A Social Break
This past fall, when the engine of homeschooling and managing life amid lockdowns and working from home seemed to hit full steam, I logged off of social media. I deleted the apps from my phone and I told myself I would be fully present. I’d look into my kids’ eyes when they told me long stories. Or I’d try to pick up a book more often instead of my phone. I told myself I would walk into the garden and enjoy it for what it is, right in front of me. And I would let the time pass, saying adieu to social media as it drifted into the peripheral. I would live my life as I so desired—carefree and disconnected from the distraction of online noise.
Surprised by Emptiness
And after a couple of weeks, I found myself doing all of the above. I continued in all the joys of home and family, savoring each thing I loved simply because I loved it. I disconnected and to my surprise, I found myself feeling incredibly… alone. Sure, I had friends to text. My husband, my kids—they were all there. But within me stretched a yawning gap of emptiness; a place where I longed for sharing, friendship, small moments of joy, beauty, and people outside of my four walls.
A friend would send me a hilarious meme via social media and ask if I received it, only to bemoan, “Ohhh that’s right, you’re not on social right now.”
Another friend would say, “Did you see what my kiddo did today?” only to catch herself. “Wait, I forgot. You’re not on Instagram these days.”
I missed one friend’s witty remarks. Another friend’s poetry. I realized I hadn’t seen the inside of my sister’s kitchen in weeks. Not only because we live quite a distance apart, but because I wasn’t watching her beautiful stories unfold of her day-to-day living. I missed birthdays, baby memories, inspiration for my home, and sharing all the joyful parts of my day with my people.
My mom even texted, “I miss seeing the kids. And I miss you.” Not because we hardly talk. But because, on the best days, on the good and beautiful and precious days, social media is a gift that only continues to unfold for the relationships in my life. I didn’t miss social media; I missed the feeling that we are all in boats on the same sea, singing songs across the waves, reminding one another of what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable.
Holding onto Light in the Darkness
For all its hangups, grievances, and soul-sucking algorithms, social media isn’t always the isolating abyss of joylessness we make it out to be. In fact, the more I use social media, the more I realize that the darkness, insecurities, and fears of being forgotten are not just curated on the feed, but are in fact already within me. As G.K. Chesterton once famously answered the question posed by the London Times: “What is wrong with the world?” —“Dear sirs, I am,” he wrote.
The world is dark, no doubt. It doesn’t take artificial intelligence to deduce that what we read, consume, and see on social media is a teeming mess. In its corners lurk shadows that we dare not even speak about. In its darkness, it invites the tired, weary soul to despair, fear, and hatred. Anyone who has felt isolated in the last year could tell you that the mirage of social media can make you believe that you are the only one struggling, the only one doubting, the only one waking up at 3 a.m. with panic racing through your chest.
My own flesh within me wants to believe that. I start to view the joys of others through my own self-isolating lens. Everyone else is living the life they imagined. Everyone else is blissfully happy. I know everyone has forgotten about me. I’m the one who tends to forget that when I start to feel like I’m on the outside looking in, the issue doesn’t lie with those who are enjoying the light.
The issue, perhaps, lies deeper in my cold heart. If I’m not careful, if I’m not stewarding my time and attention well, I can start to think that I am alone on this sea. The very broken humanity that feels real and raw within me starts to call out like the famous Titanic captain did in the film: “Is there anyone alive out there? Can anyone hear me?”
But then I think of my sister, an hour away in the warmth of her kitchen. Her candles lit and music playing, sharing a moment of joy. One lantern swinging in the night.
I see my friend in California, sharing a moment of gospel truth from her backyard. Another lantern swinging in a faraway boat.
One friend shares a scripture. Another shares a song. Another friend shares a moment that makes me laugh so hard, I screenshot it to save for more laughter later.
And before I know it, the dark sea is lit with tiny lanterns. This is all I want to be for someone else, really. The road toward our eternal home is narrow. It can feel surrounded by darkness. We easily feel swallowed up inside a world that tells us we are fools. It says we are fools for believing in a heavenly kingdom. Or fools for holding on to hope when despair is the song of the day. Fools for singing our songs of joy on dark nights.
I may be a fool and so be it, but let me be one lantern. One light of Christ in the dark. One guiding flame of beauty and joy, wonder and laughter, family, friendship, Gospel and grace that rings like a tiny bell in the dark sea and sings, “This way. This way. This way.” Because the truth is, we are alive out here. And we ought to be singing, letting our voices echo outside of our own self-isolating echo chambers. We are a city on a hill. A lamp on a stand.
This Little Light of Mine
The thing is that when I approach social media to see other people, to share beauty, to speak truth, to encourage hearts, to shine a lantern in the dark world, the world becomes less cavernous. I get to practice what Scripture calls us to all throughout its pages. I get to see the body of Christ around the world be the light, a family, vessels of clay carrying the beauty of God. And I see that every good and perfect gift is from above. I also see that we are not meant to do life alone.
We know that social media isn’t the answer to the ache within us. We know the answer to those questions of “Is it just me?” won’t be found in tiny squares or 280 characters or less. So instead of seeking belonging where it cannot be found, let us shine our lights, one tiny lantern at a time. Let’s ring our bells, one tiny song at a time. Let’s fill the sea with the light of Christ, who sees us, carries us home, and calls us his own.
Meet the Author
Andrea Burke is married to the quintessential Vermont man, Jedediah. They are raising two kids, two dogs, two cats, a few strays, and some chickens in an old farmhouse on a couple of acres outside of Rochester, NY. When she's not homeschooling, gardening, or writing, she works as the Director of Women's Ministry at Grace Road Church. She is also the host of the Good Enough podcast. You can find more about her and her writing at For the Church, Fathom Mag, Risen Motherhood, at her website andreagburke.com, or on Instagram @andreagburke.