This past Sunday, our pastor challenged us all to start the year fasting together as a church family. This fast could be a traditional fast from food, or it could be a fast from screens, sports, or any other routine activity which could rival time with God. Even beyond rivaling time with God, a fast is the chance to sacrifice something that you have come to value or enjoy. This sacrifice is then a truly special act of worship. Fasts can be a tricking thing, though. The temptation is strong to tell others or make it a big deal. Because after all, in our society, unless everyone knows about it did it ever really happen? But I was very encouraged by the chance to pursue* this act of worship in a private way this week. Also, our church created a way for each person fasting to be encouraged by scripture emailed to us multiple times a day. Our monthly all-staff meeting on Monday was overflowing with humility, prayer, and worship as we sincerely sought God together, starting our fast.
I was compelled by the Holy Spirit to fast from social media. Over the years, I have come to really enjoy social media like Twitter and Instagram. Whether it be for political, sports, or all manner of world news, it’s a way to keep me connected with current affairs. Social media has also been a way for me to remain associated with friends all over the world. Of course, social media has its challenges. For me, the primary challenge is to keep from becoming obsessed with the constant need for information. If I am not careful, “checking Twitter” becomes a second nature that is unhealthy and unnecessary. The in-person life I am living – as a husband, father, and pastor – takes a back seat to the social media world in which I aspire to live. One of our Teaching Pastors, Mark Henry, rocked my world on Sunday when he said, “Consider the posture of holding your phone. When you are engrossed in your screen, the person you are with sees the back of your phone – sending them a message that what is on the screen of your phone is more important than looking at them.” That was one of those, “ah man” instead of “amen” moments in the sermon! I fear to consider how many times I’ve told my sons, wife, or friends I care more what’s on my screen than what is on their minds.
So here are some of the truths God taught me during my three-day social media fast that I hope will be helpful to you as well.
There is more time.
One of the reasons I do not read the Bible as much as my spirit desires, is because I do not have enough time during the day. This excuse was shattered during this fast. The truth is, I do have enough time during the day and night, I’m simply not using it wisely. I’m using my time for instant gratification, rather than managing it for God’s glory. I’m failing to prioritize time reading God’s Word. As part of my fast, anytime I felt a compulsion to pick up my phone and check Twitter, I would pick up my phone and read a Spurgeon devotion instead or passages from the Bible in my Bible app. It was amazing how much of God’s Word and spiritual devotions I read in a short few days. For perspective, click here for a link to a graphic from Steven Hill proving this very point.
There is more satisfaction.
What was most amazing still, is that whenever I pursued this “new” affection – to read God’s Word more – the former affection (Twitter) began to pale in comparison. Thomas Chalmers wrote, “It must be by substituting another desire, and another line or habit of exertion in its place – and the most effectual way of withdrawing the mind from one object, is not by turning it away upon desolate and unpeopled vacancy – but by presenting to its regards another object still more alluring.” Simply put, it will never be enough to declare, “I need to do that less” or “I really need to cut that out of my life.” Chalmers would also write that it makes no sense for a person to burn down their farm, unless they can see the attractive replacement, making the sacrifice worth it. Whether it is social media, binge-watching, or perhaps a besetting sin, our hearts must be stimulated by the power of a new affection. And in this case, the reciprocation of love is unrivaled. Whatever it is you and I give up to spend more time reading the Bible will always pale, fade, and lose its power over us as we fall further in love with God by way of His words.
There is more quiet.
I have always admired the ability of men and women to embrace solitude. For a number of reasons, but one primary is their ability to sit in silence. Whether it is writing a journal on Walden Pond or an album in a cabin in Wisconsin, clarity and creativity seems to come to those who are still. As Christ-followers we know there is tremendous value in being still before the Lord. In fact, Psalm 46:10 tells us this is how we will know God. What I learned during my fast is that this solitude can come in small slivers and slices. You don’t have to steel away to a monastery in the mountains to be still before the Lord. When I come home to eat lunch on days the boys are at school, I would immediately look to Twitter to keep me company while I eat. There is nothing sinful about redeeming a lunch hour with productivity, but my use of social media was simply because I can’t handle “silence” well. These days of fasting allowed me to sit in silence, look out the window at God’s creation, and hear from Him. Be with Him. Even if it is in short bursts and moments, more solitude with God can be found in our days if we simply make room for the quiet.
There is more connection.
It may sound cliché, but I learned it is more possible to connect when I disconnect. I didn’t realize how rhythmic and consistently I pick up my phone to look at social media. It’s practically subconcious. If there is a lull in the conversation, if there is a commercial on television, or even if I lose interest in the middle of a what someone is saying! Disconnecting from an obsession with social media caused me to be able to connect more deeply. Now, I’m not talking about a massive emotional, existential breakthrough with my five-year-old. I simply mean, it has made a difference on both my sons to have a dad who is more available to listen, talk with, and actually make eye contact with throughout the day. There is an incredible difference between being in the room and actually being there. And I don’t want to be a dad who looks up from his phone one day to see a grown son with no desire to be with me – because I was never truly with him.
I trust you have heard my heart on this summary of my fast. I trust you also know I know the irony of posting an article to social media…about fasting from social media. The point truly is that God is alive and active in our lives and in our hearts. On any given day we embrace other idols which rival God’s supremacy. May this new year be a chance for us to evaluate our spiritual health and work to eliminate idols and to fulfill Colossians 1:18, “that in all things, He may have the preeminence.”
*post-fast review. I actually, without thinking, posted to my Instagram story once at lunch this week – further proving the point social media can be an unconscious obsession. Also, sure enough, the days I fasted the US poked the Iranian badger, my favorite team hired a new coach, and apparently Harry and Meghan left the Royal Family?! Yet, my life seemed to go on just fine…