The world is LOUD. There is constant noise, advertisement, interruption, stress, movement, activity, and busyness. We are pulled in a myriad of directions, with numerous obligations, headlines, deadlines, items the world or those in our circle see as urgent, and interruptions to the interruptions. It is estimated that most Americans are exposed to 4,000 up to 10,000 advertisements per day. Colleagues and family expect instant responses. Texts are sent and received 24 hours a day. The flow of information is constant. I’m worn out after just writing this first paragraph!
We see social media posts about politics, things made political, entertainment, sports, and videos of anything and everything. “Have you seen the latest viral video?” I am just as guilty as anyone who sends funny tweets, memes, and quotes to my family and friends. And I am just as guilty of waiting for the reaction to hit my screen, wanting to be sure that what I sent was found just as entertaining by the reader as I thought it was.
I’ve been struck this past week in particular, and at numerous times over the summer, by how little I can view and handle news, media, and even stories from colleagues. There is a massive amount of unrest happening in our world today. People are angry about their circumstances, at others, at their histories, at those in authority, at the Church, and just in general. Events happening today trigger memories from the past, many of them bad or traumatic. The struggle is open and overwhelming. The suffering we witness contrasted with the superficial and saccharine virtual society of appearance-based validation, taking immediate offense, and “my truth versus your truth” is paralyzing.
Amid the scramble, when we take the time to observe and step back as the streams rush by, the posts continue, the comments become vitriolic, and the violence continues, clear messages are being sent which are present to us. As I examine social media posts, the desperation and the need for validation, the anger, misdirection, fear, and anxiety that I see exemplified every day, I am saddened for our world. But I can offer a few observations.
What are these messages?
1. We are desperate to believe we are enough, loved just as we are.
We see it in the trends pursued by so many, in the number of likes counted on a social media post, in the desire to present ourselves and our lives so perfectly. We see it in the culture that promotes the attention from a boy or man toward a girl, who believes she must dress a certain way or submit to specific activities or appear with a certain body type to be accepted. We see it in the striving toward a promotion, the countless extra work hours put in during a week, to the sacrifice of our own well-being and relationships.
We see it in the false belief that attention equals love. We see it in the faltering of relationships when we realize that we are intimately involved with another human being, which means we also are intimately involved in their past, present, and future. Those things can only be hidden until the first triggering event brings out the scars and flaws in another person. We see it in our fear of being vulnerable, seen as “weak” or “unworthy” when all we are really doing is opening up old wounds that have to be seen in order to be understood.
St. Teresa of Calcutta put it more succinctly than I likely ever could:
The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”
This quote leads me to the second message I see blaring.
2. We are searching for a deeper meaning in life.
It is obvious through the pursuits of different celebrities, sports fanaticism, addictions, behavior patterns, and again, desperate social media posts and overt displays of emotion that we are searching for something more. People assign a trauma from their past involving a spiritual experience as evidence that their beliefs in God were twisted. They pay money for card readings, look at the stars and read horoscopes, visit psychics, turn to new-age, and fall into cults because they are frantic with a desire to belong to something.
Toxic relationships, abuse, adultery, addictive substances, pornography, all of these things and aspects of life are sought out because we cannot find satisfaction or contentment with our lives. We know there is something deeper to be found, grasped, and believed about ourselves and the eternal. Yet we confuse it with momentary release or the transient immediate gratification which lasts a few seconds to a few days, maybe, then fades into despair and a need for a repeat of the experience. We are running away from ourselves because we know there are emotions, wounds, and traumas to unpack and heal from, but we don’t know how to do so.
We reject the previous ideas of religion and spirituality, and we don’t want to define ourselves as Christians or members of any organized religion. We believe that we have our own unique truth, which cannot be fallible or challenged because we want it to be true so badly. Confusion about gender and sexuality, easy divorce when it gets challenging, dangerous experimentation with dark spiritual forces, or creating our own particular brand of spirituality because we are so afraid of breaking.
We are scared of being opened, poured out, honest, and choosing to believe that there is Something and Someone bigger who loves us and yet allows us to utilize our free will. We decide to bury the pain or believe our shortcomings are insurmountable when He continues to call us and give us tangible and intangible signs of His presence and desire for our good. I read one Instagram post that said, “Thank you, Jesus/Allah/Buddha/Dumbledore/Universe for this blessing!” Wow. That should cover it!
3. We want to be healed.
We read book after book and attend seminar after seminar and retreat after retreat to find the “God within you” and honor that void we cannot define. We read about the generational cycles of pain, illness, and abuse, both known and not previously realized. We learn that we have experienced trauma and are triggered by random moments, smells, sounds, or words. We recoil from certain relationships because we know there is just something that isn’t right. We may have tried therapy but had a bad experience or are afraid of what it may bring up. We decide to be content with the comfortable, even if the comfortable is misery and darkness.
I am excited to see the birth of online therapy options. I have recently re-started therapy, and I do it online as well! It was an adjustment, but I certainly look forward to it each week. There are numerous forums and options, and yes, there is a financial cost to it. But weighed against the years of pain, conflict, fear, and uncertainty, it seems a good balance to consider a bit of an investment in a healthier version of ourselves.
When we see the little good moments online, needles in the massive haystack of bad news, we cherish them. When we experience kindness, we often reject it or are surprised at it. It is clear to me that kindness is greatly needed. It does not take much – a smile as you pass on the street, even under a mask you can still see the eyes smile!
A small gesture to a friend or family member, engaging with the person on the street corner begging for money, regardless of whether you give financially. Complimenting someone for them, not their appearance or something superficial, to let them know you notice their attributes. Encouraging someone toward a healthy choice. Instead of asking after an angry interlude, “Why are you so angry?”, seeking, “What happened to cause you so much pain?”
We want wholeness. We want peace. But we are afraid of the unknown, so we lash out at it, deny ourselves the opportunities that pass, and say, “You first.” What if we said to each other, “Let’s do this together. I am with you.”? There is a line in a Christian song I used to play on repeat: “When your faith is hard to find, you can borrow mine.” We cannot carry each other’s burdens, but we can hold them close and share the load.