For a millennial in my late twenties, I was pretty late to the social media game.
My parents erred on the side of caution when it came to the emerging digital landscape of the early ’00s. So getting my own email address in seventh grade felt like a big deal. (I remember being scared to death by those chain messages that threatened ominous consequences if you didn’t forward them to seven of your closest friends). I completely missed the Myspace era and only caught the tail end of AOL Instant Messenger. By the time I reached high school, everyone had moved onto Facebook.
I still remember the night I finally received my parents’ blessing to sign up for Facebook. The thrill of the first friend request and those bright red notifications still lingers. It was the beginning of tenth grade and I was still struggling to make friends after a rough freshman year. So this felt like a fresh start of sorts. I had always been more comfortable with writing than I was with speaking. So I was excited for the opportunity to portray my best self to the world, or at least to the other kids in my high school. Here, I could edit my words and photos before I posted them. It was a dream come true for my socially anxious self.
It didn’t take long to turn into a nightmare.
Becoming an Addict
I don’t have a dramatic story of being cyberbullied or ending up in a dangerous situation because of social media. My story is one that’s probably a lot like that of most people who use social media. It’s one of addiction, of spending hours staring at a screen and scrolling hungrily through my newsfeed. And waiting for that little red flag to give me the validation I craved. I started neglecting schoolwork and things I’d always loved, like writing and drawing, to spend absurd amounts of time crafting the perfect caption or comment and then anxiously awaiting a like or reply that meant I’d done it right.
I was a slave to a metal rectangle that fit in the palm of my hand.
With the introduction of more platforms like Tumblr, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter, the addiction only grew. While I avoided the party scene in high school, these apps were my drug of choice. When I felt lonely or angry or overwhelmed or anxious, I turned on my phone and started to scroll. Somehow this simultaneously numbed the negative feelings and created new ones. I would quickly find myself playing the comparison game with friends who seemed prettier or more popular or happier than I was. I eventually realized how much of a problem it had become, but I didn’t know how to stop.
Fighting the Battle
I’m not sure when the breaking point came or what triggered it. But during my senior year of college, I decided that something had to change. I resolved to take a 30-day fast from Instagram, the app I spent the most time on at that point, and see what came of it.
Nothing drastic happened during that time, but what I do remember is that at the end of those 30 days, I didn’t want to get back on the ‘gram. I didn’t want to get sucked back into the mindless scroll again. I needed to learn how to do social media on my own terms in a way that was balanced and healthy.
By God’s strength, I have since come a long way in overcoming the addiction that once ruled my life. It has involved multiple social media fasts, sometimes for two weeks and sometimes for six months. It has involved intentionally replacing the time I would normally devote to a screen with life-giving activities like reading, writing, studying the Word. Or spending screen-free time with friends, even watching movies and TV shows I enjoy without constantly glancing down at my phone. It has involved turning off notifications and deleting (and re-downloading and re-deleting) apps. It has involved a lot of failure and a lot of grace.
Prayer as a Weapon
Please hear me say that I am not against social media. (Fun fact: I found Well-Watered Women through Instagram, and I’m so grateful I did!) I still use and enjoy most of the platforms I mentioned above, and I’ve come to appreciate them even more during this past year when human connection and community were so limited by the pandemic. I love that it has given so many people avenues to show off their creativity, spread the gospel, or just share something cute their cat did.
However, I also know that social media is a double-edged sword. It can feed body image issues, pornography addictions, and fights between both friends and strangers. Like the tongue, it has the power of both life and death. So how do we choose life?
As with anything that threatens to take advantage of the weakness of our flesh, we ask our all-powerful God for help.
Taking the time to pause and pray before logging into our social media each day is a small act of surrender. But it is a way to invite the Spirit into this seemingly insignificant and yet huge part of our lives. (Have you checked your screen time recently?) It's a gentle reminder that we as believers are called to do everything for God’s glory (1 Cor. 10:31).
Below are four prayers that have helped me get into the proper heart posture before opening my apps.
Heavenly Father, please help me…
1. To use my social media as a tool to encourage others and to grow in my relationships.
So often, our focus is on the affirmation we receive on our social media platforms. What if we shifted our focus from ourselves to the people on our feed, constantly looking for opportunities to celebrate them, speak truth to them, or even grieve with them?
“Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” (Rom 15:2)
“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thess. 5:11)
“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Cor. 12:26)
2. To use my social media as an opportunity to appreciate the gifts and creativity of others.
God has created each of us with unique talents and abilities. Social media gives us the opportunity to bless others by sharing these gifts (and to be blessed by others)! When was the last time you thanked the Lord for a recipe you found on Pinterest or a caption that spoke to your heart just when you needed it?
“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace…” (1 Pet. 4:10)
“He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as engravers, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers—all of them skilled workers and designers.” (Ex. 35:35 NIV)
3. To have the self-awareness when I’m on social media to recognize envy, anxiety, and other feelings that are not glorifying to you.
The highlight reel analogy is cliché but true. When we’re constantly viewing everyone’s version of “living their best life,” it’s hard to keep discontentment from growing. Even authentic posts can have that effect on us. (Wow, she’s so brave and real with her struggles! Why can’t I be more like that?) If we’re not careful to catch ourselves, we can quickly spiral into jealousy and anxiety. Soon we're believing that we’re missing out or that we must be doing something wrong.
“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Prov. 4:23)
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” (1 Cor. 13:4 NIV)
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:6–7)
4. To know when I need to take a break from the screen and fill my soul with truth.
Sometimes it’s not enough to just close the app or take a five-minute break. Sometimes we need to take a deep look at our hearts. We might need to ask the Lord to show us if social media has become an idol in our lives. Then we need to ask what he would have us do about it.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Ps. 51:10)
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom. 12:2)
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” (Col. 3:1)
God’s Grace and Calling
Sister, if you are struggling with shame or feeling helpless over your own social media addiction, please know that there is abundant grace to be found at the cross. God will meet you wherever you are, and he offers freedom and healing from every kind of chain.
I believe with my whole heart that you and I have been put on this earth for such a time as this. Maybe God is calling you to lay down your social media for a while, or maybe he is calling you to use it in a way that is radically different. A way that reflects his love, light, and goodness to a hurting world.
For more on using social media for the glory of God, sign up for our Instagram for Jesus Challenge. This free 10-day email challenge will help you learn to use social media in a way that redeems it from a trap to a tool for highlighting the glory of God to the world around us. For more encouragement on viewing social media as an online mission field, read Why I Won’t Quit Social Media by Well-Watered Women’s founder, Gretchen Saffles.
Meet the Author
Kati Lynn is a writer, doodler, and storyteller who is slowly but surely learning how to live loved by Jesus. She loves to explore the intersection of faith, mental health, and media in her writing. She also loves a good animated movie.