Social media and the pursuit of Christian virtue

If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent at least some amount of time over the past several years considering your social media use. Worldwide pandemics, the ever-current news cycle, and an increasing sense of constant connection have framed our lives in recent times. Some people have chosen to forego social media altogether. Others make their own boundaries or take regular breaks. As Christians, there is a wide variety of “right” responses to the reality of social media and living virtuously.

Over the past couple years, there are a few themes that have risen to the surface time and again, weighing on me as I choose how to interact with the online world. Recognizing that each of us can approach online life in different and healthy ways, I invite you to reflect with me.

Seeking God in my own life

It happened without me realizing it. Despite recognizing the distance between the people’s lives I watched on the screen and my own, I still found myself paying more attention to how God was working in their lives than mine. As I realized this, I could see how my prayer time was influenced by the unfolding of God’s work in other people’s lives.

Seeking God in my own life became more akin to “Googling” something — surely it doesn’t take long to find the perfect prayer for a situation, see how someone else handled a friendship or marriage issue, or look to the realm of the internet for direction. Unless we protect the space for God to work in our lives, we will be influenced by the stories, searches and sharing from others. Sometimes God does use these things to guide or connect with us, but there is no substitute for our personal search for God in our day to day lives.

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The work of the Holy Spirit is much harder to tune into than simply opening our phone or laptop. Leaving space for God in our own lives looks like nurturing and tending our prayer life and interior silence. Our prayer life should be the filter we put online life through, as opposed to filtering our prayer lives through the lens of others online.

Resisting “advice” and “hack” living

Like Google, our social media feeds can become a quick and easy source for a plethora of things: from recipe making to book recommendations to prayers for the current liturgical season. Everybody’s life becomes a platform and we become experts in whatever we decide to consistently share.

Sometimes when I experience boredom or lack of purpose in my daily life, I find myself online, absorbing all the advice and hacks for living well from others. When we find something that works for us, we proclaim it and share it in hopes of helping others. But as a Catholic Christian, part of my profession of faith includes allowing space for suffering in my life. I am told by my Lord to take up my cross and follow him. This becomes harder for me to do the more I “live” in the online world and think in terms of efficiency, advice and perfection.

Reminding myself that I don’t need to copy everyone’s best hacks and tricks for daily living has provided a space to experience social media from the foundations being built in my offline life. Sometimes a recipe shortcut is just what I need, but more often than not, my search for the “best” approach to something is the result of being unwilling to work at molding my life to Christ’s example, a fear of making mistakes, or a desire to take shortcuts around the experience of living. By remembering that taking up my cross is a daily action, I am able to resist approaching my walk with Jesus as something I need to “hack” in order to do well.

Wisdom vs. information

We live in an unprecedented time where vast amounts of knowledge are constantly available at our fingertips. With so much knowledge available, it sometimes feels like all we need in order to address the hardships and difficulties in our lives is to gain the right piece of information.

Part of the Christian life is growing in wisdom, not just gaining information. Wisdom is what allows the saints to choose paths that don’t quite “make sense” to the world’s best and brightest of advice givers. And wisdom comes from the time we spend with God and being able to respond to the Holy Spirit’s promptings in the depths of our hearts.

Regardless if you have sworn off social media, take regular breaks, or utilize it fully in your life, our pursuit of Christian virtue in the world today involves examining (and reexamining) our use of this tool. Thankfully, when we bring it to prayer with an open heart, we can trust that God will use the opportunity to guide us.

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