It’s been a thirty-minute grading break, and here I am now: furious, sad, exhausted, confused, and deeply torn… I felt obliged to read the comments on an article about the attempt to sell off federal lands. But, it left me wondering… Why do I hesitate to read comments on a news article? Why am I stuck wondering what sparked someone’s Facebook discussion? Why do I linger on infuriating Tweets? Why do I walk away from social media at times, feeling exhausted, angry, or less myself? Is this even good for me? … It sure hasn’t felt like a break.
Social media seems to be bursting at the seams with opinions on recent stories ranging from fights over vaccines to #NoDAPL to SNL’s recent work, and the tenor of the conversation often carries a bitter edge.
I try to engage the conversation when I read news, blogs, and commentaries (especially TJP). But, it doesn’t take long on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or any other feed for me to begin to question: What am I doing? Should I have liked that? Should I have made that comment? Am I making things better or worse? Why do I feel so stressed, exhausted, and despairing?
These are difficult questions, but thankfully I know some old wisdom to help answer modern questions: the Examen Prayer.1 The prayer reviews a person’s day, or a portion of their day, seeking to look at “movements,” meaning growth towards God or away from God. Ignatius encourages people to look at these movements within their lives without judgement, and to use that awareness to help them continue moving towards being better and towards God.
The Examen is a helpful tool for evaluating my engagement with social media. Praying more closely with the way I read, the way I respond, and the way I engage the discussion will offer some guidance. Perhaps, I can work towards growing closer to others, to being more myself, and to moving more towards God.
Navigating Social Media, with God
I. Begin, in Gratitude:
- Take a moment to dwell on one genuine encounter on social media: a conversation with a friend or loved one, a laugh or inside joke, a moment of joy and/or grace, a good memory …
- Dwell with that moment, savoring it as a moment of gift and grace from God.
II. Review, with God: (Here are some questions to help.)
- Ask are my actions, likes, and comments on social media making me more… me?
a) Do my actions show my true self? Do they hide behind a keyboard, or do they match what I would say or do in real life?
b) If I read my comments or actions aloud, or out of context, would they seem angry or kind?
c) Does my activity on social media reflect my values? Does my use of social media contribute to my growth as a person or hinder it?
- Ask do my actions, likes, and comments on social media bring me closer to others?
a) Does my presence on social media contribute positively or negatively to the tone of the internet? Do I acknowledge the good intentions of others, or do I assume the worst in their comments?
b) When I comment or like something, is it an attempt to continue a discussion or to force my opinion into the conversation? Do I seek understanding and encounter, or am I seeking to preach?
c) Do I see people as people on social media, or does my use encourage me to objectify their opinions, bodies, or humanity? Does my activity on social media acknowledge the humanity of the other person or do treat others as “less than” with my actions?
- Reflect, does my use of social media bring me closer to God?
a) Does my activity on social media help my grow in faith, hope, and love? Do my actions on social media make me a holier person? Do I seek out images or messages which undermine my faith or values?
b) Do I seek out opinions which upset me? Do I filter out all messages except for those I agree with? Does social media make me more cynical or sarcastic?
c) Do I read or respond in ways which I would be proud to acknowledge before God? Do I invite God’s guidance and input into my actions on social media? Do I activity seek God’s work on social media?
III. Process the review with God.
- Take a few moments to sit with the reactions to the questions and the probing of your activity on social media. Are there moments or actions or emotions which you notice?
- Without judging those moments as good or bad, simply invite God’s presence and guidance into your reflection. How is God calling you to respond? Is there something God wants you to celebrate? Is there something God may be calling you to change in the future?
IV. Move Forward, in Gratitude.
- Briefly close your prayer in thanks to God for allowing you this time to review your social media activity. Also, ask for God’s guidance moving forward.
- Take a moment to resolve, with God’s help, to move forward more graciously, prayerfully, and lovingly in your activity and time on social media.
- Perhaps, you can close with a short prayer such as…
God, You have given me gifts and opportunities to grow. Continue to work with my heart to allow these opportunities on social media, to become moments which draw me closer to You… closer to others… and closer to the person You have called me to be. Guide me so that I can responsibly use these opportunities and gifts for Your greater glory. Amen.
A special thanks to our TJP Contributors, Ken Homan, SJ, & Colten Biro, SJ, for compiling the reflection and Examen. Previous writings and biographical information of either author can be found on their author pages by clicking their names.