Social Media Puts Me in a Position to Lose, So Now What?

When I log on to social media, I feel like I’m destined to lose.

Not to brag, but I follow some really smart and interesting people. It’s tough to stop scrolling through their posts, often to my own detriment. There’s only so much you can learn while scrolling through social media.

The infinite scrolling feature on most social media sites ensures that I’ll literally never run out of something else to find, not to mention the promise of refreshing my feed for the latest posts.

Then there’s the matter of notifications, because who can resist a bit of affirmation? I can get a daily dose of likes and compliments if I play my cards right and avoid controversial topics.

Two unhealthy false versions of myself face off, as the lazy, distracted side of myself meets the side of myself that craves to be viewed in a positive light as an insightful writer.

I can’t afford to let either fabrication override my true self that is a mix of both and a whole bunch of other things. That’s why I’m so uncertain about what to do with social media these days.

I’ve studied the tricks that include red notification buttons since red gets the most engagement, auto-playing videos that make it as easy as possible to keep watching, a spinning update wheel that resembles a slot machine when refreshing a feed, and even a slight delay in revealing notifications in order to build suspense.

I know all of these tricks, and yet I feel sucked in by them. Knowing that the creators of the red notification button and the infinite scroll buttons can’t resist them either makes me feel better, but only drives home the point that with social media the average user is destined to lose to the engineers because the engineers are even beating themselves with their design.

I simply don’t know what to do with social media. It’s conventional wisdom in marketing and publishing circles that Facebook offers great engagement per post, but I’m not sure how present to be when I know that I am more likely to lose time, attention, and focus when using social media, let alone my concern for other social media users.

Perhaps the question is this: What do we hope to gain from social media? And then there’s a follow up question about whether it’s actually delivering those things.

Is social media promising us a certain level of connection and interaction and then pulling a bait and switch with extremely addicting features that make it difficult to stop and do something else more beneficial with our time?

If our goal is to deliver a lot of data and view a lot of ads, then social media is working just fine as it is, but I don’t think the goals of social media companies line up with the best interests of their users.

As of right now, I’m not sure how to use social media, but I sure about how to not use it. I’m using time limiting apps, blocking apps, and tracking apps in order to keep my usage under control even if I can’t make good choices in the heat of the moment.

If the makers of social media are devoting so much time and so many resources to capturing our attention and time, it’s time for us to use time and resources in order to guard our attention and time.

 

Photo by Rami Al-zayat on Unsplash

Better to Have Imperfect Spiritual Practices Than No Spiritual Practices

There is one significant disadvantage to learning spiritual practices and disciplines from the likes of Thomas Merton.

While Merton hid out in an abandoned tool shed to pray each day or ventured off to his hermitage for days at a time, most of us can hardly string together 10 minutes of silent prayer before an inevitable interruption comes along. It’s easy to become discouraged when comparing our time for prayer to someone who dedicated large blocks of time to it.

I can get caught up in the challenges of pursuing solitude in a family of five in a relatively smallish house with thin doors and bedrooms clustered closely together. Even if I carefully plan my time, a child will pee on something other than a toilet, the pharmacy will take longer on a prescription, extra homework will show up unbidden, or a work project will take hours longer than anticipated.

These aren’t things that can generally be put off until later, and so plans and disciplines need to be adapted or dropped for the day. The perfect version of a spiritual practice isn’t a guarantee most days for a parent, and it’s not like Thomas Merton has a wealth of experience in this department, even if he frequently complained about how busy the monastery kept him.

[As a side note, Merton complained about his packed schedule to the point that he likely was sent off into the woods by himself to tag trees. I know about this because he cheerfully documented these romps throughout his journals in great detail.]

This week I was practicing silent breathing and centering prayer while driving around town.

That’s not the ideal situation for that practice, but it’s the time I had while navigating an unexpectedly full schedule.

At another point, I was praying the divine hours in the pharmacy pickup line.

That’s not my preferred place to pray the hours, but it was better than not praying them at all.

It’s easy to turn to our phones for podcasts, social media updates, emails, text messages, or videos to pass the time.

What can you do with five minutes in the pharmacy line?

What good will ten minutes of imperfect silence in the car really do for you?

What I’ve found is that doing spiritual practices imperfectly is still better than not doing them at all. When anxiety, sloth, and lack of discipline show up in my life, I can always trace them back to a schedule that filled up and completely crowded out spiritual practices like praying the hours or centering prayer in silence.

By hanging on to these imperfect practices, I kept myself somewhat stable and maintained the habit of making space for them.

On the following day I wasn’t juggling a mountain of unexpected projects, and so I could maintain a certain level of continuity with my spiritual practices.

I still wouldn’t say that they were on par with the quality of Merton’s reflections in the hermitage, but of course he would scold me for even suggesting that one person’s contemplative practices could be compared to another. Perhaps that is the most significant reason to accept “imperfect” spiritual practices in the first place.

 

Read More about Contemplative Prayer…

After years of anxious, hard-working spirituality, I found peace with God by practicing contemplative prayer. I’ve written an introduction to this historic Christian practice titled:

Flee, Be Silent, Pray:
Ancient Prayers for Anxious Christians

On sale for $8.49 (Kindle)

Amazon | Herald Press | CBD

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Creating a Contemplative-Friendly Smartphone to Find Time to Pray

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The best step I have ever taken for my spiritual health, personal sanity, and relationships has been removing Facebook from my iPhone. The second best step has been imagining ways I can turn my phone into a prompt for prayer.

I think we all know what happens when we’re carrying a phone around. I keep checking and checking and checking it. Every time there’s a free moment, the phone comes out and I scroll through whatever app I can find. It’s an impulse or habit for many of us by now. When I had email and three or four social media accounts to flip through, I could waste a ton of time on my phone.

Our attachment to our phones is becoming legendary. People experience anxiety apart from their phones to the point that those trying to break their attachment can buy fake phones that are sized and weighted like real ones. We have anxiety complexes over dead batteries. We check our phones the first thing in the morning and right before going to bed.

Although I am far from the most virtuous or disciplined person with my phone, I decided to try using my phone as a prompt to pray and to even lead me toward contemplative prayer. I’ve written about this in my newsletter, but now that I’ve given it a shot for a longer stretch of time, I finally feel able to publicly offer a few thoughts on what has worked.

What I Don’t Use

I tried using podcast prayer apps, but I don’t really have the time to dive into podcasts all that often, and lately I prize silence more than anything else. If I have a quiet moment, I’m not going to put something on!

Having said that, I did use Pray as You Go for a season and really benefited from it. It’s especialy ideal for commuters. Others have strongly recommended the Abide app. If contemplative prayer is new or intimidating to you, a podcast like Pray as You Go may help you take steps toward reflecting on scripture and making time to be still.

I have also used the Jesuits app on and off again. It offers some simple Examen questions, a scripture reading, and a brief reflection. It’s also on both Android and Apple.

My Essential Smartphone Contemplation Plan

Most importantly, I wanted for my iPhone set up to make prayer or reading deeper articles easier and more or less automatic. My home screen includes the apps for the Examine, Pocket, the Clock, and Safari (the Mac internet browser), which are my main sources of smartphone-based contemplation.

Safari always has the page for the Divine Hours at Vineyard Ann Arbor loaded. I often access the Divine Hours in the morning at the very least or during a break at work when I take a little stretch break when I remember to set my Pomodoro timer. The Divine Hours offer small and large passages of scripture and prayers that you can read, meditate on, or recite throughout the day.

The Examine app remains one of my most valued apps. By offering a series of prompts about what’s encouraging or discouraging from my day, I can practice the Ignatian Examen once or twice a day in order to take stock of my soul and to better direct my prayers. Most importantly, the Examen helps me to become aware of when I need to remain silent and become more present for God’s love.

While the Clock is a standard, ho hum app that I suppose most people may not even consider using, I use the timer all of the time for centering prayer. I mean, who can judge when 20 minutes have passed? I just set the timer and leave it alone while I sit and either focus on breathing quietly, praying the Jesus prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner), or centering on a “sacred word.”

As for reading contemplative materials, I keep my Pocket app on my home screen in order to read articles that I’ve saved throughout the day. Pocket has a really clean interface that makes it easy to read without distraction. I save articles all day, so it’s ideal to have a place where I can access them when I have a moment. I also subscribe to the daily email from Richard Rohr, which has been a real lifeline some days.

In fact, I have relied so deeply on Rohr’s emails that I set up my own Contemplative Writer website that offers daily or weekly subscription options that send contemplative scripture and articles to subscribers. There’s the daily option to sign up to receive new posts in your inbox  or you can sign up for the weekly contemplative prayer email.

What I Hide or Don’t Have on My Phone

As I mentioned already, I don’t have Facebook on my iPhone. I don’t have Messenger, Twitter, or Hootsuite either. I manage all of that on my computer for the most part.

I do use Instagram on my phone, but I do my best to hide that way in the back and mostly manage it through the Later app, which has been a true lifesaver when combined with Canva.

My data plan with Consumer Cellular is fairly limited, and I have data turned off for almost everything except for email, maps, and Safari, primarily so I can access Rohr’s emails and the Divine Hours on the go. Everything else, including Instagram and the NHL app, have data turned off.

Most importantly, my goal all along has been to train myself to pray before I do anything else. That’s a challenge most days when work time is limited, and it’s especially hard as our family transitions to a new town. However, there’s no denying that I immediately feel a bit of guilt if I start answering emails before reading the Morning Office or reading Rohr’s email.

I’m sure this little contemplative smartphone plan will evolve in the years to come, but for now, I’m at least a little more likely to pray and a lot less likely to turn to my phone for idle distraction when I have a few free minutes. In fact, I’ve often pulled my phone out, realized I don’t expect any urgent emails or need to open any apps, and just put it away. I’m far more aware of the ways that my smartphone becomes a distraction and barrier, even if I know there is always a lot of room for growth.

Who knows, maybe a year from now I’ll just trash all of these ideas, delete my social media accounts, and buy a flip phone.

 

Read more about the basics of contemplative prayer and Christian spirituality in my latest book:

Flee, Be Silent, Pray: An Anxious Evangelical Finds Peace with God through Contemplative Prayer

 

Guest Post for Micha Boyett: How The Examen Empowers Us to Pray and Write

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I’m guest posting at Micha Boyett’s blog this week to talk about prayer and writing, which is pretty much right in her wheelhouse. I met Micha back in 2012, and was totally blown away by the pitch for her (then) upcoming book Found (as of this moment, it’s $3 on Kindle!). If you haven’t read it yet, I think quite a few of us will really relate this book’s stories about her struggles to pray while parenting little ones.  I’m honored to write at her blog about the Examen and how it has transformed both my prayer and writing: 

 

When I try to pray, I often find that my anxious thoughts get in the way.

When I try to write, I often find that I can’t form a single thought.

It feels like feast or famine most days.

How can I face my thoughts for prayerful contemplation without getting swept up in anxiety and worst-case scenarios?

How can I hang on to a few thoughts that are worth exploring through writing before the blank page wins?

Thankfully I’ve found that one practice can help with both problems. The Examen, developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, offers a lifeline to stressed out, over-thinkers like me, while coincidentally prompting writers to address what matters most.

 

Praying with the Examen

Ignatius believed the Examen was a gift given directly from God. After spending a significant time in prayer, he found that prayer could move forward best with this time of reflection and meditation.

The Examen is set apart from run of the mill self-reflection right from the start by its first step: Awareness of God’s Presence. We don’t face the most challenging parts of our lives alone. God is with us as we begin the Examen, and as we move forward into it, that awareness will only grow. In fact, the Examen encourages us to invite God into our days and our times of reflection.

The genius of the Examen is the way it stops the roller coaster of worry and distraction when I begin praying, while still offering a path forward. It provides an orderly, prayerful direction to my thoughts so that I can honestly face what I’m truly thinking without feeling restrained.

Read the Rest at Micha Boyett’s Blog.

Guest Post for Michelle DeRusha: Where Do We Start with Prayer?

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I’m guest posting this week for my friend Michelle DeRusha, the author of the fantastic books Spiritual Misfit and 50 Women Every Christian Should Know. I’m sharing a guest post based on my new book Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together. While I suggest in my book that prayer practices can help us write, we first need to sort out where we’ll begin with prayer:

 

One of my most intense moments in prayer started on a whim.

I sat down to pray in our living room one morning, and for some reason my mind kept venturing back to the moments of my deepest shame.

The relationships I’d messed up in college.

The many stupid things I said during our first year of marriage.

The time (times?) I placed unreasonable expectations on a good friend.

As I squirmed and fretted over my shame, I had a “revolutionary” thought: “What if I just prayed as if God knew all about this stuff already?”

 

We Bring Our Vulnerabilities to Prayer

I’m not breaking new ground when I say that we can’t hide anything from God or that we don’t have to be perfect in order to approach God. That’s pretty much covered from most pulpits on Sunday morning.

Actually living as if we have nothing to hide and God still loves us is quite another matter.

 

Read the Rest at Michelle DeRusha’s Blog.