[April Fiet’s guest post considers fast food and social media, life and companionship, and finds a way through to spiritual health and being a good neighbor.]
In the course of an especially busy week, I have found myself in the drive thru of a fast food place both eager to eat and dreading it at the same time. On the one hand, eating out is supposed to feel like a treat. On the other hand, I know that I’m in the line of cars at the drive thru either because I have overcommitted myself or because I have told myself I’m too busy to eat mindfully, which most of the time isn’t as true as I would have myself believe. I’m torn between happy I don’t have to cook and clean, and frustration with myself for not prioritizing better. It’s some kind of shame spiral I think Brene Brown would have a whole lot to say about.
As I have spent time exploring my relationship to social media, I have discovered that logging on to Facebook or Twitter is a lot like sitting in the drive thru, at least for me. The drive thru promises quick food, when what I really need is to be nourished. Social media promises instant contact with others, when what I am really after is to know someone and to be known by them. I tell myself that if I just log on, I’ll be filled at least a little bit. Well, I tell myself that subconsciously. If I were to tell myself that out loud, or even in my mind, I would deny it. But, if I were to take the risk of being honest with myself, I would have to admit that it is true.
I go through the drive thru because I’m hungry. But, is my body fed and nourished by what I am putting in? Does it satisfy my hunger in a lasting and healthy way? Or, have I only taken the edge off, while also conditioning myself to go back to the same place when I’m hungry the next time?
Perhaps some of my time online is spent in the same way — an attempt to take the edge off of the loneliness of my life. Each “like” may soothe the ache for a moment, but does it meet that primal need?
Social media isn’t the problem as much as it is a symptom. I believe the pervasiveness of social media merely highlights the way our desire for fast, simple, and immediate has overtaken that soul longing for what is intentional, authentic, and lasting. Finding and forming community is difficult work, and it is far from immediate. When we open ourselves up to be known, we risk being wounded. When we allow ourselves to know others, we risk being let down. Community-building is vulnerable work, and it does not happen overnight.
The media spends a lot of time publicizing the risks or benefits of certain foods from trans fats to new diets and the latest superfood that promises to be a panacea. We know that what we put into our bodies can either nourish us or harm us, and we know that the way we eat can contribute to a variety of health issues. We spend far less time talking about the risks of disconnection from others and loneliness, though these things are dangerous as well. For former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, loneliness is a growing health concern. Lack of meaningful and deep connection is harming us, just as eating fast food every day will harm our bodies.
In January, I set some concrete goals in order to better care for myself and my family. I decided that our family needed to break the habit of picking up a quick meal on the way home from church, even though sometimes it’s hard to have the energy to cook when both parents are pastors. We talked about it as a family, and came up with some options to help us stick to this goal. I also decided to begin a simple exercise routine that I can fit into my busy schedule whenever I can find 30 minutes (Fitness Blender workouts for busy people, for the win!). These goals and changes are not anything special. In fact, I would guess that they are remarkably similar to the goals many people make around the first of the year.
More recently I have decided that, while these goals are important, it is just as important that I tend to my emotional health. Social media is not in itself a roadblock to connection and emotional well-being, but it can help me deceive myself into thinking I’m already connected and emotionally healthy. I can look at the number of friends on my list and tell myself I’m not lonely. I can log on and take the edge off of the isolation. I can feed myself quickly, but I’m not receiving the nourishment I truly need.
I have made a few changes in my own life as I have begun to take inventory of my emotional well-being and need for connection. One of the simplest changes I have made is charging my phone for the night in another room. I cannot start my day by rolling over and checking my email or my notifications if the phone isn’t right there. I have also turned off all social media notifications because the notifications will be there whenever I decide it is a good time to look at them.
These changes address some of the impulses that can trick me into thinking I’m connected enough already, but they do not address the positive side — what steps I need to take in order to make meaningful connections. For starters, I am reaching out to the people who live closest to me – my neighbors. Do I know them? Am I listening to them? Am I being a neighbor? I think being a neighbor means more than making sure I keep my lawn mowed, but I am still discovering what else it looks like. For now, I am taking my cues from the people around me who seem to have this connection thing figured out. And what I’ve noticed in them is that they always seem to be listening, and they are always looking up. I cannot expect that these things will get me the connection I’m after immediately, after all this is not a fast food diet. But, I am hopeful that practicing community will help me find more of it daily. Perhaps if I take the risk of being a neighbor, I will find someone being a neighbor to me, too.
April Fiet is a reluctant trailblazer who preaches, pastors, and parents in partnership with her husband Jeff, and enjoys accidental alliteration and crocheting creatures.