At 2:59 p.m. Friday afternoon, I deleted Facebook, Instagram, Reddit and Twitter off my phone. At 3:00 p.m. I left my phone on my bedside table and closed the door behind me.
Sounds a little dramatic, probably. But for me, it had to be. My addiction to my phone, and social media in particular, has become so strong that I needed to physically separate myself from it. Some days it seems like I get sucked into this endless loop of Facebook Instagram Reddit Twitter Facebook Instagram Reddit Twitter Facebook Instagram Reddit Twitter and the longer I stay in that circle, the harder it is to get out.
Every Fat Tuesday I see a bunch of my Catholic friends post that they’re giving up Facebook for Lent. Another Facebook friend recently posted that she plans to log off for the entire summer. Seeing these declarations, I feel a tug at my heart saying that I should really do the same. But I also know that I couldn’t, that I would be setting myself up for failure, for more guilt than I already feel over my phone addiction.
But then last week a thought came to me during prayer: Maybe it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
Intermittent fasting seems to be all the rage nowadays in diet circles. It’s a sort of eating plan where you fast entirely from food except for one brief window of time each day when eating is allowed. During that time, you basically eat whatever you want, but you still lose weight because you’re eating less than you would have if you had been eating all day. There are other physical benefits from abstaining from food for longer periods of time, too.
Throughout history, people of various religions have fasted for spiritual reasons as well. Prayer and fasting are a huge element of the Catholic religion, though many Catholics fast only two days a year: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Adding fasting to our lives more regularly can strengthen our prayer, our relationship with God, and our sense of daily perspective and gratitude.
Fr. Slavko Barbaric’s book on fasting states that “we are all called to fast [but] not all are called to fast in the same way.” While many people might draw the most benefits from fasting from food, others, like me, have some other vice in our lives that is distancing us from God. When fasting from food, hunger pains serve as reminders to pray. Throughout the day, though, I feel the urge to check my phone many more times than I do to open the fridge or pantry. Each yearning to open the Facebook app draws me closer to God when I deny myself.
When you are truly addicted to something, denying yourself isn’t easy. Will power needs to be built up like a muscle. In my mid-20s I decided to start running, and in the beginning, it was NOT pretty. I could barely run a mile without feeling like I was going to throw up. It’s crazy how fast your body can adapt though when you put in the time, effort and discipline. To date I’ve run four full marathons and a ton of smaller races, even though I’m far from being a “natural” runner. At some point, I decided that running was important to me for multiple reasons, and my determination kept me going.
I hoped that the same determination and discipline that kept me crossing finish lines would help me in a much-needed digital detox. I decided on a doable length: 3 p.m. Friday through Sunday morning, the religious significance of the timing adding to my fire to stick with it. However, almost immediately, I felt that pull to check my phone. It was subtle at first – just a fleeting thought of something I wanted to check on social media: I wonder if that old college friend has had her baby yet, she’s due any day now. What time did that event next week start again? Did my niece post any cute pictures of my kids while she was babysitting?
But as much as I wanted to just check, I kept reminding myself that none of these things were urgent; I could always check once the fast was over. I reminded myself that there is a direct correlation between the amount of time spent on my phone and the state of my spirit. I become more cranky and tired, more likely to feel depressed, snap at my kids, get frustrated with my husband, and feel distant from God. Because as often as I see something on social media that makes me happy, like an engagement announcement or baby photos, I am much, much more likely to see something that will upset me. Stuff about the abortion debate, for instance, or people talking badly about the Catholic Church, or seeing something that makes me feel a twinge of envy. I also know that when I go to check “just one thing,” I always, always get distracted by something else that can end up with me wasting a ton of time down a rabbit hole of clicks.
In a recent episode of his awesome Catholic podcast, Fr. Mike Schmitz spoke about the importance of how we choose to spend our time. He shared a quote from St. Alphonsus Liguori, who wrote that “voluntary distraction” is one of the two ways that people can lose their souls. Even though these words were written hundreds of years ago, they remain especially relevant today. When I’m wasting time on social media, I’m watching other people’s lives and not appreciating the one God gave me. I’m not fulfilling my vocation as a wife and mother, I’m not being a good steward of my home and the other gifts God has given me. When I am a slave to my phone, I have no freedom. God calls us to be free so that we can live our best possible lives and serve others. Freedom sometimes requires more self-control than we realize. Self-control is another hallmark of the Christian faith, and is identified as a “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22.
I guess you can say that I pondered all of these things in my heart throughout my fast. And then on Saturday afternoon when my kids were looking adorable on their first ever pony rides and I wanted desperately to post about it on my own personal scrapbook that is my Facebook page, I just… didn’t. I smiled at my kids and tried to soak in the memory and moment for what it was. My children saw me smiling at them, not looking down at my phone and posting about them.
I’m not saying that I’m giving up social media forever. Yes, I did download the apps on my phone again come Sunday. However, even just that brief fast was enough to break through a recent cold spell in my spiritual life, and it left me feeling closer to God than I have in a while. It was a reminder of the important things, and the Most Important Thing: my relationship with God.
I might even do it again next Friday.