2.25.2017

Going Dark for More of His Light: Prepping for a 40 Day Social Media Fast

For several years I’ve taken the season of Lent, the 40+ days approaching Easter, to break from social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook. The journey is always worth it, and I’m ready to embark again. So here are some of the reasons and practices I’ve picked up along the way.

The practice of “giving up something for Lent” was fairly misrepresented to me as a kid. It always seemed to involve forcing yourself to give up something you really love (pizza and chocolate were always high on everyone’s list) or adopting some kind of largely unwanted healthy habit solely for physical benefit. It felt more about self imposed misery or phony piety than anything.

Thankfully I now have a greater understanding of Lent, and biblical fasting in general. Any time of “giving up” is meant to point us to something else. Actually, it points us to Someone, as we look away from ourselves and to Jesus, the one who really loves us, in a way that shows us “loss” really is gain.

Fasting from food is expected and important for Christians. (Matthew 6:16-18) It helps us feel our dependence on God in many ways, seeing Jesus as the true Bread of Life and the only one who satisfies our ultimate need for Him. (For helpful resources on fasting, search the articles at Desiring God, or check out the book “A Hunger for God.”) I sometimes include dietary modifications during Lent, but I focus on social media due in part to physical issues which make dietary fasting somewhat tricky. Those with blood sugar limitations and other concerns should definitely use caution. Maybe you can fast for a meal rather than a day. But this also makes alternatives like a social media break a great option.

I also break from social media for reasons more common to us all:

Social media can be consuming. How often do we claim to lack time, perhaps especially for Bible reading or prayer, but spend hours scrolling a news feed? And am I the only one with the unhealthy habit of typing the letter “F” and waiting for autofill to do the rest any time I’m on a computer? A break can help us unlearn bad habits and replace them with better ones.

Negativity, news saturation and hyper politics. Friends express themselves in ways better suited to personal conversations, which we often lack. Emotional fatigue sets in from exposure to every atrocity this broken world produces. We’re immersed in a constantly heightened political climate where polarization and online fighting are rampant. From these things, we need a break. But more than that, we need Jesus and His promises to restore.

The tendency toward narcissism. It can be great fun to share in positive ways online, but who among us isn’t just a bit excited to see that little red circle or response notification? Whether in ways large or small, we lean toward making this incredible social experiment all about us. We need to remember that all glory belongs to God.

With these and more in mind, I increasingly look forward to this time each year. Lent’s 40 days and build up to the celebration of Christ’s resurrection provide a convenient schedule and focus.

If you’d like to join me, I offer eight tips to help you prep for the fast:  

1. Take some time to clean up. Just before the break is a great time to reassess your likes and follows. This can really help improve your experience when you return.

2. Get those final thoughts off your mind. If you have something appropriate and timely to share, go ahead and post before the break so it doesn’t bother you after you’ve imposed your limits. Then be content to praise God for your next meal without sharing it with the world. ; )

3. Let your friends know. This isn’t about self proclamation, but since social media is a form of communication it’s fair to let others know you won’t be on for a while. I tend to mention Lent in part to give a timeframe, but also to encourage others to consider if it’s right for them.

4. Consider a scheduled allowance. Remember, this is supposed to free us to focus on Jesus, not constrain us from people. You may minister to individuals through social media, or it may be right to share something to God’s glory during this time. I like to follow a pattern of brief use on Sundays (which creates the true 40 day fast), often sharing Scripture or praise.

5. Log out, turn notifications off. I like to do this on all devices, work and personal, the day/night before. This really helps when I type that letter “F” the next day. Instant roadblock. I also log out quickly if I need to use FB for work. If the temptation is too great, delete the apps altogether. You can always reinstall later.

6. Be patient with yourself. It takes time to unlearn those deeply ingrained habits. You can use those moments when you’re tempted to check in as triggers to pray.

7. Have a plan for what you’ll do instead. You’re about to find out how much time you really have, so it’s good to have a plan. I suggest picking a specific Bible book or reading plan. (Ideas here.) You could take a free online Bible course. (More options here.) I’ll still use helpful apps, such as those from The Gospel Coalition or Desiring God. I typically have a stack of theology books to choose from, plus I write my annual Easter letter during Lent. And, of course, specifically devoted time in prayer is always recommended.

8. Prepare to feel different when it’s done. Since you’ll change your thinking and habits, you might surprise yourself by wanting to keep limiting social media intake. Hopefully you’ll also learn new ways to pursue Jesus. Embrace all of that freedom.

Whenever and however you fast, during Lent or any time, begin with the goal to pursue Jesus, grow in your understanding of His love and sacrifice, look forward to His coming restoration and find ways to glorify God throughout.

Are you ready to “go dark” online for more of His light?

2 comments:

KB said...

Awesome article!! I went "dark" as my New Year's resolution. Only dabbled twice since for two major life events -- a death and a birth. You provide excellent advice!

miniministry said...

Thanks so much, and good for you. Those are important times to interact, to mourn and rejoice with others. I hope the extra time has given you great times with Jesus.