My Life/Teen Life

A Guide to a Social Media Fasting

When I was in 1st grade, my mom asked me what I was going to give up for Lent. As many first graders would have responded I said “School!” As a first-grader, I saw fasting as merely giving something up. If I had to give something up, it might as well be something I hated. I totally missed the point. Cut me some slack — I was in first grade. We are called to fast from the good things we enjoy, fasting from things we already hate is not fasting at all.

What’s the point?

The benefit of fasting from something good — whether it is food, Netflix, YouTube, or social media — is two-fold. First, it can reveal any disordered attachments we may have to things — those things that we hold onto a bit too tightly — and teaches us to practice self-control in abstaining from them. Second, it teaches us that God alone is enough for our every need, by quite literally practicing that reality. When I fast from food for a day, I realize how difficult it is to pass up that container of peanut butter filled pretzel nuggets in the parish office kitchen or the dark chocolate from the candy jar by the office receptionist. Normally, I would have taken those pretzels and chocolate without a second thought. However, because I made a commitment to fast, the difficulty of passing on those snacks reveals how attached I am to them. Passing on these snacks says “while those snacks are good, they are not necessary to my wholeness as a son of God — He alone is.”

Why fast from social media?

Let’s get one thing straight, I am not here to bash social media. Social media is not a bad thing in and of itself. I also am not going to go on a rant on how we no longer know how to talk to people in person because we spend so much time online. If you’re reading this you are already aware of some of the harmful effects of overusing social media, in fact, you may be aware that you yourself have experienced these harmful effects and may be looking for a solution. So why fast from social media? For the same reasons above: you might be a bit too attached to it and fasting from it will help you learn and practice the reality that God alone is enough.

Social media has its place but it’s easy to develop a disordered attachment to it. We are called to love God above all other things. Anytime we believe that we need something as much or more than we need God, we have a disordered attachment to it. You may not be ‘addicted’ to social media, but it would still be something good to fast on in order to put your relationship with God first. It is a good thing to stay in touch with friends and share your life with people, but temporarily disengaging from these digital connections will help you to live out a stronger reliance on God. When you fast and feel the need to check your Snapchat, let that serve as a reminder that you truly need God alone and take that moment to rely on Him.

I’m old so when I did my first social media fast I was fasting from Facebook. I realized that if I ever had a few minutes at work or before bed, I would scroll through Facebook. I was just mindlessly scrolling through the pages looking at videos, ads, memes, etc. I could have used those few minutes at work to answer a few emails or tidy up my office but instead, I would just scroll through Facebook. I could have used the few minutes before bed to pray, but instead I would scroll through Facebook. I noticed I began to spend more and more time on Facebook, eventually, 5 minutes of scrolling would turn into 30! I realized I had to do something. I decided to delete Facebook from my bookmarks tab and leave my phone outside of my bedroom. I would not check Facebook at work or before bed.

At first, it was slightly difficult, I would go to click the Facebook icon in my browser but it was no longer there, I didn’t even know what to do with the few minutes I would have before going to a meeting. I also did not know what to do before going to bed. Eventually, I started to learn to make good use of my time at work and before bed without turning to Facebook. I do still have a Facebook, but its use is very minimal. It is very helpful to see what people are up to and my group of friends still uses it for event invites. I have reordered my relationship with social media.

Fasting is tough, especially when we’re fasting from something that is as integrated into our lives as social media is. We have the tendency to check our phones whenever there is a lull in our day. It’s like an itch that we scratch, without thinking. If you are going to do a social media fast you will be made much more aware of your habit of constantly checking Instagram, Snapchat or Tik Tok. So… if you’re ready to go through with a social media fast here are some helpful tips to get you started:

1. Create a plan and commit. Will you fast for a week or a month? Will you limit your time each day? Will you fast just one or two days a week? Will you only fast from one social media platform or all of them? There are so many different ways to fast. The main goal is to make a plan and stick with it. If this is your first time doing a social media fast, I would recommend fasting for only a day or two per week, or setting a limit on the time you can spend on social media each day.

2. Do it with a friend. Accountability will be key when it comes to your social media fast. Ask a friend from Church that you can check in with on a regular basis. I would recommend checking in with your partner on a daily basis, preferably in person if possible (in between classes or at lunch). During Lent, the whole Church fasts as a community, it is not something we do on our own. You should do the same and make sure someone is fasting with you.

3. Don’t lead yourself into temptation. Your fast will be difficult as it is so don’t make it harder than it has to be. There are plenty of apps out there that can limit your usage. I think most phones, at least the iPhone, comes with a native app that allows you to set limits on certain apps. Use these to your advantage to help you stick to your fast. If you are doing a total fast, delete all your social media apps and only reinstall them when your fast is complete. If you really want to go the distance, allow your accountability partner to disable installing apps and allow them to set a password so you can’t reinstall any of the apps you deleted.

4. Pray throughout your fast. Ask that God would help you to rightly order your life and give you better self-control so that you may better serve Him. Remember a social media fast is not just so you can spend time doing other things, it is so that you might properly order your life so that you can better serve God. When a moment comes and you have a desire to check your social media, remember the only thing you truly need is God. Take that moment to God and pray.

Remember, all this is to help you reorder your relationship with social media and live in need of God alone. Hopefully this fast will help to see any disorder that exists in your relationship with social media so that you can put first things first and realize social media’s proper place in your life.

About the Author

Tim Dollard

I’m a high school youth minister from Cleveland, OH, married, basketball star, football enthusiast (exaggeration added). I love fast food (probably too much), video games, Parks and Rec, and being OFF of social media. I enjoy learning about the intersections of philosophy, theology, and science, and most of all, love my Catholic faith.

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