It’s been about two months since I uprooted the past five years of my life in New York and moved to the Pacific Northwest to live in the same city as my fiancé. I’m a stay-at-home freelance writer with flexible hours, and some days go by so slowly that I find myself reaching for my phone and spending hours lost in a virtual world of disappearing content, emojis, videos and text messages.
In an instant, I wish I could be anywhere but here. Suddenly, I’ve diminished how big of a life decision I’ve made and what God has given to me for enjoyment and celebration all because I’ve let my mind wander into social media for too long. Our perception of identity and self worth gets tampered within a digital world of pseudo-idyllic experiences, preventing us from hearing God’s voice. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying don’t post pictures of your amazing brunch, cute baby nephew or tropical island vacation for the sake of others’ edification, but those of us who wade into the pool of social media unbridled may find ourselves swimming head deep in untrue thoughts.
A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine revealed a strong correlation between young adults who spent more than two hours a day and at least 58 visits per week on social media platforms and a heightened self-perception of feeling socially isolated. Feeling socially isolated is just one stop on our train of thought that leads to questions like: What am I doing with my life? How come my life doesn’t look like that?
I lost sight of why God called me to this new city, so I kicked social media to the curb for a week and filled my hours with prayer, Bible and journaling. After practicing some of the spiritual disciplines from Dallas Willard’s book The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, I’ve become more aware of who I am in Christ. Here are 3 paradigm shifts that have kept me steadfast through a major life transition. I hope they’ll help you stand firm no matter what season you’re in.
1. We are never alone.
My first two years in New York, I went to church in Manhattan while working and living in a suburb an hour outside of the city. The worst feeling in the world was going home every week after prayer meeting, Sunday service or dinner with friends. I dreaded the commute because there was no one waiting for me on the other side. I was a 23-year-old stuck in the life of a 70-year-old woman.
During those years, I struggled with mild depression. I was unhappy at work, didn’t have money to go out and have fun and lived in the burbs alone, so I would drown out my real world, sadly, through social media. But of course, it only reinforced my loneliness. I’d see photos of seemingly fun social outings my friends in their 20s were attending, and I’d wonder, “Why can’t I have that city life?”
Then one night, I put my phone down and faced God. Sitting in the silence of my apartment, trying hard not to think about how silly I look, I cry out to Him because I know He has been patiently waiting for me all along. King David’s soulful song became my tearful prayer. In Psalm 139 he says, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”
Those two years were marked by spiritual discipline in the Word and prayer and supernatural encounters with people whom I simply never thought would come to know Jesus Christ. God brought plenty of people into my life that I could no longer say I was alone. Truly, He had a plan to use me in that place to be a light. And every place the sole of my foot treaded, God consecrated as holy ground. As I start over in a new city, I’m reminded He is present in the most ordinary things to show us extraordinary deeds and miracles. Let’s not lose hope as we wait upon Him. I submit this challenge to all of us: whenever we feel lonely, let’s not reach for our phones. Let’s cry out to God.
2. God makes us worthy.
We all at some point have coveted what friends post on social media, buying into the idea that we need a social life or a social image boost, even though the Bible tells us we lack no good thing and are made in the Imago Dei (image of God). When we let what others think or say mess with our self worth, and most importantly how God sees us, we give the enemy control over our minds. That’s when the spirit of comparison sets in, and we feel like the blessings and promises God gave us to thrive in our callings are worthless. We become discouraged, fearful and lack confidence.
Solitude is so important for combating identity theft and flourishing as sons and daughters of God.
When we unplug and let our spirits recalibrate, we begin to differentiate between God’s voice and the lies of the enemy. One voice clearly speaks life-giving truths and the other consistently condemns and ridicules. Often, the fastest way to give our mind over to the enemy is when we focus on what’s not working out, what standards we’re not meeting or what other people think.
During my week of solitude, I engaged in listening prayer, which is coming before God in silent submission and asking Him for a fresh revelation of the Holy Spirit. At first, I was ashamed to ask God, “How do you see me?” After a recent hurtful experience where sisters were giving me the silent treatment via digital communication, I felt unworthy of their affection. I needed time in solitude to recognize that what matters is God is worthy, and I’m worthy because God made me worthy.
Henri J.M. Nouwen in The Way of the Heart: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers says, “Solitude is the furnace of transformation. Without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the allusions of the false self.” How can we know who we are and our worth in Christ if we’re too busy letting others tell us who we should be and what we’re not worth?
3. We have the mind of Christ.
Two friends or lovers are considered close when they start to think alike. Letting someone into your thought life sounds a bit scary, but that’s the kind of intimate relationship God longs to have with each of us. In 1 Corinthians 2:16, Paul says we can not only know the mind of Christ, but we can also access it. As our spirit communes with the Holy Spirit, we speak “not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit.” This means we can actually make sense of what God is doing and explain spiritual realities without letting unspiritual critics judge us or distract us from having the mind of Christ.
What if we’re not connecting with God, and we don’t know what He’s thinking no matter how much time we spend in silence and solitude? The temptation is to turn to the world of social media where people talk unfettered and give instant responses. But let’s pause for a moment. What are these mental barriers to understanding the mind of Christ?
I was listening to a sermon recently on the topic of listening prayer, and the preacher said one of the biggest stumbling blocks to sharing the mind of Christ is unforgiveness. There was a time during my transition from New York to Portland where I struggled to forgive a friend who had basically sapped all the happiness out of this major transition in my life. But how could one person’s attitude weigh so heavily on such a momentous time as this?
Simple. I felt wronged and that it was my right to withhold forgiveness. Though I didn’t want to admit how my friend’s lack of joy and support affected me, negative thoughts kept stirring in my head. During my quiet times, I felt distracted and unable to hone into the mind of Christ because my mind was too busy being dragged around by the enemy.
I realized I couldn’t forgive because I didn’t want to own up to my own selfish, unrepentant heart. If in my anger, I took matters into my own hands I would be tuning out the mind of Christ and letting my fleshly desires take control. There’s no way I would desire to forgive anyone in that state of mind. But by admitting my sinfulness to God and using His living word to navigate my mind, I repented and received His forgiveness. From that place, I made the conscious decision in my heart and mind to forgive and then prayed blessings over my friend’s life.
When the Israelites criticized Moses for freeing them from Egypt only to learn that Pharaoh and his army were out to recapture them, Moses wasn’t angry. He knew this was between God and him. In Exodus 14:14, Moses cries out, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” In this moment, he makes the decision to think and speak the mind of God, calling upon spiritual realities over circumstances, which led to the parting of the Red Sea and the forging of a new path.
We can access the mind of Christ when we hold every thought captive to Him. Not only did my week without social media release me from burdens that weren’t mine to bear, but it also helped me reclaim my identity, speak peace over relationships and guard my mind from lies of the enemy. What mind and heart battles are you fighting? Where do you see God in all of this?