Increasingly, I see people saying that they are giving up some kind of social media for Lent. Shrove Tuesday saw status updates announcing this on Facebook among a few of my friends and this got me thinking. It is actually quite odd in some ways. I mean, I can’t remember ever hearing of anyone giving up using the phone for Lent, stopping reading emails for Lent, nor of speaking to others for Lent. People might conceivably go on a silent Lenten retreat, but I was wondering what it is about social media such as Facebook and Twitter which makes giving it up for Lent seem appropriate to some.
In one sense, social media is seen as a treat – possibly as something to be done furtively while the boss isn’t looking, something done while you should be doing something else. Something fun, in other words. Time spent using social media can feel like it’s socialising on the same lines as a night out in a pub, or round at a friend’s house. In that sense, a Twitter-fast, for instance, fits entirely with the traditional popular view of Lent as a time to ditch fun, pleasurable things.
At its best, however, it is the social aspect of social media which makes it such an affirmingly human place to be with others. Jesus withdrew from other people during Lent, so I can see how the crucial being with people aspect of social media makes it seem an appropriate thing to fast from. However, social media should also be a place of incarnational ministry for Christians: a place where we bring the love of God through being ourselves and letting the light of Christ shine through us. As we walk the 40 days to Easter, I am uneasy about the faces of Jesus’s followers not being there to reflect his light in these online places where so many people might meet him through us.
It may be that giving up Facebook for Lent is right for you – I’m not writing the idea off, but it suggests a level of monasticism and withdrawal which I don’t feel called to myself. For some, social media has addictive properties which can be debilitating and need to be let go of, and so an online form of fasting can be a way to obey Jesus when he tells us, in Mark 9 to get rid of everything which causes us to sin.
However, here’s another idea to consider: as you journey through Lent, echoing Christ’s time in the wilderness, how about challenging your own online presence? By this, I mean simply question how you are using your time and energy online. Are you enabling others to spend time in God’s presence by bringing what you can of God’s presence to them?
Leading people towards the promised land…
Social media can be used to lead people through the wilderness. Not by getting them to follow pillars of fire or smoke, but by being a Christlike presence, leading them to the Kingdom of God. Remember Jesus’s words from Matthew 5 and let your light shine before others. My top tips for personal reflection:
- Still be yourself, but be there more prayerfully. Give more of yourself to others.
- Ask for less (in terms of attention for yourself).
- Focus your time on people: ask yourself how you can serve them, encourage them, be the face of Christ to them.