by Sandra Montes
I took a Sabbath from social media for Lent. I deleted Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and my favorite: Snapchat (came back to find the face-swap feature gone!) from my phone.
Why? From the moment I awoke until the moment I went to bed, I was usually very active on social media. I checked it. I posted. I liked or ignored or judged. I stalked. I friended, unfollowed, and used filters. I made memes, used Facebook Live, and made Insta-stories. I was reading more posts, profiles, and political memes or gifs than books or my Bible! I needed a break. And as I was wondering/praying about what to give up for Lent, something inside me moved.
I told my comadre on Fat Tuesday, “I’m giving up social media for Lent.” She argued, “but that’s part of your ministry!” I thought, “why yes, yes it is”. I’m a digital evangelist, after all. And I said, “thanks, girl! Now you’ve given me the perfect excuse not to!” But inside, I had already made up my mind. I even decided I wasn’t going to make a big deal out of it or post that I was going to take a break because, well, I must admit I think it’s annoying when others declare they’re taking a Sabbath from social media only to return hours later (you know who you are)!
So, I deleted all my social media apps. I hope Timehop, Pinterest and Pokémon Go are not considered social media because I kept those. I also kept FB messenger and WhatsApp because some people communicate with me through those. And Lent began.
The first thing I noticed was that immediately I felt more serene and calm. See, most people that I follow are not Trump supporters and a lot were still very angry about his presidency and posted all day long something negative about him. And, as I got notifications and checked social media constantly, it really brought me down and angered me. All day long, I read or saw all the damn things he was doing or saying or tweeting. And most of it was so trivial and unnecessary. I got my news from social media so I asked my son, an NPR enthusiast, to let me know only if we were at war or something major happened (hey, you know some of y’all feel the same).
Another reason I instantly felt more calm and positive is that there are people I don’t follow or even have as friends whom I stalk from time to time. What does that mean? Maybe once a week or probably once every other day, I would go to their page on FB and see what they posted and made myself angry, sad, or feel negative. These may be people who have hurt me or my family, who are very negative, or who aren’t my “friends” anymore (for whatever dumb reasons people unfriend or unfollow on social media). It is an ugly part of me that I wanted to change but didn’t know how.
I admit I picked up my phone several times the first few days looking for my social media apps and realized I didn’t have them. I also admit that during the first days, I thought about those people’s pages and wanted to stalk them and anger myself or make myself sad. But, gradually, those urges diminished.
I realized I wasn’t taking as many pictures or videos as y’all know I usually have. And I really disliked (and felt embarrassed) noticing that. I thought: am I that person who only takes pictures to post/share them? Am I the type of person who isn’t happy unless I have something awesome to share? Or something I think others may find awesome? I do not want to be that person. I knew it was important for me to ponder why I was posting certain pictures. And why so many?
As Lent continued, I loved seeing my Timehop memories and texting pictures directly to my friends and family. I also really enjoyed spending time reading, writing, and resting. I still had my phone on me, but slowly noticed I wasn’t glued to it 24/7. Because I work for myself, part of that means I must be connected and available as much as possible, but I started leaving my phone unattended at times – which also meant giving my work self some time to breathe. I do not like the expression “being present” at meetings to mean, “do not have your phone out”, but I do understand how phones often distract, and fasting from social media and all its notifications helped me be less distracted.
A lot of us, when giving something up for Lent, resume it every Sunday. I was unaware of this “shortcut” until the day I was riding in a car full of bishops and they told me that because Sunday is a celebration, it is not part of Lent. When I learned about that, I gave up chocolate, and as soon as my clock said 12:01 a.m. every Sunday during Lent I had the chocolate in my hand, ready to put in my mouth! When the Sunday after Ash Wednesday came, I thought I was going to pine for social media, but I realized if I wanted this to be a fast, I couldn’t allow myself to splurge until I learned more about myself. After that Sunday, the fast seemed easier and I found myself reaching less and less for my phone to get on social media.
There were days when it was very tough for me not to be on social media, like when I was spending time with my ahijada Jaidani near her birthday or when I met someone with a similar hair color or when my friend had a gorgeous wedding and I got henna or when Ellis was in China or when I had a ladies night called ABCD (Amigas, Bebidas, Comida, y Dios) or when I first met my niece Berkeley or my dad’s birthday or my time with my ahijada Elenita which always includes SnapChat selfies or when I was in the seminary of the Southwest with great women or my work with Kaleidoscope and ECF or when Barry Manilow “came out” and I “came out” to my son and bff as a fan. See what I did there?
On Easter, I decided that I would re-enter social media after the Easter Mass, but it almost felt like a chore and I felt a bit odd so I waited until later. I downloaded Snapchat, the one app I missed the most. I had to try out the new filters. I had fun! Monday, I finally downloaded the other apps, and wondered what I had missed. I also told my son that I was afraid to get back into my routine of stalking or negativity and he said, “don’t you think you can resist?” I said, “I don’t know.” But I meant, “no!” But something in me had changed.
Now, I get on social media about twice or three times a day. I post one or two things, maybe. I do get on Snapchat daily to take a bunch of selfies with the filters (but may post only one every few days). I haven’t stalked anyone and I hope I don’t. I admit I have gotten mad or judged or rolled my eyes at several posts, but instead of engaging in the negativity, I have tried to walk away. One thing that has helped me tremendously is turning off all notifications on all the social media apps.
Throughout Lent and Easter, I have had the opportunity to talk with several people about my experience, but not too deeply. However, I saw Kenji Kuramitsu recently and we had a very lively conversation about it. I told him I was glad I did the fast because there were so many things that I did not truly understand were actually bad habits/sins/dumb. During the conversation, we laughed and shook our heads a lot. We talked about a lot of things that you may also experience. For example, why do we get excited when someone we consider cooler than we are “friends” us? And why do we leave certain people in “friend-request purgatory” instead of simply accepting or rejecting the request? Who do we think we are? Why do we put value on “likes” or “comments” or “views”? Does our amazing story (like graduation, marriage, or birth) become not so amazing if it doesn’t get as many likes as our dog picture? Why do we need that validation? Why do I need to see how much interaction has been going on with my “posts” as soon as I wake up? Why do I want the notifications on? And why, as a digital evangelist, do I not have a clear strategy or plan for sharing the gospel on social media?
Maybe my experience will encourage you to give it a try–take a social media fast (no need to announce it). Or maybe my experience will discourage you! In either case, I hope you will take a step back and ask yourself some questions. You may not want to answer them right away. You may need to ponder them. I still have a lot of questions and am working on some things, but I do know that, no matter what, I won’t be the same.
Sandra Montes is ECF’s Spanish Language Resource Consultant. Born in Perú, Sandra grew up in Guatemala and settled in Texas as soon as she could. Her passions are God, family (especially her son), music, education, and writing. She has been developing original bilingual resources for her church, school, and others for years. Sandra has been volunteering and working in the Episcopal Church since she was welcomed into Her in 1986. She serves as musician, translator, speaker, consultant, and writer. She is a full-time teacher and doctoral student.