Today’s students are growing up only knowing a life of constant connection to people through social networks. Because of this there’s an increasing dependency upon the community to help provide the basis for the identity of an individual, through likes and double-tapped hearts. When everything is shared, and all of life’s major moments are uploaded, the reaction of these digital clicks fuels whether we see ourselves as successful, acceptable, and loved.
Through the community, we form our identities.
Often this isn’t bad, because the community that is culture today is largely accepting. But what happens when you fall short? Or what happens when the community’s validation of you doesn’t match the expectations you had?
This was a point I made briefly during a message I shared with my church a few weeks back. The foundation of the message was centered on Matthew 6:1, which says, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
What Jesus is not saying is to regulate all your actions in front of people; make sure nothing could be construed as you trying to get noticed. What Jesus is saying is that we are not made to need the approval and acceptance of the community. It is God’s seeing eye that provides the only affection we need.
The person who relies on righteous acts in front of others, forms their identity by the reactions of those around them, and is therefore, a slave to public opinion, instead of their Heavenly Father.
Having recently gone through my own dark season of allowing all the wrong people to determine whether my work was of value or not, I know how quickly we can go from healthy engagement within public and social settings (online or in person), to relying on the engagement to fuel our own desire for significance.
A helpful direction for getting beyond this is what Dallas Willard describes as the discipline of secrecy. Disciplines, or spiritual practices, such as prayer, fasting, weekly church gatherings, “enable us to do what we cannot do by direct effort,” says Willard.
I’ve taken Willard’s emphasis on the discipline of secrecy and allowed it to change my use of social networks. Here’s my general guideline list for cultivating a discipline of secrecy within social media use (and really use of any public forum, online or not):
- Track your time. Do you spend more time on social media than you do in prayer or reading the Bible? Might want to consider the implications of that. A study just released this month says that we check our phones 214 times a day on average. Up from 140 times a day, just 9 months ago. We’re becoming more and more addicted, so track your time.
- Schedule breaks. Schedule them. Plan on them. The same principles for why God encouraged us to rest from work apply to resting from social media. It is a tool meant to be a slave to you, don’t become a slave to it.
- Ask yourself, why? Why am I logging in? Why am I posting this? What is my motivation? What is my expectation? What does that say about me and my relationship with God?