I grew up in a Baptist church where the only acceptable spiritual rituals were baptism, communion with non-alcoholic wine and tiny pieces of cracker, and potlucks in the church basement. In my early 20s, when I began to reconnect with my faith in Jesus, I started attending a Presbyterian church where I experienced liturgy and ritual and found that I really connected with some of it. It was here that I was introduced to the concept of Lent. Lent is the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter and is a period where one is given the opportunity to reflect on their faith and the life of Christ in a purposeful way. Observing Lent often involves a fast of some sort in order to take the attention from the thing which one is fasting from and create more intentional space for God. Lenten fasts often involve chocolate, soda, sweets, etc. I've done all of those in the past. But sometimes that left me feeling as though I simply went on a diet for Jesus...which isn't bad, per se, but perhaps is less of a spiritual awakening than it could be.
Last year, I gave up Facebook. At that point in time, it was something that simply sucked up my time. I was busy with three kids five and under and always feeling like I had no time to engage God. And yet, I had time to give to Facebook--time to look at people's walls, fill out viral surveys, make comments about my friends' cute kiddos. And so, when Lent rolled around, I logged off Facebook and found that it gave me more time to pursue God. Yet when Lent was over, I was ready to hop back on to the social network.
Recently, I've been hearing a lot about a book called Alone Together. From what I understand (I'm on the list for it from the library), it talks about how social networking sites have seemed to produce increased social isolation rather than connection between individuals. I'm really interested in this idea because in the last year, my relationship with Facebook has changed. I have more "friends," many of which I barely know. I find that I post less often, about less meaningful things, and feel like my close friends are doing the same. It's as though there is less real information on Facebook. I see that people are playing games, posting videos, announcing yoga class times...and yet, even in the last year, it seems to me there are fewer pictures, fewer "let's get to know each other" surveys, less chats, and less vulnerability.
And yet...even though I feel like I'm getting less and less important information about the people who I really care about, I find myself anxious about checking Facebook several times a day. And if I wake up in the middle of the night, well, just one peek from on my Blackberry won't hurt...
And why is that?, I've been asking myself. Why do I wade through pages of Farmville and YouTube and blog links (blogs to which I am already subscribed in email) searching for nuggets of important information? Because I've developed a fear that something BIG will happen in one of my friend's lives and I will miss it. And I have justification for this fear. This summer, when I had a late miscarriage, I posted on Facebook, expecting that to communicate with all the people who loved me. It didn't...several special friends "missed it." Last week, a dear old friend's son died. I found out on Facebook. Right now, another friend's elderly mother is in hospice care. I'm terrified that I won't know when she makes her final voyage. I don't want to miss out on the important things in the lives of people I love.
This has made me realize that I feel an unhealthy dependence on Facebook. I rely on it way more than is logical. I grasp it as this connection to my friends...yet it keeps ME from feeling like I can truly engage them. I mean, I can't call someone to tell them some news if I already posted it on my status, or else they'll think I'm being dramatic/needy/narcissistic...can I? I can't write that I'm having a bad day or that I am frustrated. Because, I'm a yoga teacher. I'm a Christian. I'm a Christian yoga teacher, for goodness sake. I can't stop by a friend's house or call her or even email, should I? No, just put a note on her wall. Sigh...
I don't want to depend on anything more than Jesus. I don't want to be fearful for my relationships. I don't want to live in isolation when Jesus has surrounded me with people to love and people who love me. I don't want to live in false intimacy. I want to love God with all my heart and love my neighbors as myself.
So while I appreciate Facebook for getting me connected with old friends and the convenience of communicating with groups of people efficiently, when Lent rolled around this year, it seemed like it was what I needed to fast from again. I needed to fast from it to realize that God is the one on whom I depend. I need it to motivate me to really engage with the people I love. I need it to get honest with myself about who I am again (as well as who I am not). I hope this exercise leaves me with some revelations about myself and the people I love as well as puts my Facebook experience in the proper place in my life. But mostly, I hope it helps me to draw nearer to God as I learn to trust Him with everything.