The siren song of social media

Years ago, I signed up for Facebook to get updates on a nephew who was in the Peace Corps. In the beginning, Facebook seemed like a great way to stay in touch with family and to reconnect with classmates and old friends. But over time, Facebook had an unhealthy, almost addictive hold on me and I would get angry or depressed about things I read. How could something that was so appealing in the beginning turn into something dangerous and destructive?

In Greek mythology, sirens were beautiful half-bird, half-woman creatures who lured passing sailors to their deaths with sweet songs and music. A siren’s song is an enticing and seductive appeal that ultimately leads to destruction.

Siren song describes something that is very appealing and alluring on the surface but ultimately deceptive, dangerous, or destructive.

Facebook is a siren song that appealed to my desire to connect with people. It appealed to my desire to be entertained. It appealed to my desire to receive positive feedback from other people. But below the surface, there was a dark side to it.

When I thought about how hard it was for me to resist checking my Facebook account several times a day, I wondered if there is such a thing as social media addiction. While there is no clinical diagnosis, according to Leslie Walker, “a social networking addict could be considered someone with a compulsion to use social media to excess – constantly checking Facebook status updates,” for example. The compulsive behavior may very well fit a common definition of addiction.

Addiction usually refers to compulsive behavior that leads to negative effects. In most addictions, people feel compelled to do certain activities so often that they become a harmful habit, which then interferes with other important activities such as work or school.

Leslie Walker, What is Social Networking Addiction?

My use of Facebook had become compulsive and it was clear to me that social media was having a negative impact on me.

  • Facebook interfered with face-to-face interactions. My husband didn’t like how much time I was spending glued to my phone. And I understood his reaction because I don’t like it when other people do the same thing.
  • I wasted a lot of hours looking at unimportant posts, which took my attention away from more important, productive, or edifying activities.
  • I had the ridiculous fear of missing out (FOMO) on something interesting if I didn’t check my news feed every day.
  • I cared too much about social approval. Facebook encouraged me to be narcissistic – to be overly concerned with how people reacted to my posts. I became too concerned about the image I presented.
  • My moods and my feelings about other people were negatively impacted. Social media exposed me to a lot of negative attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. People say things online that they would not say to a person face-to-face.

On the website “MakeUseOf,” Joel Lee asks a couple of important questions about social media. Does it really improve our lives? Or have we become slaves to it? He warns that social media interferes with our dopamine systems. He warns about “social media creep” – an addiction takes a hold of you before you realize it. He recommends doing a social media detox.

The comment about dopamine intrigued me. So I read Simon Parker’s post, Has dopamine got us hooked on tech? It was disturbing to read about how the “feel good” chemicals in our brains are being exploited by social media companies to keep us hooked. I don’t like being manipulated.

This is the secret to Facebook’s era-defining success: we compulsively check the site because we never know when the delicious ting of social affirmation may sound.


Simon Parkin

When my pastor recommended giving up social media for Lent, he motivated me to take a much needed break from Facebook. I had become a slave to it. It was bringing me down. When Lent is over, I will replace my social media fast with a severely restricted diet. Resisting the siren song of Facebook is liberating!

*****

By Edward Armitage – http://images.bridgeman.co.uk/cgi-bin/bridgemanImage.cgi/600.LMG.0816210.7055475/123001.JPG

Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6574249

Anger: name it and tame it?

My pastor read a ghost story to us, an excerpt from The Great Divorce by CS Lewis. There was a red lizard on the ghost’s shoulder that kept whispering things in his ear. He was embarrassed by it. An angel offered to make the lizard be quiet by killing it. The ghost was reluctant to let the angel kill the lizard even though it tormented him; he was afraid that he would be killed too. When the ghost finally accepted the angel’s help, he and the lizard were transformed.

My pastor shared the lizard story because we are studying the book of Ephesians. In Ephesians 4, Paul told the believers that they must no longer live as the Gentiles. “Put off falsehood and speak truthfully.” “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths.” “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” Get rid of that thing that is controlling you. Ask God to help you resist whatever temptations you are facing.

Years ago, I read a book called Signature Sins: Taming our Wayward Hearts, by Michael Mangis. Anger is one of my signature sins – the red lizard on my shoulder. Fortunately, it doesn’t whisper in my ear everyday but I struggle to tame it when it raises its ugly head.

In Got Anger? Try Naming It To Tame It, Michaeleen Doucleff explains that if you are able to distinguish specific kinds of anger, it will help you regulate your emotions. This is known as “emotional granularity” or emotion differentiation. If you differentiate between the many variations of anger, you will better understand what is causing the emotion and how to handle it in a more constructive way.

Doucleff named three variations of anger that she struggles with: hurry-up anger (directed a people who are too slow), illogical anger (directed at people who are illogical), and disonophous anger (a made-up word for anger caused by noise). I can relate to Doucleff’s hurry-up anger but I sometimes think of it as “get out of my way” anger.

I have a few names for the kinds of anger I struggle with:

Overwhelmed Anger. This is one of my most challenging kinds of anger because it is stress-induced. If I am being pulled in too many directions, I feel overwhelmed. If there are too many things on my plate, I can’t even think straight. My anger stems from feeling stressed and out of control. And if I am feeling overwhelmed, I am less patient with other people. To get rid of this kind of anger, I know that I need to ask for help or to say no more often.

Interference Anger: This anger is directed at people who interfere with my ability to get something done or to accomplish my goals. For example, I get angry with my manager when he waits until the last minute to review my reports. He keeps me from completing my work early so I end up being stressed out as deadlines approach. I realize that my priorities are not my manager’s priorities. I have learned that he doesn’t have great time management skills so I have to manage upward.

Interruption Anger: This is another form of work-related anger. When I am really concentrating and focusing on the task at hand and someone interrupts me, I can get annoyed because the interruption messes up my train of thought. I have to anticipate that there will be interruptions and that unexpected things will happen.

Righteous Indignation: This anger is directed at people who are dishonest, immoral, greedy, selfish, unjust, unmerciful, etc. While I don’t want to be and should not be indifferent to immorality and injustice, my anger at evil does not always produce the kind of righteousness God wants. In Falling Upward, Richard Rohr wrote, “most frontal attacks on evil just produce another kind of evil in yourself, along with a very inflated self-image…”

Michael Mangis says that “we are justified at being angry only at the evil that also angers God.” It’s very easy for righteous indignation to turn into self-righteous indignation. Our reasons for being angry are rarely pure and unselfish. Getting rid of righteous indignation requires humility. I have to admit my own sinfulness and accept the fact that I can’t fix people and I can’t eradicate evil.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

James 1:19 (NIV)

In writing about anger, Mangis said that it cannot be safely tamed. He quoted St. John Cassian who described anger as a deadly poison that must be completely rooted out of your inmost being. Anger can be extremely destructive. As long as anger remains in our hearts, it prevents us from seeing clearly. It impairs our judgment.

I don’t know that you can really tame your anger by naming it but I think it is beneficial to understand the causes and the underlying emotions. In a blog post on Psychology Today, Leon Seltzer, Ph.D., says that “anger is, unquestionably, the most moralistic of emotions.” We think our anger is justified if someone wronged us. A variety of other emotions underlie anger such as feeling disrespected, powerless, humiliated, etc.

Anger is most accurately understood as a potent psychological defense against a variety of more distressing emotions that underlie it.

Leon Seltzer, Ph.D.

There are all sorts of corrective actions you can take when you feel yourself getting angry. If you know your emotional triggers, you can anticipate the behaviors that provoke you to anger and become less reactive. You can try to see things from the other person’s point of view. You can become more assertive. You can try to see the humor in the situation.

The truth is, I have struggled with anger for years even though I know what triggers it, even though I can take my anger temperature, even though I’ve got emotional granularity. I would love to get rid of it once and for all. So maybe the next time the little red lizard of anger whispers in my ear, instead of trying to fix myself, I will just say, God, please kill it.

*****

Photo by Pierre Bamin on Unsplash

Grace Wins

The War Between Guilt and Grace

Something has been weighing on me all week. After I attended the March for Our Lives on Saturday, I posted a photo on Facebook of a friend holding a poster that said that if guns were in our vaginas, they’d be regulated. My sister said the poster was vulgar. She implied that my friend is advocating for abortion rights instead of against gun violence and that by attempting to shock people, she harmed the gun control movement.

I knew when I shared the picture of my friend’s poster that it might offend some people.  A year ago, I wouldn’t have done it. Too often, I have let myself be paralyzed by the fear of what people think. That fear kept me from expressing myself as freely as other people do. I hid the real me. The real me is not a social conformist. The real me is not perfect, the real me makes mistakes, and the real me loves people who are flawed like I am.

I can understand my sister being repulsed by the words my friend chose; I don’t like the mental image of a gun down there either. I don’t like guns period. Even that offends some people. But I understood the point my friend was trying to make and I chose to share it.

I felt ashamed and embarrassed when my sister said my friend’s words were vulgar. I thought about the people from church who may have seen my Facebook photo. Would they think that I’m a bad person for sharing it? But they already know that I am a sinner. Why should I worry about them knowing what they already know?

In the song, Grace Wins, Matthew West sings about the war between guilt and grace. I have been fighting that battle this week. In my mind’s eye, I see people shaking their heads in disgrace, disappointed in me, asking who do you think you are?

In my weakest moment I see you
Shaking your head in disgrace
I can read the disappointment
Written all over your face

Here comes those whispers in my ear
Saying who do you think you are
Looks like you’re on your own from here
Cause grace could never reach that far

Against You and You Only

My church has been studying Psalm 51, David’s plea for God’s mercy after Nathan confronted him about his sins. David asked God for mercy and said, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.”

I cried and prayed this week about my own feelings of shame. There is no shame in not being the person my sister wants me to be though I am sorry for any distress I cause her. There is shame in not bringing glory to God. Against God, and only God, have I sinned. By being irreverent. By being full of pride. By not being pure of heart.

In my inmost place, I know that it’s not over. Grace does reach this far. I’m living proof, grace wins every time.

For the prodigal son, grace wins
For the woman at the well, grace wins
For the blind man and the beggar, grace wins
For always and forever, grace wins
For the lost out on the street, grace wins
For the worst part of you and me, grace wins
For the thief on the cross, grace wins
For a world that is lost

There’s a war between guilt and grace
And they’re fighting for a sacred space
But I’m living proof
Grace wins every time

 

Spiritual Tensions

A couple of nights ago, as I laid down to sleep, my soul was not at peace. I asked God for help. I don’t like how I’m feeling about other people. When I see how selfish people are and how indifferent they are to violence or pain and suffering, it makes me angry. Even if I don’t outwardly express my disagreement, I feel conflicted inside. I feel distressed. It’s a feeling of discord and I don’t like it.

In the book of Psalms, I find another soul who cried out to God in his distress. In Psalm 31, I read, “Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief.” In Psalm 55, I read that David’s thoughts were troubled, he was distraught and his heart was in anguish.

I feel conflicted about my own feelings of discord because Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” How can I be a peacemaker if I am not at peace? How can I be at peace when the world is so broken?

Surely God understands my distress. My heart breaks for at least some of the same things that breaks his. But I am not nearly as loving and merciful and forgiving to the people who disappoint me as God is. As the Casting Crowns song (Jesus, Friend of Sinners) puts it, I am

Always looking around but never looking up I’m so double minded
A plank eyed saint with dirty hands and a heart divided

My heart is not at peace because it is divided. I am motivated by a desire to make the world a better place and that’s a good thing. But I also want people to conform to my expectations and I swing a sword that was never mine to swing.

I am learning to change my expectations of people. In Falling Upward, Richard Rohr wrote, “Don’t expect or demand from groups what they usually cannot give. Doing so will make you needlessly angry and reactionary. They must and will be concerned with identity, boundaries, self-maintenance, self-perpetuation and self-congratulation.”

This is so true. People who get their identity from belonging to a group will circle the wagons and shut down anyone who tries to get them to think differently.

So here is my prayer for today: God grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the person I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

 

 

 

Chains He Shall Break

This Christmas season, I found myself feeling so discouraged about the state of human hearts, mine included, I knew I needed to stop and reflect on my reasons for hope. On Christmas Eve, I went to church and sang carols, then came home and looked up the lyrics to one my favorites: “O Holy Night.” Not only does this song have an interesting history, the lyrics give me much food for reflection.

  1. Long lay the world. These words remind me that the world waited for the Messiah for a long, long time. It was hundreds of years between Old Testament prophesies and the birth of Jesus. Now the world groans waiting for Jesus to return. Sometimes I get impatient waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled and have to remind myself that God’s timing is not mine. With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some understand slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to repentance. (2 Peter 3:8-9)
  2. In sin and error pining. The world is enslaved by sin and longs to be set free. The lonely soul pines for the presence of God. Many people don’t know what they’re missing, they just know something is missing. The world chases money and success and attention and adulation, but in the end, finds an emptiness that this world cannot fill,
  3. He appeared and the soul felt its worth. All who have been saved know that there is no gift more precious than knowing that despite your sinfulness and failings, Jesus loves you. When Jesus appears in your life, the soul feels its worth as a precious child of God, one worth dying for.
  4. A thrill of hope. One of my friends doesn’t like it when people of faith use the word hope. I think she equates hope with wanting something to happen or wanting something to be true. But I see hope as the expectation of something good. Hope is trusting that God’s promises will be fulfilled. The thrill of hope is being uplifted by God’s promises, by the expectation of good things to come.
  5. The weary soul rejoices. The soul becomes weary from its struggles, with too many burdens to carry on its own. Jesus brings comfort, peace, and rest, in all our trials born to be our friend. Which reminds me of another old song, What a Friend We Have in Jesus (James Scriven, 1855). When we are sad, weak and heavy-laden, we can rejoice because he shares our sorrows.
  6. Truly he taught us to love one another. His law is love and his gospel is peace. When Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandment, he said love. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.
  7. Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother. And in His name all oppression shall cease.O Holy Night‘ was brought to America by John Sullivan Dwight, who especially loved this verse because he was an abolitionist. The song was written in the 1840’s by a French poet, Placide Cappeau. A Jewish composer, Adolphe Adam, wrote the music. The song quickly became popular in France but the French Catholic church didn’t approve of Cappeau and denounced the song as not being in the spirit of religion.

Fall on your knees. Oh hear the angel voices. Oh night divine, oh night when Christ was born.

A good song has the power to move me emotionally. O Holy Night reminds me to not get so caught up in the worries of this world that I fail to see that God’s light is brightly shining just as it was long ago. It reminds me to be patient with God. He’s doing amazing things in the lives of ordinary people – stories that don’t get the big enticing headlines I see on my news feed. It reminds me that Jesus is on the side of the oppressed. It reminds me that the Good News is still the Good News. The words give rest to my weary soul and fill me with the thrill of hope once again. Yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

† † † † † † †

O Holy Night!

The stars are brightly shining

It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!

Long lay the world in sin and error pining

Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Fall on your knees

Oh hear the angel voices

Oh night divine

Oh night when Christ was born

Oh night divine

Oh night divine

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming

With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand

So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming

Here come the wise men from Orient land

The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger

In all our trials born to be our friend

Truly He taught us to love one another

His law is love and His gospel is peace

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother

And in His name all oppression shall cease

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,

Let all within us praise His holy name