You know the story.
One day, the prophet Elijah went up a mountain, waiting for the Lord to pass by. There was a mighty wind, but the Lord was not in the wind. Then there was an earthquake, but the Lord wasn’t in that either. There was a fire, but the Lord wasn’t in the flame.
Then, at last, there was a whisper. When Elijah heard it, he covered his face and stepped out to meet the Lord (1 Kings 19).
If you read the title of this blog post, you can probably guess why I bring this story up now.
God often speaks to us in whispers. But we’re drowning in noise.
Thanks to social media, we live in a world that never stops talking. Our ears are constantly filled with the rings, whistles and chirps of notifications. We spend hours of our day fiddling with our phones and updating our statuses. And while not everything on social media is bad — you can find some great stuff online — you can bet a majority of what we’re exposed to doesn’t encourage us to be more virtuous individuals.
Whether you’re on every social platform ever made or you’ve only just learned what a hashtag is, we can all agree that overexposure to the noise of social media isn’t healthy. (In fact, the word “noise” itself is said to come from the word “nausea.”)
Social media noise can be harmful to your spiritual life, too. How can we possibly hear God’s whispers when we’re immersed in the feed?
No, I’m not calling social media the devil. In fact, I believe the pros of social media ultimately outweigh the cons. But that doesn’t mean the cons don’t exist — or that social media can’t influence our relationship with God.
Here are just a few examples:
One of the greatest dangers with social media is that we can identify ourselves and our worth with our online profiles. It can be tempting to base your self-image on how many friends “liked” your pithy Facebook post or how many shares you got for your Instagram photo.
But you are not your Twitter handle. You aren’t the sum of your Snap Scores on Snapchat. You — created in His image and likeness, fearfully and wonderfully made, known from day one in the womb — are so much more than your online persona.
However, when you’re spending too much time with social media, it can be difficult to keep a healthy separation between your true self and your constructed profile. And if we can’t recognize ourselves for who we truly are — beloved children of God — we might not be able to recognize God as our loving Father.
While it’s easy to connect on social media, it’s challenging to truly communicate with others. Healthy, virtuous relationships thrive on intimacy, presence and authenticity — three things which most social media “relationships” severely lack.
Your relationship with God demands intimacy, presence and authenticity. You may be following @Jesus online — but that can’t replace a real, meaningful friendship with Him through the Scriptures and sacraments.
Social media has dramatically affected the way we communicate with other people. Unlike an in-person conversation, sending a text is instant and convenient — and it doesn’t require us to engage past the point of clicking “send.”
Sometimes, we can reduce our prayers to something like an IM. We share a snapshot (or just a Snap) of what’s on our minds with God, and after we “send” it, we let other distractions fill our heads instead of really listening for His response.
But God wants to have an in-person conversation. Prayer involves a back-and-forth with God, where we share our entire selves and actively listen for Him to speak to us. We can’t say we have an authentic prayer life if all we ever share with God is 40 characters or less.
Here are three ways to help yourself shut down the noise and negative influence of social media so that you can hear God’s whispers in your heart:
1. Put. The. Phone. Down.
That’s it — just set it down and walk away. Our number-one source of social media noise is our phones. Simply shutting down the source of the noise can help us refocus on real-and-present matters, including our relationships and our faith life.
2. Choose silence.
In a world that never stops talking, we can choose to be quiet. Silence is essential if we are to grow spiritually. Whether it’s in the chapel, on a walk or in a quiet room with the door closed, we can choose silence more regularly to better hear God speak.
3. Seek the good instead.
Some people may benefit from leaving social media for a while, but “going dark” doesn’t work for everyone. However, we can still combat the noise and negativity of social media by seeking and promoting what’s good online. Social media can be a powerful means of encountering and sharing the beauty of the faith. A post about the sacraments or saints can inspire us in holy hour later. A video about Scripture might help our online friends be more receptive to the Lord’s call. Again, that’s not to say we should limit our religious experience to whatever we find on social networks — but we can help ourselves and others listen past the noise to find what’s holy if we’re judicious about what we consume and share.
The most important thing we can take away from the story of Elijah is that, while there will always be noise and distractions vying for our attention, we can learn to listen for God’s whispers. Social media is here to stay — but we can still choose to seek Him first and recognize when He passes by.