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

Believing God Exists Isn’t Enough for Prayer

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I’ve spent so much time worrying about whether or not God exists that I overlooked a more important question. If I believe that God exists, do I believe in a God that I would approach in prayer?

Another way to ask that would be: If I believe in God, do I believe in a loving, merciful God who wants nothing more than for me to pray? Or do I let my imagination create images of an angry, violent, and petty God who is waiting for me to finally mess up enough to justify banishing me from his presence forever?

That latter image haunted my prayers for years. Whenever I struggled to pray, I told myself, “Well, this is it. You’ve finally done it. God has finally turned away from you, and there’s no hope. Prayer may work for other people, but it won’t work for you.”

By imagining a God who could take me or leave me, waiting to strike me down, or to cast me away at the slightest infraction, I made it extremely hard to pray. If I can’t imagine God liking me, let alone loving me and seeing me with compassion and mercy, it’s awfully hard to begin to pray.

Perhaps we struggle to reconcile the God of Hebrew Bible who throws down thunder, hail stones, and fire from the heavens. Perhaps we can’t reconcile those stories with the proclamations of the Psalms:

The LORD is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness.
Psalm 103:8

I don’t know how to create a theological system that seamlessly accounts for these stories and comfortably fits them in with the many verses in the Psalms and prophets where God is described as merciful, compassionate, full of love, and loving for his people like a jilted lover.

Here’s what I do know: the people who seek God in prayer have found more love, mercy, and compassion than they ever would have guessed. When the mystics write about the presence of God, there is awe and even a bit of fear at times, but God is love, compassion and mercy.

The people who have dedicated their lives to prayer overwhelming reveal that the God we seek is the kind of God we would want to seek.

That isn’t to say that our faults or sins aren’t a big deal. Anyone who believes in the cross and resurrection would recognize that these are important problems that God himself has set out to resolve. The point for me is not minimizing my faults, it’s seeing the largeness of God’s love, mercy, and compassion.

My mistake wasn’t underestimating the seriousness of sin; it was underestimating how deeply God loves us.

Over and over again in the Gospels, I see Jesus telling people that God is more loving and merciful than they expect, that more people are welcome than they suspect, and that the supposed barriers between people and God are actually not holding anyone back.

Perhaps the greatest struggle for Christians today isn’t believing God exists, it’s believing that God is merciful.

We do ourselves no good if we believe in a God that we fear, a God we dare not approach, or a God who is so terrible that we fail to open our deepest fears and pains to him.

In the vast reserves of God’s love and mercy, there is room for us to come as we are and to seek healing and restoration. The greatest obstacle to God’s mercy is believing that it exists and applies even to you and to me.

 

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

On sale for $2.99

Amazon Kindle | Amazon print | Kobo | B&N

 

Can Parents Ruthlessly Eliminate Hurry from Their Lives?

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I read once that in the early days of his ministry at Willow Creek Community Church, pastor John Ortberg contacted a spiritual leader for advice (I think it was Dallas Willard).

“What do I need to do to be spiritually healthy?” Ortberg asked.

Long pause.

“You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life,” he said at last.

That’s it. Willard refused to add anything else to his advice—not even a footnote.

That concept sounded challenging when I only had to manage myself and my anxiety-ridden mind. Now we have kids, and hurry just feels like the baseline for every day.

Before the birth of our first son, I asked a mother of three (now four) about the ways that having a kid changes your day-to-day life.

Her eyes grew big. “The nap,” she said. “Everything revolves around the nap.”

I only have two kids, but her advice has proven true thus far. Most days I can only make the nap happen if I hurry.

If you’ve ever seen a young kid completely losing it in a store, red-faced bawling and throwing everything while shrieking, “NOOOOO!!!!”, you have most likely seen evidence of either a late nap or no nap. Not every time, mind you, but this is a typical outcome for nap-less child.

I consider myself a spiritual or contemplative writer. I also spend about half of each day with our kids. Hurry feels essential to the latter even if it’s toxic for the former.

Most days it’s on me to get the kids home in time for their naps, preparing lunch, finding what they need for nap time, and setting things up for a smooth transition for when my wife comes home to put the oldest down for a nap.

If I’m late, there’s no wiggle room. Lunch is a long, slow, messy disaster where the older child spills milk frequently, food is chewed up and then thrown by the younger child, and both require constant prodding to take the next bite.

You could say that each day is like a stack of dominos where falling off course at an early point in the day makes it that much harder to knock out the next thing.

If the kids are late for lunch, then I can expect that they’re late for their naps, I’m late to my work, the chance of at least one kid having a melt down increases, the chance of short or skipped naps increases, and then an afternoon of over-tired and cranky kids increases.

There’s no single moment that is a make or break scene. A late nap isn’t a guarantee that the wheels will fall off. It’s more like you’ve loosened up the lug nuts on the wheels and taken a high-speed drive on a bumpy road.

In order to make the nap happen I have to manage the prodding of my children throughout the morning. If we’re going to the children’s science museum and still have time for lunch, the ideal is to leave the house by 9:30 am, and the prodding always includes negotiating, cleaning up spills, and multiple threats. The journey from the parking lot to the ticket desk to the play area requires SIGNIFICANT prodding to stay on track. Then the play time is followed by more prodding to get a snack and more prodding to get all the way back to the car and then, hopefully, a little prodding to get into the house.

I know that my tendency is to be a hurried, up-tight, no-nonsense parent. While we can’t stop and look at every single display in the science museum hallway, I began to wonder this fall if I needed to work on cutting back on the hurry in my life. I started to notice that plenty of parents bring their kids 5-10 minutes late for pre-school. Yes, our son prefers to be there early, but that has yet to translate into cooperation when leaving the house without a long list of conditions and needs.

There are times when we genuinely need to move faster in order to get the kids home in time to eat and then sleep. However, hurry has also become a default setting of sorts for myself.

Hurry becomes a lifestyle rather than an occasional tactic for moving kids in the right direction when time is of the essence.

I’m working on my awareness of hurry through my daily Examen practice. I want to know when I’m making too much of a small thing. I also want to extend grace to myself when I’m doing my best to handle a difficult situation.

I can feel the pull of hurry when I’m praying, meditating on scripture, reflecting on my day, or reading at the end of the day. There’s a pull to get this done and move on to the next thing.

With hurry, life becomes a production line where tasks need to be completed efficiently and production capacity is the only goal.

Hurry hates stillness and quiet.

Hurry hates “being” because it’s all about doing. Spirituality needs being in order to translate into doing.

Parents who want to cultivate a healthy spiritual life regularly face this gap between what spiritual leaders tell us we need and the meager scraps left in our days. This spiritual struggle while parenting small children is well documented in Micha Boyett’s book Found.

Must parents watch their spirituality whither away under the burden of hurry?

I’m very much in process here. I don’t have the answers. I do have an observation:

The spirit or mindset of hurry strikes me as a far greater threat rather than beating myself up over each time I have to hurry in order to keep our kids happy and sane.

I don’t want to let hurry become my default. I don’t want hurry to be a part of nearly every interaction with my kids.

And here’s the real kicker and perhaps the greatest trap of all: We can be in a hurry to get rid of… hurry.

I’ve been moving into a season of awareness and discernment about hurry. I don’t want to rush this. After all, I most likely became a hurried, worried parent gradually. What makes me think the solution will happen overnight?

I’m not in a hurry to address my struggles with hurry, and that feels like enough for today.

 

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.

What Saved My Faith: A Synchroblog about Christian Survival and a Big Book Discount

 

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I wrote last week about my doubts that arose when I didn’t receive any obvious manifestations of the Holy Spirit and God felt distant whenever I tried to pray. Much to my dismay, there wasn’t a quick fix to my faltering faith. I’m writing a follow up post as part of a synchroblog this week: What Saved My Faith? Synchroblog details are at the end of today’s post: 

 

When God felt distant throughout my early 20’s, I felt like my faith was completely breaking down. The only way to save my faith was to ask the question that I thought would mean losing it:

“Why has God abandoned me?”

What did my lack of charismatic experiences mean about my faith or about God?

 

I couldn’t figure out a way to make prayer work until I acknowledged that I’d hit a dead end. I had to admit that I was struggling to connect with God. In fact, one word sums my experience up:

SILENCE.

 

 

While I wouldn’t describe myself as particularly charismatic at the time,  I was used to spiritual experiences. I’d had many moments where the words of scripture seemed to jump off the page, and I sensed either an intense joy or sorrow. I’d felt conviction to make major life changes. I’d felt God’s presence while praying int he past.

However, one day it all just fell apart. I can’t say what exactly happened. It’s not like you plan for prayer to stop working or for insecurity to become the norm. Prayer, which had just flowed before, was riddled with uncertainty, doubt, and fear.

The Bible describes a present God who is able to meet people when they pray. That was not my experience.

I quickly became an anxious Christian. I wanted my spirituality to work, and if it didn’t work the way I expected it to work, then I feared that I’d been abandoned by God.

It’s not that I didn’t believe in God. I’d experienced too much. Rather, I just feared abandonment. All of the promises of scripture couldn’t squelch the burning anxiety that God had abandoned me.

“Where are you God? Why won’t you come near?” I asked each day.

I knew so many people who heard God speak, who experienced God, and who sensed God’s direction in their lives.

Why not me?

 

I had to start believing something without personal proof: What if God was near even if I couldn’t sense God’s presence? What if I had to remain faithful without any assurance that God saw me?

I had to learn how to wait on God.

I’ve been surrounded by Christians who talked about victory and breakthroughs, but I didn’t have any concept of a dark night of the soul. One thing pulled me out of my downward spiral into darkness: I relied on the prayers of others. 

First, I asked for prayer.

I asked for a lot of prayer, in fact. Each time I received assurances. I gave God every opportunity to tell me what I was doing wrong through the people praying for me. It turned out that I wasn’t living in sin or on the brink of being cast into the flames of hell or anything else.

In fact, my father-in-law sensed that God had imparted the Holy Spirit to me. If God wasn’t angry with me, I decided to take a different approach to prayer.

I prayed the prayers of others.

When you can’t find your own words to pray, the words of the Psalms and the historic church can serve as a real life saver. In fact, as I struggled with doubts and uncertainty during my dark night of the soul (or whatever one calls these things, I’m a Protestant, remember), I relied heavily on the daily prayers from the Divine Hours (buy the books or pray online).

The Divine Hours exposed me to all kinds of prayers: petitions, laments, praise, etc. I saw that doubt, dark nights of the soul, fear, and uncertainty came up quite a bit while praying. The majority of the readings were short passages of scripture, and I saw that waiting on the Lord comes up quite a bit in the Bible and especially in collected prayers in the Hours.

Psalm 5:3
In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.

Psalm 27:14
Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

Psalm 130:5-6
I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.

The Psalms are full of waiting, in fact.

So I started to wait. I started to rely on the prayers of others. Slowly, gradually, I learned to wait and trust God on my own.

The more I relied on the prayers of others, the more I say that my prayers were full of pushy petitions and demanding deadlines. I was asking God to show up in the time, place, and manner I specified. Perhaps my season of silence was God’s way of shutting down the ways I’d been trying to exert my control over prayer. Who knows.

I started waiting and praying the prayers of others, and I eventually began to sense God’s presence and voice again. In silence and in the recitation of scripture, I found a new path to God that didn’t rely on crafting clever prayers. In fact, prayer became peaceful and restful, inviting God to come and simply paying attention to however the Spirit would move.

I don’t think I could have figured out how to pray on my own. I had to experience the prayers of others and copy the prayers of scripture and fellow Christians. That felt like cheating. It made me feel like a failure, as if I wasn’t smart enough to sort this out on my own.

Rather than failing, I was actually learning what faith looks like. I was learning to stop relying on my won wisdom and to seek the wisdom that can only come from God alone.  By relying on the prayers of others, I finally learned what it means to pray in faith, waiting and trusting in the presence and direction of God.

The things that feel like threats to our faith are often just the necessary failure of flawed faith that must break down and shatter before real faith can take their place. 

 

This post is part of a synchroblog for the release of A Christian Survival Guide: A Lifeline to Faith and Growth  that’s answering the following question:

What saved your faith? 

Write a post this week answering that question and then scroll down to learn how to join the synchroblog.

 

A Christian Survival Guide is also being offered at a steep discount this week.

On Monday, August 18th, it will be offered as a free eBook at select sites:

Amazon and B&N

Tuesday-Friday, August 19-22, it will be offered for $2.99. (See also the Publisher)

Print Copies: Get $3 off on Amazon this week.

Survival Guide Order Button

 

How to Join the Synchroblog:

1. Write a post for your blog during the week of August 18-23.

2. Begin or end your post with something like, “I’m joining the synchroblog for the release of A Christian Survival Guide: A Lifeline to Faith and Growth by answering the prompt: ‘What saved my faith?'”

3. End with a link to today’s post.  (This is the short link: “http://wp.me/p36rtR-k5”). Add the link up information to your post, the synchroblog image, and end your post with a prompt like this: “What saved your faith? Write your own post answering that question and then visit www.edcyzewski.com to learn how you can join the synchroblog or to read additional posts to celebrate the release of Ed’s book A Christian Survival Guide, which is discounted on Amazon this week. “

4. Link to your post in the comment section on Ed’s blog post and tweet with the hashtag “#SavedMyFaith”. 

5. Read other posts by checking the comments or the #SavedMyFaith hashtag on Twitter. Then comment, tweet, or share the best posts you find!