Let me start by saying, this is not a lecture. My intent in writing is simply to answer a question I've been asked a good bit recently regarding my sudden exit from Facebook last month. I originally committed to suspend my account for 30 days, but as I have reached that milestone I have realized I am still not ready to return. The longer I am away the more God is revealing to me why I needed a break. This post is an effort to document some of those lessons.
Loneliness and the Illusion of Connection
I parent solo a lot. Facebook filled a void in my life for the times when I was elbow deep in kids, housework and/or boredom. It felt like a fairly harmless way for me to check in and share adult conversation when I was lonely and seeking connection. It was always on my terms.
I am old enough (and over any driving need to be in the social scene) that seeing pictures of events I was not included in rarely bothered me. I am, for the most part, content with my station in life so it wasn't really the comparison game that got me either.
The defining moment for me was when I realized that neighbors I adore were going through a very challenging season and while it was not a big secret, I was oblivious. I knew many mundane details about the lives of people I have not laid eyes on in over 20 years, but it was at the expense of real human connection with people whom I literally share a fence line. Ugh. It still makes me sad.
People are busy. When I have something to share I can't always decide who would really care to hear about it. Posting a quick status update on Facebook filled that void. Facebook was a cheap and easy substitute for real relationship. I could peruse the photos of friends and mentally check the box of connecting--without ever letting the other person know they had been on my heart and mind.
When I am thinking about Sue, now I actually reach out specifically to her and let her know. While I know headlines on far fewer people now, I feel authentically closer to the people with whom I do interact. I was only getting glimpses of what friends chose to advertise to the world wide web, not a real conversation about their true feelings of life and the lessons they are learning.
Stepping away has caused me to pause and actually think about the people in my life more intentionally. Rather than constant broadcast messages, specifically/selectively e-mailing, texting or calling requires me to put thought into the recipient(s) and how THEY are doing.
This article really speaks to the struggle Jane shared with me.
This story will make Sally smile on a day I know is going to be difficult.
I wonder how Sam's Dad is doing...
Fanning the Flames of my Sinful Nature
Finally, and this one makes me gulp to admit, I did not like how I felt about myself many times when I logged off. Perusing photos and quotes fanned the flames of my fleshly nature. I found myself increasingly judging people's choices and making assumptions about their motives. The screen de-personalized folks enough that I started to feel like I was reading a celebrity gossip magazine for entertainment instead of connecting with people in a meaningful way.
And don't get me started on the drama... The rants and vents of people who were disgruntled over television plots, sports teams' performances and political issues wore me out. Rather than adding to my life and growth, a silly website was draining me.
Let me be clear: Facebook was not the problem--the dark corners of my heart and its sin condition were the problem--this particular website simply provided a tempting way to amplify it. Just as those who struggle with alcohol need to avoid liquor stores, my sinful tendencies needed to go cold turkey from this website.
The most painful aspect of this struggle pertained to a few people who were Facebook friends even though our relationships are strained in real life. It is hard for me to describe how complicated this made things in my heart--but again, getting glimpses into their life led me down a road of sinful thought and painful memories. I knew it was time for me to step away. I am still praying through all the implications of this one--and it's a bit too personal to share. Let's just say the Lord has really been working on some areas of my heart.
When my husband and I paid off all our debt, one of the most astounding realizations was how free we felt. We hadn't realized the extent of the burden until it was suddenly lifted. Similarly, I didn't understand the weight of my Facebook use until it was gone. Although my husband never complained when I was on, he has commented more than once how much he appreciates that I quit. "You talk to me more," he observed. "Instead of a status update to 1,000 'friends,' you now tell ME the stories of your day. I like that."
And I like knowing that he wants to hear me. His thumbs up is frankly worth more than 100 online.
Like most things in life, this was a tradeoff. I miss keeping up with a whole lot of folks that my daily life doesn't allow me to encounter. It takes a lot more work to track some people down now...but it sure will make Christmas cards more fun!
And each time I found myself all tangled up in the choice to stay or go I was reminded: it is just a website for crying out loud! Why does it have such a hold? It wasn't healthy.
Contrary to how it may sound from this post, I may very well reactivate my account one day--hopefully with renewed perspective--but not yet. And I am still on Instagram and twitter. :-)
Now if only my effort to quit Diet Coke were going so well...