is difficult to figure out how to integrate what I value into this aspect of my life. I’m very much in process and share only from a desire to encourage and edify, as I hear this being a struggle for my friends as well.
I’ve written before about internet intentionality. The pact I made with the Lord about social media lasted for a few months before feeling more like an option, instead a promise towards the best way to live. Here’s what my pact was:
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 cringe a little to see how far I’ve come from that promise to myself and to the Lord. (In fact, I almost didn’t include it in this post, since it didn’t feel likely many of you would click on a link. But here it is, in the name of vulnerable disclosure.) It is incredibly painful to see the ways I’ve failed. I have a hard time offering myself grace, and this area is no exception.
A few weeks ago, I was reading on the Storyline Blog, and Donald Miller’s words stopped me in my tracks. He shares about bad habits and trying to break them, and this article was the perspective I needed for my time online.
Just the other day, Bill and I were talking about habits, how they form and how we can change them and he mentioned something I thought was interesting. He said when he works with somebody to help them change a habit, relapse is part of the program.
You heard me correctly.
Relapse is part of the program.
He said when somebody tries to quit smoking, they normally relapse three to four times before they finally quit.
He also mentioned that it was important for people to have some grace toward themselves about behavior change. The idea is to keep moving forward, but when we slip up, simply plant our feet and keep moving, slowly, but further than the place where we slipped up before.
What would change in your life if you let go of an all-or-nothing mentality and you stopped shaming yourself for the occasional slip up, while you still attempted to move forward in life and in character?
I felt like I had grace wash over me as I read those words. Relapse is part of the program. Messing up is part of moving forward. Slipping up is part of what it means to change and work on a problem area.
One item on my pact with the Lord is that I would spend time in my Bible before getting onto Instagram or Facebook. Sometimes I wouldn’t try to slip up here, but would find myself scrolling through photos and instantly feel shame as I hadn’t even meant to get on before spending time with the Lord. The thought that would flash through my head was, “I’ve already screwed up. What’s the point of even getting off now, if I’ve already messed up?” The lie that “once I’ve blown it, I should give up” is so loud for me in this area. But the truth is, that even after I’ve failed, it is never too late to get off that path and realign my heart.
Here’s some practical ways, I’m finding that are helping me in this area. They aren’t perfect and I don’t do them as much as I want, but they’re helping me be more intentional and make the slow progress towards a realigned heart. Actions first, so that the feelings can follow.
A timer. How long is good to spend on Facebook? Instagram? This number isn’t set in stone but I try to stick to 5-15 minutes depending on the time/day. When I tell myself that all I have is ten minutes, it is incredible how much more intentional I am with reading the things that matter to me or using that time to connect with someone. The timer isn’t a hard fast rule, and sometimes I’ll give myself more time if I find something or someone I want to invest more in. But the timer helps me be on the hunt for where I want to give my time, instead of passively letting my scrolling dictate how long I spend online.
Other things first. I can’t believe how different I feel when I don’t hop online first thing in the morning. Sometimes I lie to myself and say that it doesn’t make that much of a difference, but it simply isn’t true. It makes such a difference, when my actions reflect the truth. Here are a few things I try to do before getting online, especially social media. They help clear my head and the internet feels just a little less important (appropriately so) when I’m letting other things take precedence.
Make my bed.
Make and eat breakfast.
Drink something warm (at least in the winter!)
Do something with my hands (dishes, laundry, etc.)
Connect with someone. (This can be in person, over a text, etc.)
I don’t necessarily do all of these every time before I get online, but I find that when I take time to order my day, create something with words and spend time with the Lord, I’m much more clear-headed when I get online. I like the focus of creating, ordering and time with Jesus. My heart needs this.
Naming my weakness. When I think I’m doing “okay” with being intentional online is when I tend to start making allowances for more time on social media, or take a quick look before I’ve read my Bible. I’m working on not lying to myself anymore. I always do better when I spend time in Scripture before the internet. I do more focused work. I am more intentional online when I do get on. I use it as a tool to engage with real people.
I need to name that this is a weak area for me in order to take the necessary steps to make real progress. When I lie to myself and pretend I’m doing okay, that is always when I start compromising and slipping up.
Airplane mode. My phone is often on silent, so that I’m not constantly distracted by it going off. But when I don’t want to be tempted to check it, airplane mode is a great tool. I try not to even bring my phone with me when I’m trying to create or connect, but when it is nearby, airplane mode can be helpful, especially if your phone is your clock.
“Why?” It sounds so basic, but it is really helping me to ask the question “Why?” when I get online. Why am I getting on Facebook? Sometimes the answer is to check something. The simple act of asking the question reminds me of my purpose and helps me stay focused. Even if I get off track for a moment, it usually doesn’t take long for me to catch myself and get back on task.
Beyond staying on task, this question helps me see when I am using social media for other things, such as when…
I use it to combat loneliness.
I use it when my introverted heart feels overwhelmed.
I use it when I am bored.
I use it when I’m uncomfortable.
I use it when I’m looking to find my worth in others’ approval.
I use it when I want to be distracted from an unpleasant emotion (anger, sadness, disappointment, shame…).
I use it when I don’t want to do the work of being disciplined.
I use it when I am tired and want to be entertained.
When I ask myself “Why am I getting on?” it causes my heart to pause and have the opportunity to make a better decision, like staying off and working through what I’m upset about. I’m not saying this is easy. Quite the contrary. I don’t always doit because it is really hard. It is hard work to ask this kind of a question and be honest with yourself about what is in your heart. But every time I do the work of naming my intentions, I have the opportunity to invite the Lord into what I’m facing and feeling. The cruel irony is that the internet never helps the way I want it to. The Lord is the only one who knows my heart and what I need. He is much better medicine than the internet ever will be.
Grace. Despite my best efforts, a relapse will happen. I will fail at this. Instead of beating myself up over where I messed up, I’m working to accept the grace that is already mine.
There is grace for sinners. There is grace for the person who has a hard time being intentional online. There is grace for those of us who don’t live up to our own song.
Grant me the courage to ask the hard questions.
Grant me the courage to name my weakness.
Grant me the courage to fight for intentionality.
Grant me the courage to receive the grace.
[The pictures in today’s post are thanks to one of my youth group girls, Heather. She took photos during our weekend retreat at Lake Champion, NY. The weekend was technology-free for our students, and I tried to follow suit as a leader. We explored the entirety of the lake on an adventure walk and I loved appreciating the beauty without the distraction of a camera in my hands. Sometimes taking photos is life-giving for me, but sometimes slowing down and soaking it in is what my heart needs. What a gift to remember the gift of the weekend through her photos today.]