The Burdens of Social Media

Social media in our distracted age can heap burdens on us that we were never meant to bear and can keep us from the burdens we ought to bear.

I’m going to start right off by stating that this blog is not saying, “social media is evil, and everyone should get rid of it.” As with anything, it has the potential to be used for great good or bad. However, social media can heap burdens on us that we were never meant to bear and can keep us from the burdens we ought to bear. If we aren’t careful, these burdens can lead to anxiety and strife, making us undisciplined and distracted Christians in a time when we need to be the most focused.

For the sake of brevity, I’m only going to share three burdens I’ve personally encountered with social media (though the list could be much longer) and how they can divert our attention from what’s most important in this life. For a more in-depth look, I strongly encourage you to read Tony Reinke’s book, 12 Ways Your Smartphone is Changing You and Alan Noble’s Disruptive Witness in a Distracted Age.

Burden #1: It’s Disenchanting

“Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in Your ways.” Psalm 119:37

Not only is social media old news, it’s mostly fake news. And ads upon ads. What started out as an easy and fun way to keep in touch with friends and family has become a tedious task of scrolling through everything under the sun before even seeing something from someone we care about. Thanks to new and ever-changing social media algorithms (the way a site organizes what we see first and most), we see less and less of what we want to see and more and more of what those social networks want us to see. And it’s only going to get worse.

In his book, Tony Reinke quotes a seventy-one-year-old ethicist on today’s electronic communications: “Nobody has ever had to learn this before. No one can teach the rising generation how to learn it…The danger they face, of course, is that the tool’s set the agenda…They tell us what to do, and more significantly, what to want to do to.” This might not seem like a burden, but I have found it to be one. It’s burdensome to know that we are so easily manipulated into doing exactly what they want us to do without even realizing it. It’s mentally draining to see twenty Hello Fresh ads, fake-news articles, or conversations between a friend of a friend of a friend’s friend that was most likely from 2 days ago, even if your news feed setting is on recent (The Babylon Bee came out with an excellent piece on this very topic)! It’s not fun. It’s not what I care about. Before you know it, a half-hour can go by, and it was all spent scrolling through pointless posts, and even if you got on the app for a specific reason, you have forgotten about it by the time you’re done. And it’s all a way of making money for those companies and a waste of our time. I have been disenchanted by the “fun” of social media and personally find that it has become dull and life-sucking.

Burden #2: It’s Distracting

“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.  Let all that you do be done in love.” 1 Corinthians 16:13-14

John Piper has a famous quote: “One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.” I’d hope most of us would say that social media isn’t a priority in our lives, or at least not a high one. But if we were to see the amount of time spent on our phones compared to time spent on what we would consider our highest priorities, I believe most of us would be shocked and saddened. We are a culture addicted to distraction and multi-tasking, and our relationship with God, our family, and our friends is suffering because of it. We don’t mean to give that much time to our screens; it just happens. We don’t mean to start scrolling through our phones in the middle of our morning bible reading, or during a date with our spouse, or while our kids are wanting us to play with them; it just happens out of habit. Our brains get into a habit of distraction. That is a burden, and it’s become the heaviest one for me.

Since becoming a stay-at-home mom, my ability to keep a train of thought for longer than a minute is a huge feat. I had been blaming it on sleep deprivation and having to keep up with my adventurous toddler, but I started realizing that I now had much more time to be on my phone. When Lorien was a newborn and nursing all the time, my phone was how I occupied myself. Taking a critical look at how it’s affected my thinking and actions has been sobering. I would never say I’m addicted to social media, but my brain’s behavior tells me otherwise. In Disruptive Witness, a cognitive scientist states, “Multi-tasking has been found to increase the stress hormone cortisol as well as the fight-or-flight hormone adrenaline, which can overstimulate your brain and cause mental fog or scrambled thinking.” We watch a show while scrolling through our phones; we text and email intermittently during a conversation with a friend. Our brains are constantly multi-tasking. Of course, we know social media is not our only distraction, but it’s what I’m focusing on for our purposes here.

The fact that we can’t devote our full attention to prayer or bible reading without thinking about our phone every few seconds should be reason enough for us to try and distance ourselves from them as much as possible. In the past when I have taken breaks from social media, my motivation and ability to stay focused and get more things accomplished was considerably greater. I always felt great during that little respite from my phone. But even after seeing the positive benefits of no social media spiritually, mentally, and emotionally, the burden of distraction would inevitably creep back in and start diverting my attention from my highest priorities, yet again.

Burden #3: It’s Discouraging

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

Most anyone with a social media account knows what it’s like to be slammed with a hurtful, shocking comment, being misunderstood and feeling embarrassed or ashamed at how something you said was taken.  The hurt goes even deeper when the harsh response is from one who claims to be a brother or sister in Christ. It’s appalling how ungracious and quarrelsome we have become. Our profiles dehumanize us and turn us into objects to be judged and scrutinized by our followers. Even more disturbing is how unchecked our hearts are when we see a post we don’t like. It’s like we give free-reign to our sinful nature to do and say as it pleases when it comes to our opinion. Could anything be more un-Christian? Pastor Ray Ortlund says, “With social media, we can now harm and embarrass and stigmatize people with greater force than ever before in human history.”

When I personally experience or see this kind of interaction on social media, I am completely disheartened. “How could they think that, let alone say it?” How could someone be so misunderstood, especially if it was meant to be an encouraging post? What’s more, even if someone said or did something wrong, the place to expose it is not social media (Matthew 15:18-20). This is one of the great dangers of social media for the church. It sounds so elementary, but if this is what the world sees of Christian interaction, no wonder they don’t believe our message of hope.  We were not meant to have to these kinds of interactions online, and we certainly weren’t meant to see everyone else’s interactions. We struggle enough with discouragement with those we encounter face-to-face every day. But social media doesn’t care. They throw it in our face constantly, and without even realizing it, we get sucked into the drama too! Our emotions and our psyches were not created to handle this much discouragement and confrontation.

Additionally, the sheer amount of news stories we face on a daily basis, whether real or fake, has become an overwhelming burden . It’s not that I don’t want to be informed or that I turn a blind eye to what’s going on in the world, but we were not created to carry the weight of the world! We are blasted with hundreds of horrific stories of everything that’s wrong in our world constantly on our social media channels, as well as everyone’s responses to them. No wonder there is such an increase in anxiety and panic attacks over the past 30 years!

As believers, we know there is so much sin, evil, brokenness, strife and bitterness in our world. But we were not created to add to it, nor were we meant to ignore it; we are called to have a different focus.

The Burdens We Ought to Bear

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

If you’ve been in our church for any amount of time, hopefully you’ve noticed the emphasis we put on membership. And if you’ve been paying attention, you know why. We are not meant to bear the weight of the world, but we are meant to bear the burdens God has called to us to bear. Membership in a local church gives definition and direction to the overarching and general duties of a Christian.  We can’t care for every widow in the world, but we can care for the widows in our congregation. We can’t pray for every believer’s needs in the world, but we can be intentional about praying for one another in our community groups and Sunday gatherings. Our families and church members are infinitely more important than another “like” on social media, yet we devote more time and energy to perfecting our online personas rather than cultivating a life of godliness and service.  We are called to love and serve God with our whole hearts. We are called to care for and love our families. We are called to serve the church and bear one another’s burdens. We must remember Satan will use whatever means necessary to distract us from what we were created for.

What To Do With Social Media

Alan Noble says this concerning Christians and social media: “It is important for us as Christians and as consumers to question the unintended consequences of changes in technology. But we should not naively believe that we can suddenly reverse the flow of innovation…We can expect that for the foreseeable future our society will be in part defined by technology designed to continually distract us. Wise Christians will discern how to appropriately use new media and technology, not withdraw and rail against it” (emphasis added)

Again, I say this article is not about encouraging every believer to rid themselves of all social media. It is to encourage the church to be willing to take a critical, introspective look at what unnecessary burdens we may be carrying due to social media and ask for the Holy Spirit’s guidance for how to respond. For Pastor Matt and myself, we prayerfully decided it was better for us to get rid of our social media as to better bear the burdens God has given us to bear in this season of our lives. This may not be the case for everyone, nor should it be. We need disciplined believers who use social media well in an age of disenchantment, distraction, and discouragement. We pray that we are a church not weighed down by the cares of this world (Luke 21:34; Eph. 5:15-17) but that we are a people with our eyes fixed and minds set on things that are above— with eager expectation that our Brother is coming for us. Soon.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,fixing our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2)