Editor’s Note: This article by a future young clergy woman is the final installment in an occasional series called “A Lenten Pause,” running on Fidelia’s Sisters. As many young clergy women plan to come to our summer conference, Sabbath in the City, in Chicago we’ll be taking a look at the sometimes terrifying topic of sabbath and the role it plays in our ministries. Though Lent is now behind us, this piece is appropriate for the current season as it contains a post-Easter update.
My original plans for Lent were nonexistent. I’d been too busy, too dragged down with to-do lists to possibly think of yet another thing to worry about. Besides, my past Lenten practices had always become fantastic failures. What could this year’s season possibly teach me, a burnt-out secretary who had lacked a spiritual life for a few months? I already felt guilty for my apathy, seeing that I am heading to Atlanta for a Master of Divinity in the fall. I thought, let’s just add on another weight to my shoulders and see if this task will break me.
I started meditating during my church’s Ash Wednesday service, which carried the theme of obstacles in our spiritual lives. I asked the question of myself: What is an obstacle in my relationship with God? Ideas floated in and out of my mind, with the real answer lurking in the background. No, that can’t be it, I thought. It’s too hard! All at once, my denial was over. The decision was already made: I’m going to give up Facebook.
Members of the older generation might find this “sacrifice” a measly one, and I can hear the emphatic pssshaw from you, my reader. Yet, it is a substantial change for me. Ask most individuals in their 20’s, and probably a large percentage will consider Facebook part of their daily life. For a couple of years now, I have relied on Facebook in an unhealthy manner. It gave me a hollow feeling of “connection”, made me feel “closer” to “friends” with the least effort possible, and friends’ posts kept me aware of what was going on in the world. This multi-layered effect has spurred much discussion among friends – how we’ve become lazier because of this social media monster, how we’ve developed a trend of “inactivism”. For the past five years, I have carved out Facebook as a priority in my day, and I considered it a “treat”. It’s become my mental break, a replacement for a text or a call, and even a substitute for a real conversation.
So what spurred this decision? At first it felt like a spontaneous, heroic sacrifice, but I realized its roots had been planted years ago. I have always been troubled by my apparent lack of connection. Friends never came easily. I wasn’t the Napoleon Dynamite of my high school, but I certainly felt an absence of belonging throughout high school and college. So when a website appeared that made it possible for me to connect to others, I jumped right on that bandwagon. The blue and white logo became a daily college ritual, a resource for determining the legitimacy of a potential date, and my very own social calendar – not to mention my catalog for birthdays, anniversaries, and even religious or political standpoints. Despite its obvious superficiality, I kept it, depended upon it. Thoughts of deleting it from my life crossed my mind, but those thoughts were always replaced by a fear of losing that sense of connection.
A couple weeks before Lent started, a shockwave took its toll on my naive and fragile faith: a good friend was hit by a city bus in an intersection very close to my church. Besides my grandparents’ passing, I’ve never experienced a tragic event that hit so close to home. During her first week in the intensive care unit, I visited her Facebook page when I missed her, hoping and praying desperately that God would heal her broken bones and swollen brain. Looking at messages left on her wall by literally hundreds of people gave me such comfort. She had really touched thousands of people with her sunny personality and joyous spirit.
But the comfort subsided, and was replaced with a hollow realization. Facebook served as an excellent way to feel connection to someone who was blockaded from social media because of a necessary recovery back to normality, but did a visit to her page really help her? Oftentimes in more somber situations, people write on the wall of someone who has passed on. We will never really know if the deceased hear these cries of “I miss you” and “I thought of you today”, but the connection still feels one-sided. Eventually I stopped my reliance on Facebook for comfort. Looking at her page wasn’t a prayer, it was a distraction from a broken heart and from reality.
A few weeks passed by, and my friend was recovering at a rapid rate. That Ash Wednesday service was the first time she made it back to church after the accident, and seeing her, a walking miracle, stirred in me the desire to make the decision to knock down the obstacle between me and God. He could not have spoken louder to me: Defriend Facebook!
After just two weeks without that social connection, my brain sent me a few “notifications”:
 Time passes slower. I savor free time with just me and my own thoughts, and a book or two. There is more loneliness and long nights when isolation hits harder, and a few times I nearly caved and logged on, just hoping for a distraction from my troubles. Without my former addiction, I was forced to constantly deal with my thoughts, my worries, my anxieties.
 The lack of connection available at my fingertips leaves room for seeing real miracles. It requires a bit of a waiting game, but I have established more meaningful connections than I ever did while staring at my computer.
 When my prayers are answered, I feel an immense relief. I realize a deeper connection has existed all along, if only I shut off my other, more immediate outlets first. Before I allowed that pause in life, all of my channels of connection had ultimately caused a power surge: I blew the fuse of that deeper connection.
Some have said that Facebook is a necessary evil, but I disagree wholeheartedly. If anything, we have allowed an intangible addiction seep its way into life’s little cracks: relationships that may be falling apart, our brains forgetting a birthday, or that one person we just want to know better, so we click on their page. It has become our back-up plan, and eventually, our only plan.
The real question lies in the days after Easter. Will I log back on? Bring it back into my life? Or will I continue to provide a pause in life without the bandwagon of social media? I’m still not sure as the Lenten season is only halfway through, and who knows what reflections have yet to come. Perhaps I could find a happy, healthy medium, or perhaps not. Whatever the final conclusion, I know the deeper connection will always be there. I’m never alone. As long as I carve out a lack of superficial connection, my battery will remain fully charged.
A Post-Easter Update
Sure enough, come April 8th, I logged back onto the most popular social media website. I wanted to see what I missed, but not without some pressure from friends to post my pictures from a fun day, to see their new relationship status, or even to comment on some funny and entirely exclusive joke. ‘Liking’ and inside jokes plastered on walls are the new tickets of acceptance, and once you stop attending to those, you become abnormal. For forty days, I had joined the abnormal crowd, and people were noticing.
At first, returning to the site bothered me. I felt just as dependent on Facebook as I was prior to my Lenten break from the statuses and media overload. Yet after a few days, I realized that Facebook was only as much of a monster as I let it be. If I was insecure enough to let an intangible website determine my mood, well there was the problem. Facebook was merely a short solution to boredom, but not my only connection to, well, connection. Other sites like Tumblr, OkCupid, and even Gmail can easily become a measure of self-worth in today’s generation, but that’s entirely up to how much time the user spends in their real world. I had become so absorbed in my world of technology and my generation’s world of social media that I forgot my reality, not to mention my common sense.
Photo by Neeraj Kumar http://www.flickr.com/photos/codemastersnake/5169004822/ Attribution 2.0 Generic Creative Common License.