It was almost June when I felt the Holy Spirit’s gentle nudge. The warm breeze was blowing and the petals were flying through the air, and in the sweet, sticky, aroma of spring, I heard the Lord’s whisper. He was saying, “Come away with Me.”
This summer was to be different. He didn’t want me to stay in the suffocating cubicle of social media and stress. He wanted me to go outside, feel the sun on my face, the breeze on my skin, to breathe Him in.
Listen to the Podcast version of this blog post here.
Jesus, my Good Shepherd, wanted to lead me. Spend time with me. Take me further into the mountains, to show me something I couldn’t see from the ground. Something I couldn’t hear within the noisy crowd of Facebook news, and opinions ,and marketing, and so many distractions.
I needed to, “Come Away,” with Him. To engage with Him. To allow myself to be romanced by Him. As the Lord began to woo me into this wilderness of solitude, my thirsty, anxious spirit whispered, “Yes, Lord.”
“I will follow You.
I want all of You. And I want to give you all of me.
All of my mind. My heart. My soul.”
After coming out of a winter of grief from losing my father-in-law, my soul was delicate and fragile, and needed to be cared for by the most gentle hands possible. The hands of Jesus.
Not the impulsive, unfiltered commentary of what friends and strangers alike would post on Facebook. I’m afraid you might know what I’m talking about. Many nights, I would go to bed by the electric glow of my screen, keeping me from rest. And even when I shut off my screen, I couldn’t shut off my mind; I would lay in bed and all the news and opinions would rattle around in my soul. Sometimes, it made my heart feel anxious, like a tight a fist. Other times I felt a sense of panic. Panic over the state of the world. And sometimes, I would just feel angry. “How could they say that? How could they think that?” The world felt dark and chaotic. And I was drinking it in, cup after cup, right before bed. It was no way to “rest.” I needed to come away from there.
So, I did what ought to be done, and it was painfully practical, even for a romantic like me. But, I pulled the trigger, and deleted my Facebook app, my Facebook messenger app, and Instagram app.
It was only going to be a one month “fast,” but at the end of that month, I felt the Lord lead me to, “Keep going,” and continue this social media sabbatical with him until September. A whole summer with God. And off of social media.
Now, it’s a strange world we live in, because when someone would say, “Did you see “such and such” on Facebook?”, and I’d tell them, no, because I was off of Facebook this summer, do you know what almost every person said in response?
“Oh, I need to do that!”
The only people who didn’t say that, were the ones who were already off of social media, ahead of me.
The thing is, I think we all feel it. The rattling. Something isn’t quite right, but we don’t know another way. Or at least, no one’s ever really shown us. There’s something that draws us there. We’re afraid of missing something. But I’d like to invite you into my journey this summer, not to make you feel guilty for using social media (not at all), but rather to show you: There is another way. There is another path. And if your soul is feeling as weary as mine was, you may just find it leads you to a place restoration and peace. To a place of greener pastures, and quiet waters. You may find it leads you to closer to Jesus, and even more tender toward those He has called you to love.
Here are a few things I learned:
1. I’m addicted, but able to change.
At first it felt really weird not to have that little blue app. I continued to pick up my phone, and set it down again, remembering there was no social media to check or post to, or scroll through. My mind had been trained to mindlessly scroll content, especially at night. At first, I found myself reading Amazon book reviews, as a wierd substitute. It took my mind some time to stop craving little “blurbs” of content, and be re-trained to pick up a book instead, and think whole ideas.
“Scrolling discourages deep delight. Scrolling, by nature, keeps us on the surface, always consuming tasty treats but rarely nourished by anything satisfying. The scrolling soul spends countless hours searching for the sort of satisfaction that can only be found in Christ.”
In time, I grew to read real books, and listened to audio books, and allowed my mind to be stretched by wrapping around whole ideas, rather than random, fragmented ones. I also made my time in Scripture more slow and steady, buy choosing to spend time in just one book of the Bible. Without Facebook notifications popping up, I got to soak more deeply into the book of Isaiah, and my Isaiah commentary, which is the size of an actual phone-book, so you can’t multitask while reading it. But this practice sharpened the gaze of my soul, and allowed me to spend the mornings marveling at the beauty of God, and sometimes weep over the mercy and majesty of God in these pages. It wasn’t that I somehow became “ultra-spiritual.” I simply became, “undistracted.”
It wasn’t that I somehow became “ultra-spiritual.” I simply became, “undistracted.” I could give God the gift of my attention.
I could give God the gift of my attention. And it was a gift to me, to put my attention on Him. The most beautiful One in all the world. I felt like I could focus again, on my God and my King. And I was surprised, as I read in Isaiah, how relevant the message was for us today. All the anxieties I had been wrestling with in our current culture, seemed to be named with piercing accuracy by the language of this book, the language of God. If you wonder what God thinks, or what He feels, I suggesst you to spend time in the book of Isaiah. His heart is bared raw on these pages, and you will find yourself enraptured in the depths of the Living God, the Lover of your soul, and what He says to you.
Now, my mornings weren’t perfect. Some mornings I could linger a long time, and other mornings, all three of our kids were climbing on my lap, asking me questions, spilling my coffee, or taking bites out of my warm buttery toast. (Something they love to do when I’m not looking.;) But reading and writing became like oxygen again, and I wondered how I had lived so long without it before. My mind and heart felt less scattered, and more whole. More like a small, well tended garden, and less like a garage sale of random junk–if that makes any sense. This time was quiet and healing. Not that it was actually “quiet”–the volume in our house is so loud, I sometimes close the windows just to be nice to the neighbors. But my inner noise was hushed, and I was more content than I was in a long time. My soul was quieted in His love.
The days were still hard. Our 2-year-old daughter went through some of her worst behavior yet, which involved scream-crying, and tantrums and defiance I was not used to with our older two children.
But God was here with me for the past three months, even when social media wasn’t.
And I found His presence to be more abiding and peaceful–even when I had no one to express my thoughts or feelings to, except Him.
When I’d take pictures, I’d no longer post them, but rather text them to my parents, or friends. Sometimes, while putting the baby to bed, I’d feel inspired to write, but instead of making a post, I’d just write those thoughts down in my Notes App. No one saw them, except me, and God, and it was okay.
My circle of friends got smaller. But deeper. We pointed each other to Christ. We prayed for each other over the phone, and in voice messages, and through texts. It was less, but it was more.
Because I could only talk to one friend at a time (not a whole group of people at a time) the dynamics were different. They had to be. More thoughtful. More gentle. And also, more intimate.
I missed some things. An engagement, some births, pregnancy announcements, a few prayer requests.
I missed a lot of other things, too. Political arguements, COVID contraversies, culture wars, moral debates. I missed everyone’s family vactions, and anniverseries, and back-to-school pictures. I missed videos. News. Memes. Celebrity gossip. Challenges. Influencers. Book launches. Yard sales. I’m sure I missed some good Facebook Marketplace deals.
I was officially out of the loop on pretty much everything.
But you know what?
And I dare say, I lived more fully and abundantly than I have in a long time.
Why was that?
2. The “secret place” is a good place.
In Matthew 6:1 Jesus says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:5-6)
“And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
He repeats this phrase three times in Matthew 6:4, 6, and 18.
A summer away from social media, felt like a summer I lived in secret. Not like a bad secret, but a good secret. Like the secret a woman carries in early pregnancy, when no one can yet see the miracle of life forming deep within her. No one else knows, but she knows.
And she ponders it quietly in her heart.
I’m learning that things can be real, and secret at the same time. Often, the best things are.
It’s true of time spent with the Lord.
It’s true of moments in motherhood that are too precious for words, or pictures.
It’s true in marriage, when there are moments too sacred and holy, that no one will ever know about them, except you and your husband, and God. And this is good. And right. And beautiful.
Not everything good has to be photographed and posted publicly. Because we have a lens on our eyes. And,
we have a lens on our soul. And if our eyes are good, we will be filled with light. (See Matthew 6:22)
I’m not trying to pick on anyone, because I do the same things everyone else does. But it actually felt good to be unseen. Rather than my usual posts of, “Here I am with my kids having fun. Here I am with my husband on a date. Here I am drinking my coffee. Here I am reading a book.” Not that I write *Here I am* as my caption, but you know what I mean.
Don’t get me wrong, I love posting those kinds of things. I love to celebrate and give honor to all that is good and beautiful in this world–because it comes from God and can give glory to God.
But I’m learning, I can also bring glory to God–when no one is seeing my pictures. And when no is hearing my thoughts or reading my words. Except Him.
I could just say to the Lord, in the quietness of my own home, “Here I am, Lord.”
“You see me. And that’s enough.”
But I need to confess that this kind of contentment didn’t come to me naturally. It came after some trivail.
(The above section can be listen to in podcast form here. Or here:
3. Obedience can make you smaller.
About mid-summer, there was this one day, when I felt like a fool for going off of social media.
It was earlier that day, when I checked the stats on my latest blog post. (Mistake #1)
I saw that my last post was shared exactly zero times. Yep, zero. It just hung there like a bare Christmas wreath. That stung a bit, because I have other posts that were shared exorbitant amounts of times. But seeing that post hanging there at zero, my heart felt about at a zero, too. (Mistake #2: Putting hope in statitistics.)
I began to think about all the authors who already had books out there, with beautiful covers and 5 star reviews, and it felt like the day would never come for me to finish my own book, which has been hanging out in a Google Doc for the past four years. (Mistake #3: Comparing myself to others)
That evening, I began to question,
“Did I even hear the Lord right?”
“What if He wasn’t leading me to do this?”
“I’m a writer, what am I doing? How am I going to grow my readership when I’m not even on Facebook, or Instagram?”
The more I thought about it, taking a whole entire summer off social media was recommended by exactly zero experts and authors I’ve ever listened to. Maybe that’s why my stats sat at a solid zero.
So pretty much, I felt like the worst. And I felt like a fool.
That night, as I was doing dishes in my kitchen, and feeling rather down in the dumps, I decided to pull up some YouTube videos of an author named Allen Arnold. He was an author whom had spoken at a recent Flourish Writer’s Conference this past spring. After all, it was Allen’s conference talk, that had actually inspired me to take the summer off social media. He was the first author I had ever heard say that, “Success is not the number of books you sell,” but rather, “Success is intimacy with God.” “It’s spending time with Him. It’s co-creating with Him. It’s creating out of intimacy with God.”
He said in his talk, “I have a whole bookcase of books, I could never read all of them in my lifetime. The world does not need more books. But what the world does need, is books written from a place of intimacy with God.”
“Books written from a place of intimacy with God.”
My heart burned.
“Those kinds of books, the world does need.”
My eyes blurred with tears. Yes, this is what the Lord was calling me to from the start. When I first began writing my book, four years ago, He gave me a simple invitation,
“Let’s write a book together.”
“Do this with Me. Write this book with Me.”
“Just tell them what I did,” He said.
As I listened to Allen’s messages that night, I was nodding in agreement,
“Yes, Lord. This is what You have asked me to do.”
“To do this with You.”
“To come away with You.”
“To enjoy You.”
It didn’t matter that I felt foolish.
It didn’t matter that I had zero Facebook shares on these posts.
It didn’t matter if I could see what God was doing, or not.
What mattered is that I was being obedient to what God was asking me to do.
What mattered is that I was doing this with God. That I was doing whatever it took to come into a place of intimacy with God–even if it made me a fool. Even if I stayed in secret. And hidden.
There in my kitchen, as I scrubbed the spaghetti sauce from the pots and pans, I thought about Joshua and the battle of Jericho, and wondered if he ever felt foolish marching around the walls of Jericho, before they fell?
I remembered a story, Brandon, my husband, told me about when his old band “Dust n’ Ashes,” was playing at a coffee house one night, and he strongly felt the Lord leading him to open with the song, “Heart of Worship.” (You might know it, “When the music fades, and all is stripped away, and I simply come…” It’s a beautiful song, in my opinion.) Anyway, Brandon played it out of obedience, and as he strummed and sang the words, the decent sized crowd that had gathered there slowly began to walk away, and dwindle, until there was no one left. Just him and his bandmates looking at each other, playing the song.
“Um. Maybe we shouldn’t have started with “Heart of Worship?” he wondered. I think I would have thought the same thing.
Because when obedience makes us smaller, we’re often left scratching our heads, “Did I do the right thing? Did I hear the Lord correctly?”
When Jesus spoke to the crowds, it often didn’t grow his crowd, but rather severly downsized it. He said bold and often offensive statements that didn’t win the crowd over, but rather, made them walk away, completely, or in some cases, pick up stones to stone Jesus to death. (See John 6:47-66; John 8:59)
If Jesus’ obedience to the Father made his crowds often get smaller, why don’t we want to walk in His example when it comes to our own ministries?
If Jesus’ obedience to the Father made his crowds often get smaller, why don’t we want to walk in His example when it comes to our own ministries?
I’m not saying, “Big is bad,” and, “Small is good.” (Sometimes, the whole entire town was lined up at Jesus’ door to be healed by him!) I know we are called to make disciples and multiply–however, we are not called to use man’s methods to do God’s work. The flesh can never do the real work of the Spirit. We cannot do God’s work, without God Himself. (And besides, why would we even want to?)
I’m just realizing that size, big or small, doesn’t really matter. What matters is our obedience to Him, and allowing Him to do what seems best, whether it looks “successful,” to us, or not.
It doesn’t matter if we are ministering to one person, one hundred, or one million. What matters is that we are ministering from a place of obedience to God, and out of the overflow of own intimacy with God.
So, it matters that we are spending time with Him.
That’s what Jesus did. He spent time with the Father.
Sometimes that meant He was walking around alone in the wilderness, sometimes he was on his knees, washing his friend’s dirty feet, other times, he was preaching to crowds so large, he was nearly trampled, and people were tugging on his robes to be healed.
It’s not the size of our audience, or the scope of our influence. It’s not our position, but our posture toward Him.
A posture of open arms. A posture of surrender. A posture of worship.
It’s giving our whole hearts to Him, even in the secret place. And especially there.
Because He says, “For your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
And this doesn’t mean He will reward you with success, money, or fame.
The reward is always, always God Himself. He is the treasure. He is the reward.
4. God can always do more than I think He can.
Okay, I have to tell you this story because it just shows that God is closer and more involved than we think He is. Remember, how I told you about that night I was washing dishes and feeling stupid for going off social media this summer? And remember how I told you I was watching Allen Arnold’s YouTube videos while I cleaned–and how he reminded me to keep pursuing intimacy with the Lord, even when I felt like a fool?
Well, get this, just several hours after watching those videos, I recieved an email from my writing coaches, Mindy and Jenny from the Flourish Writer’s Academy. It went something like this, “Hey Rebekah! We didn’t want you to miss this message that Allen Arnold sent to you in response to your podcast!”
What?! The guy I was just watching on YouTube??
Below was a forwarded message from Allen himself. In it, he said he had heard my podcast, and told me: What I was doing was so important. To keep following God, and to keep creating with Him, and watch Him open the doors.
Tears filled my eyes.
This was not a coincidence.
Just hours before, I was crying watching YouTube videos from this author, and the Holy Spirit was strengthening my resolve to keep following God in this hidden place. And then a few hours later, that same author “just so happened” to hear my podcast (which is not at all popular), and sends me an encouraging message to keep going?
This was God. Plain as day.
The timing was impeccable. This was God working through His sons and daughters. And their willing obedience and cooperation with His Spirit, freed me and encouraged me to do the same.
I hope this frees you to follow Him.
Maybe this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but to me, it was.
Because I felt like Zaccheaus that day. Like, I was hidden and unable to see, so I had climbed a tree, to try to see what Christ was doing through the crowds and all the important people. And suddenly, He was below me, saying, “Zaccheaus! I’m coming to your house today!”
Suddenly, He was right there.
My eyes fill with tears again thinking about it. Because no one else could see the tears on my cheeks high up in that Sycamore tree. But He could.
“He sees me.”
He sees me when no one else does.
And He sees you. He sees His daughters. And His sons.
He sees you right now. And He knows. And He cares.
And I’m beginning to actually believe that He can do more through my obedience, than He can through my striving.
He can do more through my obedience, than He can through my striving.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t be diligent and work hard. I know we must walk out the good works God prepared for those who love Him. But I’m seeing, those big things, or those specific things we long for, from a deep place, those desires God has given us–those are His. Those must be relinquished to Him alone to carry out to fullness and completion. And He is able.
And God has the power to connect people. I don’t have to hustle, or hassle people to be seen or known by the King. In His time, in His way, God will connect me (and you) with every Kingdom connection He wants us to have.
This gives me great freedom, not just as a writer, but as a daughter of God, to go through seasons of unplugging, and following God into the mountains, or the desolate places. I don’t have to be anxious I will miss an opportunity if I am following Jesus. The only opportunities I’ll miss are the ones He didn’t want me to take anyway. I hope this releases us to more fully obey Him. Seen or unseen. Because He is God, and He knows everybody. And He is more than capable to connect his sons and daughters for His glory and purposes. We can follow Him, and rest in Him, as He leads the way.
5. Take social media in seasons + plan to rest.
I’ve learned that taking a social media break isn’t just a one time thing for me, but needs to be a regular thing. Planned seasons of rest and withdrawl are not just good, but necessary for my soul to thrive. I need to hear from God, and I cannot hear from Him above the noise. I cannot hear His voice over a thousand other voices. I’m not really sure anyone can.
I want you to know that I did not journey alone. There were a number of readers who joined me on this journey this summer. And if you were one of them, I just wan to say, “Thank you.” Thank you for doing this with me, thank you for doing this with God. Because your intimacy with Christ, is a gift to everyone around you.
I asked my readers what they learned during this journey away from social media, and here what they said about it.
What Reader’s/Listeners Said:
- Even after two weeks, “God has healed my broken, barren soul!!!! I no longer feel dry as a desert, anxious, and depressed. I haven’t had a migraine or panic attack, and I’m sleeping much better!!! I have joy and peace again!!! I don’t even miss social media any more…”
- One said that she had, “a huge hold in her boat,” with “the biggest cause being the negativity on social media” especially in the comments sections. Her faith had been drained in humankind. She felt a detox was the only way forward, and my email gave her the extra nudge to “take the plunge.”
- Another said, “This new adventure had (her) leaning on God, and seeing with new eyes,” more than before. She was really thankful for the experience this allowed her to have this summer.
There were others, and I can’t share them all, but there was an overwhelming theme of people feeling more clarity, less anxious, less distracted, and more able to focus on the Lord, and able to hear from Him.
I praise God for that. For the summer He gave me, for the season of rest and rejuvination he gave so many of my brave listeners and readers.
But after such a refreshing, exhilarating break, we can tend to kind of just tromp back down the mountain and into society, and run right into all the same traps and snares we were entangled in before. That’s not what I want for you, (or for me.) While this has been a wonderful season of intimacy with God, if we’re not careful, we can fall right back into a great depression if we re-enter social media without a plan, or a guide. So I’d like to help lead you “back down the mountain.”
Transitioning Back to Social Media Questions:
-Is God leading you to minister to people through social media? If so, what is the mission or message He’s given you to share or proclaim there? (Hold fast to this, and don’t veer off from it.)
-Will you have any limits to when you can check social media? Times of day? Or week, month, or season-long breaks? (Tell someone who will keep you accountable.)
-What were some traps or snares from before you’d like to avoid as you re-enter social media? (Avoid those.)
-What are some habits you started this summer that you’d like to continue into the next season? (Keep doing these.)
Ask the Lord these questions, and don’t return until you feel He has given you a clear plan, path, and purpose to walk in. Social media is kind of like a carnival. There are going to be all kinds of things bombarding or enticing you. So, if the Lord is leading yout there, I assume it’s for ministry, and you need to know your mission. Stay close to Him. Get in, and get out. Minister, speak, testify, but stay free from the sin that so easily entangles. If you just enter because of boredom, or curiosity, I can garantee you will end up chasing things He is not leading you to, and carrying burdens He has not asked you to carry. Again, in The Gospel Coalition’s recent article about Social Media’s effect on the soul, it said,
“Scrolling shrivels your soul as it pulls it in a thousand different directions. It distracts you from the greatest object your soul could ever love, and the most glorious truths your eyes and ears could ever behold.”
This is Christ.
So, maybe you’re wondering, if there’s so much toxic negativity on social media, and so much life to be found outside of it–why don’t we all just delete it forever?
Well, that my dear, is a good question.
For some, I do believe this is the best way forward. In my opinion, mindless scrolling does not bring life, to you or others. But for some, I do believe the Lord uses social media for ministry, to reach many hurting and lost people. But only with a plan, a path, and a purpose.
It’s been a beautiful summer. The one my soul needed.
But here, the winds are changing again. The September sun is beaming through leaves that are already beginning to yellow and fall, the crab apples on our trees are bright red like cherries. Here at the crisp edge of fall, the wind rustles the leaves, that will soon burst into firery reds, oranges and yellow, and float through cool, autumn air.
The season is changing again.
It’s time to ask: “Lord, where are you leading me?”
I will go anywhere. I will do whatever you ask.
I want all of You. I give You all of me.
And here is some good news. We have the Holy Spirit to counsel and lead us. We have the Word of God to speak to us. We don’t have to follow a legalism that says to, “Banish social media for all of time.” Nor, do we have to follow an anxious, intoxicating obsession with the lusts of the world, that says, “You’re going to miss something or miss out if you unplug from the world.”
All we have to do–is one thing:
Follow the Good Shepherd Jesus.
The Living Christ.
He assures us, “My sheep do hear my voice.”
Listen to His voice.
And learn to run away from other voices–the voice of wolves, and theives, and even fellow sheep bleeting at us.
His yoke is easy, and His burden is light, and He has promised us something:
rest for our souls.
So, whether we journey away from social media, or make a B-line straight back into it, only one thing really matters, that we are following Him, and that we are listening to Him, and we are going towards Him, and not away from Him.
Because, wherever He is, is where you want to be.
Whether you walk surrounded by masses of people, or travel desperately alone.
Go with Him.
He says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 1:28-30)
The life you long for will never be found in the masses, it won’t even be found in the mountains. It will only ever be found in Him.
This is His invitation to you in Isaiah 55:1-3b:
“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live…”
Hear that your soul may live.
And this is His promise.
“And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” (Isaiah 58:11)
Did you join me on a social media fast this summer? If so, I’d love to hear anything and everything about your experience. Feel free to email me at [email protected] ! Do you feel social media affects you negatively? Please share your thoughts or experiences in the comments or via email! Don’t forget to tune into the podcast version of this blog, “Barren to Beautiful,” here on Anchor or any podcast platform.
Barren to Beautiful Podcast–Listen here:
Episode 3: Coming Soon! (What I Learned From A Summer Off Social Media Part 1)
Episode 4: Coming Soon! (What I Learned From A Summer Off Social Media Part 2)