Over-reliance on social media is as old as the medium itself. Engagement with this medium has increased due to the Pandemic, which has forced people to socially distance, but the intrinsic challenges of navigating this online world safely and responsibly were not invented during the past year.
Mental health experts and pastors warn against the dangers of over-consumption. “It’s the unintentional, unplanned and often unknown side effects that have the greatest potential to turn a helpful thing into a harmful thing.”
What Is Too Much Social Media?
One can argue that Facebook, Zoom, and Instagram have rescued many individuals from total isolation. Still, social media is something one consumes, and one’s use of any consumable can get out of control whether that’s sugar, alcohol, or the internet.
How does a person know that he or she needs to take a break? Perhaps when one only communicates via Instagram, Facebook Messenger, etc.
Instead of engaging in conversation, an individual makes announcements. The first thing a person does each day is check for notifications on social media. These are signs of overreliance.
Another indication that one should take a break is having one’s phone nearby all the time in order to read and respond to messages and notifications immediately. One is inattentive at dinner with friends or during reading time with the kids because a reply or a “like” might arrive.
When a person becomes upset at the lack of “likes,” this is problematic. Meanwhile, other activities have fallen by the wayside in favor of browsing social media sites, creating posts, or reading what other people have to say about the world or about their personal lives. Facebook or Twitter has become the source of all relevant information and truth.
What Is a Social Media Fast?
A “fast” is usually abstinence from something such as lunch or a specific food or drink. During Lent, many individuals choose to give up a favorite dessert, alcohol, or meat as a way of honoring God or out of religious duty.
A fast can also refer to giving up anything that one enjoys, especially if this is particularly difficult. That could be a TV show, cigarettes, shopping, or viewing Facebook.
When fasting from social media, one determines a length of time that feels like a sacrifice, anything from a few days to a month.
During this time, one abstains from viewing all forms of social media, from posting comments, stories, or photos, and turns off notifications.
One usually commits better to a fast by replacing social media (or lunch, or alcohol) with special devotional time, prayers with friends, or a new hobby or exercise.
Many people feel particularly motivated if they tell just a few people of their intention so that these individuals can help keep them accountable.
Why Fast from Social Media?
Kevin DeYoung wrote “the medium does not encourage slow reflection or push us to the wisdom of the past. We need to fast from the information feast, lest we gorge ourselves on trivialities.”
If one’s use of Facebook et al. feels responsible and controlled, then a fast might not be in order. Here are a few questions to contemplate:
1. Does a user reflect before responding or posting? Rash, thoughtless responses can be hurtful or embarrassing. Moreover, upon a second reading, the true meaning of a post might appear different than at first glance.
2. What is the reason for being on social media? Initially, many people want to stay connected with friends and family living far apart.
Instead, because it is far too easy to browse comments and pictures posted by strangers, one unwittingly becomes a voyeur, reading and viewing posts by strangers. Eventually, social media provides a meaningless distraction from everyday life.
3. Is social media enabling personal disengagement? One might connect with people across the world this way and never knock on their neighbors’ door, pick up a telephone, or engage in face-to-face conversation.
Ironically, even though “connection” is the stated benefit of social media, online friendships are typically shallow and require no real-world responsibility or activity.
Hebrews 10:24-25 teaches, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
Personal, rich, deep fellowship requires personal interaction and potentially some inconvenience or discomfort. Email and messaging are often useful tools as long as they are not used as a buffer, to create distance.
4. Is a person’s health suffering? Researchers have been examining the mental and physical costs of overusing social media.
They have linked frequent use of Facebook to “less moment-to-moment happiness and less life satisfaction. […]. This may have to do with the fact that Facebook conjures up a perception of social isolation, in a way that other solitary activities don’t.”
Other studies reveal the addictive nature of social media usage as well as the indirect problems associated with sedentary pastimes.
5. Could the Holy Spirit be sending out red flags? Jesus assured his disciples that “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).
6. Devotions have dropped off. One finds that a debate on Facebook and the opinions of participants are more compelling than the Word of God. Bible reading and prayers are short or infrequent.
The Spiritual Traps of Fasting from Social Media
As with any fast, one temptation is to publicly announce one’s intention, self-righteously celebrating each day away from social media as a personal victory for no other reason than being able to say, “I did it” or “I did better than you.”
Jesus exhorted his disciples “when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward” (Matthew 6:16).
The reasons behind fasting, says David Mathis, are these repentance, mourning, or supplication.
Repentance: This is the type most people associate with biblical fasting. “God’s people realize their sin — typically not small indiscretions or lapses in judgment, but deep and prolonged rebellion — and come seeking his forgiveness.”
In this case, one sees the damage done by the over-use of social media and wants to turn away from sin.
Mourning: “On many occasions, [fasting] gives voice to mourning, grieving, or lamenting difficult providences.” Fasting or taking a break from food, technology, alcohol, etc. gives “voice to the pain and sorrow” and reflects “a heart of faith toward God in the midst of great tragedies.”
Supplication: A third reason people fasted in the Old Testament was when they were “asking for God’s guidance or future favor.” Believers expressed the importance of longing for healing, justice, reconciliation, etc.
All of these types of fast point “Godward,” says Mathis. In other words, one’s intention is not to win sympathy or kudos or to manipulate people. One is not trying to extort a “yes” from God in answer to prayers.
When one gives up something for Lent or during any time of repentance/grief/need, this is a reflection of the open hand, the open heart. One releases the power of a substance or activity and asks God to replace it with more of himself.
How Is Fasting from Social Media a Blessing?
In a strictly spiritual sense, the blessing arrives as soon as one is humble before the Lord, emptied of all personal desire, willing to receive God’s direction, supple to the Spirit’s sanctifying rigors.
When one is obedient and repentant, or grateful and full of praise for the Lord, He feels particularly nearby. This is the ultimate blessing to which Jesus refers in the Beatitudes of Matthew 5.
We are blessed when we are poor when we mourn because we will experience more of God and his comfort at those times.
But there are also temporal benefits, which even worldly people can see and experience. For instance, DeYoung said that the web is “less fascinating when I’m not on it.” Its power decreases.
One’s longing to read those posts and engage in online conversations diminishes. This leads, in his experience, to less random use of the internet with no particular direction or purpose. We waste less of our time.
Self-involvement decreases. DeYoung adds, “it’s good to remember that the world goes on fine without us.” Wasting less time on the internet makes more opportunities to exercise, read, cook, and enjoy rewarding hobbies.
One no longer says, “I wish I had time to paint” and actually picks up his brush. One’s view of the world widens because it is no longer filtered by the opinions, priorities, and preferences of whoever’s posts pop up on a feed.
One reads the news with greater objectivity. As DeYoung points out, “social media […] gives us the illusion of being up to date, current, relevant. And it shames us when we don’t know the newest meme and this week’s viral video.” But those memes and videos are shallow distractions from real life.
The Blessing of Revelation
Finally, if attempting to take a break leads to withdrawal (distraction, depression, irritability, headaches, nausea), this is a sign of addiction.
Pray about fasting from social media but be aware that God’s answers will lead to “deep soul wrestling and expose sins and doubts and fears.”
The pain of revelation might not sound like a blessing, but God is serious about the command that we have no idols. Addiction to social media steals his glory and our peace; it is destructive at many levels.
Visit a counselor or seek support from godly and discerning friends. Allow the Lord to do a sanctifying, healing, and freeing work.
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Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Urupong
Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.