A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about all of the beneficial outcomes of my social media fast. In the weeks since I have been asked by some friends and family how I did it. I don't want to imply that it was easy--as I noted in the previous article, it was hands down the toughest sin I've ever had to conquer, and I am definitely not completely in the clear yet.
I think the reason it's so hard is that social media abuse is far more insidious than a lot of other sins because social media is not inherently wrong. Checking Facebook between classes is not wrong. Scrolling through Instagram while you eat breakfast is not wrong. But when it becomes a crutch you can't live without, or a black hole that distracts you from what you need to be doing, it needs to be managed. The key is to live your life just before the event horizon.
I would quit social media cold turkey if I didn't write articles every week which I am required to share, and if I weren't in charge of my organization's Facebook page. There's always some way that social media digs its tentacles into our lives and keeps us from making a clean break.
And this is probably for the best because social media is like money: a good servant and a bad master. The challenge of making it serve you is greater than the challenge of just deleting everything and enjoying your life, which is why I bemoan the fact that I cannot make a clean break right now, but a little challenge never killed anyone.
If you really and truly don't think you have a problem with social media, one of two things could be the case: either you really don't, or you're not properly introspective. While the former is rare, it is possible, but I think the latter is much more common. And you don't have to be as ensnared as I was (as I detailed previously, I was an extreme case) to be able to profit from some improvement in this area.
In 1 Timothy 3:11, (ESV) we read the following requirements for the wives of deacons:
"Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things."
While these are explicit requirements for deacon's wives, they are the calling of every Christian woman. If there are any ladies out there who can use social media without allowing it to pull them away from one or multiple of these qualities, they are better women than I. But for most of us, our current habits complicate our pursuit of godliness.
For example, some Christian women post angry tirades on social media that reveal personal details about themselves or their families--this is hardly dignified. Others read all those personal details and then go tell other people--this is slander. Ask yourself, is it appropriate and fitting for a Christian woman to publicly joke about how much wine she drinks? The one social media kept me from most was "faithful in all things" and I hardly suspect I'm alone in that.
It goes without saying that many Christian women are rightly using social media to encourage, uplift, and spread the truth. This is commendable and shows that it is possible not to be drawn away from Biblical womanhood by social media. But the fact remains that Facebook and Instagram can pose enormous challenges. So before you do anything else, I encourage you to spend some time thinking about the ways Facebook may be subtly harming your witness or walk with the Lord.
And, if you happen to conclude that reduced usage would be helpful, here's how I did it:
1. Be strategic about what needs to go.
If you're like most people, you probably don't need to shut down every account you own. It's likely that there are some platforms that are causing you more problems than others - I haven't met anyone whose walk with Jesus is being harmed by LinkedIn, for example. For me, as described previously, the big problem was Facebook because it has so much content that I could be distracted for hours at a time; and the second biggest problem was Instagram, because it tempted me to compare myself to other girls, shop for trendy clothes I didn't even like, wear more makeup than necessary, and skip meals. Pinterest was allowed to stay, and without Facebook and Instagram, I began using it more, which has led to improvements in my makeup, workouts, cooking, and outfits, all of which are good things. Twitter and Snapchat weren't problematic, but I deleted them anyway because I don't need them or find them useful. It will be similar for you: you don't need to fast from all of your social media, but you definitely do want to target the ones that are actively counterproductive to your life goals.
2. Pray before you delete or deactivate anything.
Our brains are so addicted to constant streams of meaningless, obnoxious content that we don't even care about that I fear some may underestimate the difficulty of breaking free. I knew it was going to be hard, but I still was not prepared for the agitation and anxiety I felt only a few minutes after pulling the trigger. This fast was not something I accomplished in my own strength - if I hadn't begged God, literally in tears sometimes, often and loudly to cut me loose from the tyranny of my addiction, I would have failed. Even now, after months on this path, I still stumble when I take matters into my own hands. I suppose it's theoretically possible to wean yourself off this content addiction by sheer willpower, but first, I could not have done that, and second, that would make it a lot harder than it needs to be.
3. Replace it with something else.
If you don't plan out in advance what to do while you wait in line or while you fall asleep at night, you'll run right back to social media, thinking "A few minutes won't hurt" which is true, until habit takes over and you're back to square one. I suggest selecting a few books (on the lighter side at first, until your brain gets in shape enough for solid food), downloading some educational or brain-training apps, playing educational games, reading your Bible app, or journaling in your Notes app. The possibilities for productivity in your downtime are endless, but you have to plan something. And be warned: the first time your brain demands social media and you force it to read or write or think instead, it won't be happy. You will need self-control and discipline, but you will adjust, probably more quickly than you anticipate.
4. Seek accountability.
Seriously - it helps so much to get a friend involved. If you can undertake a social media fast at the same time as a sister or brother in Christ, and share the experience with them, it will be easier, because you can empathize with them, encourage one another when one is wavering, and remind each other of the reason for the fast.
5. Meet temptation with prayer.
When you are tempted to get on Facebook just to waste time, without purpose, or for any reason you know counters your goals, the only way you'll prevail is to first, pray and ask God for strength; and second, to get busy with something else immediately. Prayer can also be used against temptation as a distraction, which was a strategy I found tremendously helpful when I had anxiety. If you immediately engage your mental faculties in worshiping your Creator, your temptation won't stand a chance. It only has as much rope as you give it.
6. Keep your goals in front of you.
On an ongoing basis, remind yourself of your "why". I've noticed that I am most prone to stumble and fail when I've gotten too busy to stop and remember why I do what I do, and where I want to be 5 years from now. I wrote 1 Timothy 3:11 on sticky notes and left them where I'll see them often, in my room, on my bathroom mirror, on my desk, and in my car. This works because when we get distracted by school, work, friends, family (all very good distractions) we start thinking about our short-term wants and not our sanctification or long-term needs. This distraction is inevitable and not entirely bad, but a quick reminder throughout the day of the woman I want to become ensures that I won't shoot myself in the foot just for five minutes of amusement.
7. Let your momentum fuel you; and give God the glory.
Following my previous point, it is beneficial to take some time at least once a week and think of all the good things that your positive habits have brought you. We all can remember times we had a burst of motivation and worked out one time, or made one journal entry, or read one chapter of a book. For some of us, that's the entire story of our lives. But for me, taking the time to reflect on how good my life is because of my good habits is what separates the habits from the fits and starts of inspiration. Make a list of good moments, events, or benefits you notice that you think result from your social media fast, and ride the wave until you see even more. Remember, of course, to count it all as loss in light of the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ as Lord.