I wrote these words in the middle of the night, last week, while on a retreat. Last week was designed for me to accomplish a first draft of my ordination paperwork, and yet, when unable to return to sleep, I started thinking about loneliness. In a lot of ways, I’m not very lonely. My beloved wife is as close to me as my own heart, and she loves me very dearly. And yet, the symptoms of loneliness keep crowding into my life. Like stepping from a crisp and clean room into a smog-covered city, I realize that it’s in the atmosphere. This series of blogs isn’t as much a result of my own loneliness as it is an observation of the larger endemic loneliness shaping and affecting our society. We are all vulnerable.
One last note. To my knowledge, most of the people who read my blog are Christians, and so I am writing from a Christian standpoint to a Christian audience. And yet, I think these words are appropriate for the agnostic, atheist, or religious other as well.
Recent research shows us that social media could be more appropriately termed “unsocial media,” and yet we cannot quit it any more than an alcoholic can simply drop the bottle, after having been diagnosed with liver problems. For some of us the drink of choice is Facebook, and for some it is Instagram, Twitter, or PornHub. All of us give more of ourselves than we realize, through the screens, like five dollars of a fortune being spent at a time on booze. We need to realize that we are powerless to stop the loneliness that rampantly drains our energy. We need to realize that our lives have become unmanageable. We need to realize that only the higher power of Jesus Christ, into whose Body we have been baptized, has
the ability to bring reparation to our souls.
We are justified by the love and grace of Jesus, each of us saying, “It’s just as if I’d never had a blemish on my life.” And yet, when we get on social media, seeing well-curated images of biceps and bosoms that are more bustling than ours, we feel like each of our blemishes is a burden, forgetting that God loves us with all of them. Climbing back into the screen, our minds drink deeply of the intoxicating idea that it can make us feel better, and it does for a moment. But it is a drink that does not satisfy in the long-term, demanding more attention of our minds and souls than we realize, until we are hopelessly addicted. The platforms showing us people just outside of our reach remind us that we lack so much. Whereas we signed on to the screen to feel better, we end up seeing someone who seems better than us, and we leave with ideations of our own inadequacy.
“It will make me feel better next time I sign on,” our minds tell us, not realizing that we have been studied like ants in a colony, for the sweetness of social media to draw us back to itself. Seeds of longing are planted inside our minds. They are genetically engineered as hybrids of loneliness, given to us by the platforms we freely use. But we plant them inside ourselves.
The fruit of addiction and longing rapidly grows like an invasive species in our thoughts, crowding out our otherwise disciplined life, drawing us back to the inter-web of our social media.
When we get back on, we check to see how many “likes” we have. And even if someone likes or positively comments on an image of our life, we wonder why more people did not do it. “What is wrong with me?” we find ourselves asking.
In a desperation to find community, we share something a little bit more personal. We open our lives bare for others to see, drunk on the wine of the world, wishing to see that we have been uplifted. Perhaps we have been brought a little bit closer into the social media fold, wrapped more intricately in its devices. But having shared something too personal, our family is frustrated with us. Our relationships in the real world begin to suffer, because it seems that only through the screen lit dimly can people see the seemingly real us illuminated. Our addiction deepens. We are more lonely.