How To Use Social Media To Grow in Holiness

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I have been saving up this reader’s question because I wanted to give it a well-developed answer. I’ve not had the time to develop the answer in a way that I’d hoped, but rather than wait any longer, I thought I would begin an answer and continue unpacking the topic as time goes on.

“Do you have any tips / tools you have found helpful in doing your work online but not getting sucked into the trap of getting into it too much?  There can be a temptation to over-use social media, to go along with the rest of society which seems to be constantly ‘plugged in.’ As a religious, striving for holiness, I do not think this is appropriate.” 

This is a great question for anyone, not just for religious sisters, brothers, and priests. The laity are called to holiness just as clergy and religious are; the laity, too, are called to an interior life that allows focus on one’s relationship with God. While there is nothing inherently wrong in being plugged in, problems arise when being plugged in pulls us away from the rest of our life: when we are spending so much time online that our lifestyle, serenity, and/or in-person relationships start to suffer. Research is beginning to emerge that reveals an addictive quality in using social media, so it is really important to watch our habits—just as it is important to reflect on all our media habits. Personally, I know that frequent social media use can result in feeling fragmented or scattered. Reflecting on a couple of principals may help us in discerning how we can best use social media, according to our vocation to holiness.

1) If we want to engage with people online, we need to truly engage with people by using social media well, especially if it is for the sake of the Gospel! Using Twitter or Snapchat or Vine halfheartedly, without taking the time to interact with others online, or bothering to really learn about how to use it, is not effective and can even be a less-than-positive witness to the Gospel. When we learn how to use a particular platform well, we don’t need to waste time on it trying to take in everything.

2) No one can engage with all social media well all the time, because every platform takes time and energy, and we have limited amounts of both that we can dedicate to social media. Even if we are responsible at work for a range of social media, we will have to choose which to give priority to, according to our purpose, who we want to reach, and how we want to reach them. Setting boundaries in using the internet becomes essential because the internet has so few boundaries.

3) Create a plan for your use of social media with the following 6 questions.

  • How is God is inviting you to use social media?
  • Who are you trying to reach?
  • What are you trying to communicate?
  • Which social media platform(s) are best suited to: your personal communication style, your message, and your audience?
  • How much time can I afford to give to social media: daily? weekly? monthly?
  • When will you give myself a break from social media? (Breaks may be times—such as a day of the week or between 8 PM and 9 AM; or places—such as the dining room table and the bedroom.)

4) Use your social media plan to achieve your goals and to set healthy boundaries for yourself. While the nature of social media often means that there is cross-over between work and personal use, if you use social media for both you may wish to have two social media plans. Either way, setting limits (time, place, platform) and scheduling can be both helpful and essential. Shape your social media use to fulfill your goals.

Examples:

If an author is trying to network with like-minded authors and potential readers, many social media experts recommend Twitter. If we choose Twitter, we need to become active enough on it so we can learn how to reach our audience with our message effectively. No one needs to be on Twitter all day long, but a consistent presence is important. We might want to use a tool to schedule tweets through the day. We may want to set aside three fifteen-minute segments each day to tweet, read your feed, and retweet. We may decide to be on Twitter Monday-Friday, and take off the weekends or Sunday.

If we want to communicate with young people and one of our communication strengths is visual, we may wish to make Instagram or Vine our primary platform, and post once a week, and view twice a week.

If we use social media to support an interest group (such as a bird-watching hobby), we may simply choose the platform that already has an active and inviting group with that interest. Our plan may be to check in with them weekly for an hour. Or we may choose to check in before and after a related event (such as each bird-watching expedition).

5) Reexamine your use of social media regularly, since social media trends and platforms are constantly changing. We may need to do so as often as every six months or maybe every couple of years. We can apply the principles of discernment to help us to grow in balancing our life better by asking several questions:

  • What are the positive effects for my using social media?
  • What are the negative effects of my using social media?
  • How has my use of social media affected the overall balance of my life?
  • What do I have too much of?
  • What do I have too little of?
  • Do I still make the kind of time I need for:
    * My relationship with myself: silence, solitude, and time to think
    * My relationship with my body: relaxing, exercise, sleep, spending time in nature, etc.
    * My relationship with God: daily prayer, meditation and/or time to reflect, confession, Mass, and other forms of communal prayer
    * My relationships with my loved ones: quality time with family and friends
    * My life: being a truly engaged presence in daily life, without constant distractions or feeling scattered
    * My community: offering a contribution to the community (parish, neighborhood, family, etc.)
    * My work: being able to focus and effectively accomplish my responsibilities
  • How much use of the internet and social media feels right for me? Right now, is my use of media right “out of balance”? What do I need to put my life back into balance?

For further reflection, read Pope Benedict XIV’s Message for 46th World Day of Communications:

“I would like to share with you some reflections concerning an aspect of the human process of communication which, despite its importance, is often overlooked and which, at the present time, it would seem especially necessary to recall. It concerns the relationship between silence and word: two aspects of communication which need to be kept in balance, to alternate and to be integrated with one another if authentic dialogue and deep closeness between people are to be achieved. When word and silence become mutually exclusive, communication breaks down, either because it gives rise to confusion or because, on the contrary, it creates an atmosphere of coldness; when they complement one another, however, communication acquires value and meaning.” – Pope Benedict XIV’s Message for 46th World Day of Communications 

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Invitations from Jesus

By Dick Daniels (http://carolinabirds.org/) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

 By Dick Daniels (http://carolinabirds.org/) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0] , via Wikimedia Commons

This year’s annual retreat was a powerful experience of God at work in my life. I truly experienced the gentle, patient hand of the Divine Master guiding me in his way of humility, gentleness, and meekness of heart. And it was a joy to be able to pray for all of you during my retreat in a more concentrated way. God often “speaks” to me through  nature, and this retreat was no exception. I was amazed when I discovered a heron’s nest with a baby heron. In praying with the passage of Matthew 6 about how tenderly God cares for us—our God who takes care of field flowers and sparrows—my meditations were enlivened by my frequent sightings of chipping sparrows, who are a delight to watch, especially when they hop!

The Holy Spirit is still helping me to “unpack” my retreat experience, but the retreat is already influencing my day to day life and I hope it will also influence how I use the media.

If you’ve been reading previous blogposts, you know that I’ve been praying a lot about how Jesus is inviting me to use social media, especially in light of my various responsibilities. I want to do so much with social media, but time is a big factor. At the moment, I’m on a variety of social media, but I don’t always use them well. After this retreat, I think I’ve finally received some clarity about what I need to do:

1) I’ll be choosing to focus my social media use, limiting myself to interact regularly online in just a couple of ways (and letting go of other social media tools), so that

2) Hopefully, I can interact more directly, frequently, and consistently in the channels that I choose to use.

I’m starting to get queries from people about how to use social media well without letting it fragment their lives. This is going to be an area that I want to start blogging regularly about. If you have any question or insights, I’d love to have you join in the discussion. How have you discerned your use of social media?

Pope Thoughtfully Explores Social Media: My Non-Expert Take

My desk this morning!

My desk this morning: the Pope and Social Media!

On Dec. 12, 2012 (the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe), Pope Benedict sent his first tweet. How appropriate then, is the theme of his message for the 2013 World Communications Day: social media! Titled Social Networks: portals of truth and faith; new spaces for evangelization, the Message is a thoughtful exploration of social media—especially the opportunities they offer to build human relationships.

Over the years, I have found these Messages for World Communications Days gems for understanding the gifts that the media are to humanity, as well as helpful tools for using them responsibly, ethically, and as a means for evangelization.

In a particular way I welcome the Pope’s message this year, as I am no expert in social media. In fact, due to a lack of time, I still use social media in a very limited way. (Perhaps I will juggle my priorities so I can make more time in the future!) My friends know that I’m not often on Facebook: right now, I use it to announce events and encourage young women discerning their vocations, and not for much else. Up till now, my Twitter account (SisterMPaul) is limited to notifying followers when I’ve posted here on my blog. I’d like to be online more, and I’m putting together some great resources for the web pages I’m currently developing that are specifically focused for readers of my books (or those who use the See Yourself Through God’s Eyes app).  Social networks allow people to connect, share common interests, and develop relationships—both digitally and in “real” physical space.

Pope Benedict’s thoughtful appraisal of the characteristics of social media really resonates with me, helping me to discern how I can more effectively use the strengths of social media, and what to take special note of so that the limitations don’t damage the quality of my online communication and relationships. In his Message, he comments on:

  • Conditions that foster the best of social media: where dialogue and debate thrive
  • The aspirations of the human heart that drive social networks
  • Challenges that the culture of social networks offers to communicators
  • The understanding and language of social media (briefly)
  • Evangelization and social media: suggestions for communicating faith, and the faith that we need to nurture as communicators

Pope Benedict’s last couple of messages clearly show how the Church has come to understand social media as a public space in which the Church needs to have a wise, inclusive, and dialogical presence. This year’s Message calls social media a new “agora.”  Like all media, social media are both a product of human activity and an influence that shapes human activity; in a specific way, social media directly connect to human interactions and relationships.

 * * *

I want to highlight two points which resonate with me in timeliness and my own approach to media. First, in speaking about the “new language” of social media, Pope Benedict says:

Effective communication, as in the parables of Jesus, must involve the imagination and affectivity of those we wish to invite to an encounter with the mystery of God’s love – Message for the 47th World Communications Day

In this postmodern, post-Christian era, engaging the imagination and emotions of those with whom we communicate is an absolute necessity. Storytelling has become essential not just in retaining attention, but in truly engaging people’s attention in the first place. Stories appeal to our hearts and minds–a very holistic approach encouraged by media apostle and Pauline Family Founder, Bl. James Alberione. When stories are exceptionally well-told:

  1. they engage our emotions by drawing us into the situation of the character, hopefully to the point that we are able to identify with their experience.
  2. they engage our minds as we ponder the meaning of events that unfold (God is in the plot, rather than as one character)

A new book entitled, Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence offers scientific evidence that stories respond to the ways our brain works. Author Lisa Cron develops this point by point, helping writers craft stories that, from beginning to end, will engage those who are listening, watching, or reading. This book is on my list to read, but as a developing feature screenwriter, as a public speaker and author of books on spirituality, I discovered years ago that stories are essential if I want to effectively communicate with others. This is not a new principle—Jesus takes advantage of this—but in recent years both my own experience and religious communicators like Pierre Babin have helped me appreciate much more how absolutely essential it is to tell stories if we want to be effective communicators today.

The second point I wish to reflect on in this Message is that, no matter how new are the media with which we engage, what is “behind” them is always the same: the human heart.

The basic human desire to love and be loved, and to find meaning and truth—a desire which God himself has placed in the heart of every man and woman—keeps our contemporaries ever open to what Blessed Cardinal Newman called the “kindly light” of faith. – Message for the 47th World Communications Day

The human heart is always the same…and while the technology might change and develop (even at astonishing speeds), the needs that we seek to fulfill, whether in person or digitally, are the same. What this means for me as a communicator is that I want to strive for authenticity, the best of my humanity, and the deepest of faith in all of my communication and relationships. Love—specifically God’s saving love manifested in Christ—is always what we are called to point towards!