Written By Michelle Lai, Singapore
If God were on social media, would He like your post?
I used to take to Instagram daily. I would post a picture with a caption telling my followers what I felt at the moment. I would post sad reflections, happy anecdotes, and even angry rants. It was my way of expressing myself and dealing with boredom and loneliness. I could “talk” to my followers without actually engaging in a conversation or meeting up with anyone.
However, I learned the hard way that even though we have the right to express ourselves freely, we should also be responsible for the thoughts that we express and upload on a public platform.
I’ve since learned how to navigate social media in a healthy way, and here are three questions I often ask myself:
1. Will my post benefit my friends?
I like to listen to sad ballads, and would often post sad lyrics that may or may not mean anything personal. Because of the emotional nature of my posts, my friends often asked me if I was okay. But I didn’t want to explain things; I just wanted the responses. Ideally, friends asked if I was okay, but often I received uninvited comments on my life and activities instead. Also, close friends were sometimes the last to find out when something happened in my life, since distant acquaintances saw it first on Instagram.
All this led to me feeling very vulnerable and exposed to the world. It is a funny dilemma, feeling relieved yet empty if people do not respond to my posts, but feeling overwhelmed if they do.
I was not glorifying God with the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart (Psalm 19:14). Not only did my social media habits cause problems between me and my friends, they also caused me to become consumed by things such as seeking approval, explaining myself, and chasing after the instant gratification of expressing my highs and lows without much thought.
Whereas I once treated social media like a scrapbook or diary, I now treat it as a tool to connect with my closest friends. For example, I would post Christian poems to encourage my friends, or share recent milestones to celebrate with friends and offer encouragement. I also try to minimize posting about my daily life, and only post pictures with my loved ones. I remind myself not to linger on social media after I post, so that I would not feed on “likes” by my friends. When I see something interesting my friends shared on social media, such as photos from their recent travels, I try to meet up with them in person and ask them more about what they posted.
2. Have I taken time to process what I want to post?
Nowadays, I do not write a post whenever I feel like it. Instead, I give myself some time to think over whether the post is necessary, whether it is kind, and whether it draws attention to myself in a self-indulgent way.
I am learning that talking to someone about my feelings—instead of ranting on social media—gives me the privacy to keep the issue personal and professional in certain situations. When I share my struggles with friends or mentors, I can often gain other perspectives. This allows me time to process my thoughts. I realize that, often, when I give myself time to sit on a feeling or nagging thought, it passes and no longer becomes a nagging issue. Like “emotional eating,” many times I need to be careful of “emotional posting.”
3. Am I glorifying God or causing others to stumble?
I once worked with a group of classmates on a school project together. When I had a disagreement with one of them, I posted a picture of a steam engine with an angry caption in our group chat. It affected the morale of the entire group.
While social media is for sharing more than just happy things, as a follower of Christ I should not post anything that might cause others to stumble. I should definitely not take to social media and rant without considering how my words will affect others.
The psalmists in the Bible were not afraid to write sad and angry psalms, but ultimately, they always brought the focus back to God. While I do not think we should refrain from posting about issues like depression, or even sharing that we are tired or sad on a particular day, I am learning from the psalmists that my posts should always point others back to God. For example, when I write poems about depression, I bring God into the picture. I also include a link to an emotional support hotline for anyone who might want to seek professional help. I make sure I end my poems in hope.
While it hasn’t been easy to readjust my social media habits, I’m learning that we are called to love people around us, and guarding what comes out of our mouths (or fingers) is a good place to start.