Last Lent I took a break from Facebook, Twitter and blogging. It did me good.
I like to think that I am not addicted to social media, but there is no doubt that checking updates, posting comments and engaging in discussions take up time and mental space.
My son’s comment to me a few months ago that “you’re a nicer person without your iPhone” was mainly due to being distracted by social media. It was painful to hear but important to listen to.
Going without such online distractions for six weeks gave my life more breathing space. It helped me pray and reflect. So I have decided to do the same thing for this Advent.
It’s not to condemn social media. I like Facebook and will continue to use it after Christmas. But I do believe it is good for us to have seasons where we intentionally do something different.
“Fasting” from something we usually do can provide a positive opportunity to deepen and re-order our lives in a healthier way. So what kind of a difference could a fast from using social media make?
1. It could help us engage more deeply in the real world around us.
Sometimes we need some extra reason or added motivation to positively do something else. Perhaps you could replace the time spent online by:
â— Connecting with a friend you have not seen for ages
â— Inviting the neighbors over
â— Having that conversation you have been putting off
â— Reading the quality book that is gathering dust on your shelf
â— Using the time on the train or bus to work to reflect on the day ahead
â— Visiting the elderly person on your street who is lonely
â— Spending time talking to the kids who hang out on your street
Be more intentional about engaging with the real people around you. Focusing less on your Facebook friends could be an opportunity to be more intentional about spending more quality time with the friends and family around you.
2. It could help us reject the toxic materialism of Christmas.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby spoke out recently about the materialism that spoils Christmas by putting pressure on families.
Yet against these comments, the John Lewis Retail 2013 Christmas advert has had more than 8.5 million hits on YouTube.
In response to the acclaim the advert received, Richard Godwin wrote in the London Evening Standard: “We are in a sorry state if we cannot distinguish art from commerce. This is what the Archbishop is getting at when he says that consumerism puts pressure on relationships at Christmas, making us equate love and money.”
“In short it ‘spoils life,'” Godwin continued. “Advertising is like warfare, every year our defenses get stronger; every year the weaponry gets more sophisticated.”
We have to realize that Facebook is not our friend. It bombards us with tailored adverts designed to create discontent and increase our spending. Withdrawing from social media lessens our exposure to the toxic propaganda of consumerism.
3. It could help us be renewed by something deeper.
If we lead busy lives, the weeks before Christmas are often twice as busy. How do we resist what Andy Flannagan describes as “drowning in the shallow” of our superficial culture?
The best way is by rooting ourselves more intentionally and deeply in divine love: the love of a down-to-earth God who comes to us as a vulnerable baby, a seed of hope which has transformed the world forever.
Advent is a time to be intentional about spirituality rather than it being last on our list of priorities. If you pray, pray more. If you don’t, start. Spend time in silence.
To help do this, you might find this Advent Challenge useful. It gives 24 days of reflections for each day of Advent that combines silence, readings and prayer and will help you focus on the person at the center of the whole celebration.
It is in rooting ourselves more deeply and intentionally in God’s love that we will find true renewal and a deeper joy than is found at any party or inside any present.
Jon Kuhrt is the executive director of social work at West London Mission and is a member of Streatham Baptist Church in South London. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Resistance and Renewal, and is used with permission. His Twitter feed is @jonkuhrt.