Digital Discipleship

Can you fall asleep at night without listening to a podcast or having a TV playing in the background?
Do you get anxious if you can’t find your phone?
When is the last time you forgot to check your phone for 3 or more hours?
Can you have a coffee with a friend without your phone on the table?
Can you share a meal with friends without checking your phone?
Are you able to read a book or sit quietly without feeling anxious or a having a constant distracted mind?
Can you post something on social media and not check the response until six or more hours later?
When is the last time you woke up and didn’t look at your phone until one or two hours later?

If you are like me… one or more of those questions might have caused a small cringe moment.

I believe one of the greatest needs amongst Christians today is digital discipleship. I do not mean people discipled through digital outlets. Digital discipleship is followers of Jesus who are purposeful and intentional in their relationship with the digital world. People who have gone through a serious and strenuous re-orientation when needed. People who have brutally faced how their phone and social media have shaped their inner world and dehumanized their outer world.

Basically asking question, how would Jesus use a cell phone?

The only serious discussion happening in the church is regarding porn. It is no secret that I think porn ruins our sexual, relational and spiritual lives. But let’s set that aside.

Where are intentional discussions happening around every other aspect of this digital world we swim in? Where and how are Christians being challenged to think about what how a Jesus follower interacts with their phone, Netflix or podcasts?

The reality is, we are affected deeply by the invasive presence of text messages, social media, web browsing, on-demand television, and podcasts.

We often feel a nagging discomfort about this area of our lives. But there are hard realities we rarely face.

Daily digital presence predicts, with scary accuracy, a persons’ levels of anxiety and depression. Do you constantly check social media and binge on Netflix regularly? The statistics tell us you likely also struggle with regular anxiety and/or bouts of depression.

Did you know that silence is actually needed to regenerate brain cells in your hippocampus? This is the area of the brain associated with learning, memory and emotion. The average person now has almost zero minutes of silence each day. Our brains are like toddlers who ate Twinkies all day, skipped both naps and who has stayed at a party way to long.

Of course we all see daily parents who talk to their kids while staring at a screen. Friends who sit in a restaurant, speaking out snippets of thoughts here or there, never engaging in deep meaningful conversation.

I’m not saying all this to point a finger or induce false guilt. But, truly, this is us.

Here’s where some of those questions are leading. Would you (or me!) describe your relationship with the digital world as compulsive, invasive or controlling?

I’ll be brutally honest. In Christian circles, I hear a lot of people declaring that depression and anxiety have no hold on them.

We want less anxiety but we can’t be alone with our own thoughts. Our lives set-up our brains to produce more and more stress hormones with hour after hour of digital engagement. Whether scrolling Instagram for an hour each night or watching hours of Netflix instead of being bored. The enemy is in the camp. We need to admit that.

I believe in God’s power to heal but God is not going to magically heal anxiety in a life we can’t face. Anxiety will not decrease while our escapism increases.

I also hear Christians say with conviction that loving people is their life purpose.

I don’t know who we plan on loving when we spend more time with pictures of people than actual people. “Loving people” will be a nice saying painted on our wall but not a reality in our lives.

We need to get serious about digital discipleship. Being people who are intentionally and painfully re-orientating our lives in this digital age.

He longs for us to serve a more generous and life-giving Master.

We can embrace the benefits of this digital world (there are many). We can also reject the burden it has become on our lives.

In my next post I will share some thoughts on practical ways we can slowly start to re-orientate our lives. Away from a life filled with noise, anxiety and non-human relationships. Towards living with more peace, life and God intended relational wholeness.

Until then, take some time to think, “Am I content with my relationship to the digital world? Is it bringing me peace, life and relational wholeness?”

** I am not suggesting that all anxiety and depression is solely caused by our levels of digital engagement. These issues are unique and multi-layered for each person. Increasingly, though, studies do suggest that re-calibrating our digital engagement would, at the minimum, be extremely helpful in our journey with these issues.

Stop Blaming Facebook

Recently, a friend of mine quit Facebook. He didn’t just take a break. It wasn’t for Lent. He deleted his account and is never coming back. Basically, a divorce.

By: Maria Elena

In preparation for this, he wrote a rather impassioned letter explaining his motivation. It included the various ways that Facebook was stealing his attention, personal time, focus, and more. Facebook got thrown under the bus and didn’t come out the other side in one piece. The response on his blog was very positive and a discussion ensued. He strongly challenged others to follow his lead.

This isn’t the first person I’ve seen quit Facebook. At some point, most people have taken at least a break. With good reason. The statistics are glaring, we have a hard time staying away. Stealing glances here and there. Busily taking selfies and posting pictures of our most memorable times. Instead of experiencing these moments we gripe about slow upload speeds.

I, though, have got a problem with this “I’m quitting Facebook” mantra.

Why? Facebook is not our problem. Our own relational brokenness is the problem. Facebook is just the latest magnifying glass of this fact. We need to stop making Facebook the scapegoat for our own immaturity. It is not the root of our problems, never has been, never will be.

Quitting alone won’t deal with the root issue that consistently leads us to choose virtual relationships over real relationships. Blaming Facebook hides our real problem. The problem is in our hearts.

Here’s what I would like to see. Instead of  saying, “I’m quitting Facebook, it wastes my time and ruins lives! It is the root of all evil!”

I would like some real honesty. How about this:

“I’m quitting Facebook because I have made a simple website a priority over actually talking to my kids. That’s my reality. I consistently look at my news feed instead of listening to people. I post pictures while on dates with my husband. I have made a helpful thing into a hurtful thing in my life and relationships. The problem is me. I’ve got some basic maturity issues that I need to look at. For whatever reason, I can’t be trusted as a member of a silly website. I’ve got to figure that out. Facebook is not my problem but I can’t be trusted with it either.”

That is a declaration I’ve never seen but perhaps we should see more often.

I do a one week series of lectures on Relationships. The first day always deals with the state of isolation we all find ourselves in. Some students come from hyper-connected backgrounds, online all the time. Some students don’t own a laptop, cell phone and are not members of Facebook or any other social network.

You know what is fascinating? They all weep equally as they confess, one by one, how alone and isolated they feel. Membership in Facebook didn’t cause it. It’s the human condition. Since the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve sinned, all people are born searching for a real relationship with God and one another.

Thankfully we’ve got Jesus. He doesn’t rescue us from Social Networks. But he does rescue us from our real and true isolation. Because of Jesus we can be brought near to God and brought near to one another.

Let’s all together stop blaming Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and whatever else is yet to come along. When we quit Facebook out of blame we have not dealt with the true source of our problem.

Let’s deal with the real problem. Let us confess our isolation. Let us do the brave work of moving towards one another in real relationship.

Until then, we’ve got Facebook to keep each other posted on what we ate for dinner.

How about you? Is your participation in Social Networks reflecting a healthy or unhealthy heart?