Last weekend young people and youth workers across the country joined Open Doors Youth to embark on a sponsored 48-hour digital media fast: two whole days without Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Spotify and any other online activity. People were encouraged to bring hope to the Middle East by joining the blackout, making a big noise for persecuted Christians by keeping quiet.
I’m rarely more than a few metres from my phone and I engage with social media for at least a couple of hours most days, so I figured this wasn’t going to be the easiest of challenges. But it wasn’t meant to be. With digital distractions removed, I was better able to remember the voiceless and cry out to God on their behalf.
A few years ago I took part in a 48-hour sponsored silence which, albeit briefly, made me reassess my speaking habits. I had pen and paper to hand but was determined to use them as a last resort. The lack of scribbles at the end of the weekend made me realise that much of what I wanted to say was not absolutely necessary.
A lot of what I say is incessant nonsense, speaking merely to fill silence, whinge about something or make myself appear clever or funny. I was reminded of the words in James 1:19: “You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” The same is true of my social media habits. It has become a place to scroll through and comment largely when I’m bored or have a few moments to kill. Without that luxury this weekend, I found myself making actual eye contact with people on public transport – I even smiled at a few strangers!
This weekend I realised just how much I use social media as a platform to broadcast my opinions. I seem to have forgotten that social media is just that: social. It should be a place to share ideas, thoughts and beliefs, not just impose my own. One of my main frustrations on Friday night was not being able to tell the internet how much I was loving Bruno Mars’ new album #firstworldproblems.
I also reflected on how much I use social media to see what other people think about stuff. It made me question whether I ever check as rigorously to see what God thinks about things. Paul’s word’s at the beginning of Galatians spring to mind: “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people?” (1:10).
I was desperate to get back on social media on Monday morning – I couldn’t wait to see what had been happening without me and how many messages I had. Unsurprisingly, nothing much had changed and I received very few notifications. To be honest I don’t even think anyone even noticed I had been away. News flash: I am not that important!
By the end of the weekend I had begun to count my significant blessings. My petty frustrations of not being able to communicate with the online world tangibly demonstrated to me the importance of giving voice to the voiceless. Let’s continue to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world.
On Wednesday 23th November 2016, buildings around the country will be lighting up red to remember those persecuted for their faith. Look out for the hashtag #RedWednesday.