Pick up the phone
Check the news
Put down the phone and then pick it up
Check the news again
Put down the phone and then pick it up again
It’s been an extraordinary, unprecedented and upsetting week and I (and probably you as well) have spent much of it online, attempting to process the rapid and wide-sweeping changes to the familiar. Only a week ago, I was sitting at school, counting down to Spring Break and watching the news happen in other places. But now the news is here and our lives are going to look very different for the next months.
I want to be clear: it’s totally reasonable to be worried. It’s a worrisome time for many reasons. The upsetting of our normal routines and relationships, the possibility of serious illness for those we love or ourselves, the large scale and personal scale economic pressures and realities are real and it’s natural to feel anxious.
I also want to make a clear distinction between the situational anxiety that many of us feeling about our current situation and the mental health challenges that fall under the umbrella term anxiety. The latter are distinct, and no doubt exacerbated by the times; however, my conversation here is discussing the former. If you are dealing with increased mental health anxiety challenges, please reach out to your health care providers, your home group, and the people who love you.
With the changes and worries to keep pace with, I’ve been glued to my phone these last days; who hasn’t been? But as I look forward to the days and weeks ahead, I think it might be valuable to carefully consider the relationship between how I spend my time online and my worry.
It’s important to be informed. I have so appreciated the clear, concise and compassionate updates by Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix (and their fantastic sign language interpreter Nigel Howard). I am impressed by how much our Canadian media has risen to the challenge of ethically reporting the situation.
So how can I balance my reasonable need to be informed with the tendency I have to immerse myself in the endless scroll of social media, comment sections, and every single news story across multiple platforms?
How can I avoid feeding my anxiety through the consumption of other people’s worries?
There are, of course, so many beautiful things to consume. It is uplifting to see people pull together to help one another, to sing together (and workout together!) on balconies, to offer assistance. There are so many creative people making things from a desire to act out of beauty and joy instead of fear (this is one of my favourites so far…). If I could make better choices about what to open and what not to open, that might be one way to set my mind more at ease.
Even when things are normal, however, I seldom get the balance right. I click on stories that I know will enrage me. I read the comment section. The comment section!! Why do I do this?
Even looking back at the past few days, I can see my regular patterns of social media use are in full force; the impact on my emotions, however, is far greater. I know that looking at pictures of grocery carts full of more toilet paper than one family can use in a month won’t educate or edify me. Even as I open the story, I know that reading about people lining up at bars to drink their way through St. Patrick’s Day is not informative in any meaningful way. I know that I will become more anxious, more irritated, and often more misanthropic by the click. And yet. I do it anyway. There is something within me that seeks those experiences out.
I need to prioritize time spent in prayer, in stillness and in his word, because it is only this that will gradually transform the motivations and worries of my fearful heart.
I’m not sure precisely what drives this unwise behaviour. Is it pride? The desire to lord it over others? Ha! I think to myself. I would never hoard hand sanitizer at the expense of my neighbour. Is it voyeurism? Pessimism? Boredom? It’s important to remember here that social media is never value-neutral, there is always an economic purpose to capturing our emotions, whether they are positive or negative. Whatever the combo of reasons and motivations, there is one thing I know my behaviour is not based on, and that is love.
I know this because the fruit of my endless scroll is not often an increased understanding of the current state of affairs, not a mind that is more centered on God, nor a heart that feels more peace. It is certainly not an increased love for my neighbour and a desire to do good for them.
This is where I need God to change my perspective and my heart. It’s not enough to remember the lilies of the field and tell myself not to be anxious about anything. It’s not enough because letting go of worry is not often an act of will, it is a reordering of priorities. I need to prioritize time spent in prayer, in stillness and in his word, because it is only this that will gradually transform the motivations and worries of my fearful heart.
So I’ve asked myself some questions.
What do I do first, upon waking? Do I dive into the news, do I scroll through our various platforms or do I centre my mind on God? It’s a discipline that I’ve had to really consider over the last through days. What happens when I begin the day by reading his word instead of the headlines and if I sit in the silent expectation of his presence and peace? The invitation at the start of the Morning Office reminds us, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Even when I sit down to read my Bible, I have to remind myself not to speed through, as if it is only a task to check off the list. I need to remind myself to take the time to think, to pray, to listen.
How am I coming to Jesus throughout the day? We’ve all spent a lot more time washing our hands and while many playlists to keep time have been published, I most often resort to Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, The King of Creation. This one is perfectly timed if you sing at jaunty pace without lollygagging.
Tomorrow, I’m going to put up 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 by the sink, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” We know this passage already, but I can forget how difficult and how radical it is to approach every situation and choice with the love of God (it’s also exactly 20 seconds to read, so score!). It might be helpful to consider what verses might bear repeating throughout the day for you.
Lastly, what do I do before sleeping? Do I read through a final round-up of the news? Do I take one last scroll through Facebook? Or do I end the day with a mind and heart centered on God? Do I make the choice to be thankful for my “creation, preservation and all the blessings of this life.”
During these uncertain days, I am asking God to replace the endless scroll with a new daily rhythm.
Start my day
Lift up my heart to God
Pray for peaceful mind
Pray for a heart full of love
Pray for the many, many needs in our world
Read the Word
Want a little more St. Pete’s in your week? St. Pete’s just posted the very first episode of our podcast Ordinary Matters. Check it out for more thoughts on how to love well during this time! Are you looking for daily disciplines for prayer and Scripture reading? Download the Daily Offices. Please join us for virtual church on Sunday.