I caught myself wanting to check Facebook first thing in the morning. I had not even got out of bed, in fact I had skipped my morning prayers in order to sleep a little longer. Perhaps for that reason it now struck me quite forcibly how strange it is that I feel so naturally drawn to Internet, much more, apparently, than to God. It made me wonder what it is that I crave so instinctively.
Studies have shown that Facebook is so addictive because we are rewarded at irregular intervals by the ‘likes’ and other notifications. But since hardly anyone ever ‘likes’ the things I share1, I don’t think that’s what entangled me. But when I grab my phone to look at Facebook, or other websites, I long for something new and interesting. I long for a sign of life. Often I feel tempted to inquire if anyone out there would be willing to say something.
And isn’t it natural to seek for some sign of life? Think of the voyager spacecraft that contains the ‘golden record’ with information about us and our earth, intended for intelligent life forms on other planets, just in case. On the other hand, what would happen if we do find other life? Will it be friendly to us?
Yes, I know, sensible people will tell me to get a life and make some real contact instead of the virtual life. Sure, that’s probably better in the long run2. The Pope talked in a very friendly manner on this subject. He recognized the desire to reach out in the young people he met, but explained that making selfies can hinder the experience of just shaking hands. He stressed the importance of being grounded in reality. See the movie at the bottom of this article.
So, when social media aren’t the best place to find real signs of life, what place would be better? Is there a place on earth where we can make contact that is deeper than a superficial mask? I don’t think the place or time matters, but we need to change our attitude, and find others who will do that as well. For real contact, we need to show up as our true selves3. I always cherish the moments when this is possible as especially sacred. They affirm our lives and strengthen our souls and give us meaning.
But, if we do show our true selves, we become vulnerable to harm in our deepest core, or so we think. The fear of the unknown reaction of others can lead us to prefer staying safely within our own shell. However, by doing that, we are our own harshest judge: we condemn ourselves as unworthy of attention. Besides, I agree with Michel de Montaigne that I’d much rather be condemned for who I truly am than praised for who I am not. He writes:
A man who does everything for honor and glory, what does he think to gain by presenting himself to the world in a mask, concealing his true being from public knowledge? Praise a hunchback for his handsome figure and he is bound to take it as an insult. If you are a coward and people honor you as a valiant man, is it you they are talking about? They take you for another.4
And if you object that you’d rather not be known as a coward: let me assure you that I, for one, am always relieved to meet someone who is just human too.
So, to come back to where I started, why did I skip prayer and turn to virtual life instead? Well, prayer just isn’t all that lively! The hardest part about prayer, is that so often I just seem stuck in my own thoughts and ideas. God isn’t shouting at me to make his presence known. Again and again I need to remind myself to let go of my own trains of thought and be open to external influence and just listen. I do remember other times when I woke up feeling God’s invitation to come and be with him, and jumped out of bed in a happy response, when all the Bible verses had a special meaning to me. But that time has passed. Right now, I think he is showing me that a relation with God is not addictive, like Facebook, but instead it is my own free choice. And for all I know he might be waiting for me to give a sign of life.
- Too long and complicated, I guess
- Don’t worry, I am actually rather privileged with a loving family and friends and colleagues
- I also expressed my wish to do this in my text Transparency
- From the wonderful book ‘The art of the personal essay’. It is full of interesting essays, and nice introductions, also a very good explanation on why people actually write about themselves. I am still reading it, see my ongoing review.