Being online is a humbling experience. You put your heart into a caption, blog, or tweet, work hard on a graphic, use the right hashtags, and time everything according to the advice of multiple online statistics and sometimes… you get crickets. Oof.
Whether it’s to sell a product or idea, find community, or just share a moment, most of us are online to be seen, acknowledged, accepted, etc. And it can mess with us when we don’t receive it or even when we receive too much of it.
For the longest time I never wanted to jump on the social media bandwagon. I’m super shy, so putting myself out there for the whole world to see (and judge) didn’t appeal to me. I also feared I’d go down the rabbit hole and never escape, because I know myself. So, while high school and college classmates followed each other on different platforms, I was happy just texting them.
However, when I began to take writing seriously after university, I heard over and over again that writers should have an online presence to connect with readers, preferably beforebeing published.
I wasn’t too thrilled about that, and I resisted creating accounts for a few more months with the excuse that I had to prepare first (create content, make a schedule, etc.) but that never happened. Then one day I finally just bit the bullet and joined Instagram.
And despite my initial fears, the last few years online have been an incredibly fruitful experience. God has blessed me with awesome new friends, more self confidence, and a wealth of knowledge and resources about things that are important to me, like writing and my faith.
For a while, though, it also made me unhappy.
When I began to post, I didn’t set notifications and alerts. In my prideful naivete I thought that would be enough to stop me from obsessing over the likes and engagement. Ha! Joke was on me. Since I didn’t know what was going on, I would obsessively open the app, hoping to see many likes and comments, then be discouraged when I saw few or worse none.
I felt invisible, uninteresting, and talentless. More than anything, I felt alone. I wanted so badly to find community and connection and was met with near silence instead. It frightened me.
Many times, my self confidence plummeted, and I believed I wasn’t good enough. That I would never be good enough.
But when my posts did better than usual, oh man. I was on cloud nine all day feeling accomplished and thinking I’d finally made it, only to be hit with a sinking wave the next day when everything got quiet again. Then my disappointment would grow even more when my following posts didn’t do as well.
Despite my best efforts I also kept falling into the sins of pride and jealousy, wishing for what others had, and indignantly questioning why my “amazing” content wasn’t gaining traction.
To make matters worse, as I posted and engaged more, and gained new followers, the numbers increased, but every time the goalpost for my own satisfaction would move farther away.
“Jesus said to her, ‘Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again’”John 4:13
That was very much me. Never satisfied, always wanting more.
After much prayer, I learned recently why I was having a hard time online, why it sent me on a rollercoaster of emotions, from the highest highs to the lowest lows.
In my almost two years of being regularly active, both as a creator and user, I had completely neglected to surrender my Instagram to God and ask Him to lead me, or even walk with me, on this journey.
I forgot to put God first online as I do offline.
Well, that explained a lot.
Quick disclaimer, I don’t mean that to put God first online means to make our faith front and center in our content. I don’t think that’s for everyone. But I’d been extremely self-reliant, forgetting that in all things Our Lord must be at the center if we are to properly do His will and find joy in our work.
And this epiphany has made being online a more positive experience. I’m having way more fun now that I’ve given my account to God to do with it what He wills and creating and posting content is less stressful because I’m learning to let Him lead me with a few changes.
1. Prayer and surrender
Besides invoking the Holy Spirit to direct me in what content to create, I’m learning to trust that God is walking with me, even online. What He inspires me to share won’t go unnoticed by those who need it, those my content was meant for. And I’m learning to accept that might only mean a handful of people.
God is teaching me to focus less on numbers and more on joy, leading me to content that brings me joy, and guiding me to share content that gives joy.
I’m also surrendering my perfectionist mentality to God. Recently I’ve posted art again and unlike before where I would only post finished pieces that I believed were “perfect enough,” I’ve begun to post art in the messy sketch phase or even ones that are “finished enough.” They have flaws, but they’re done. They’re for fun, to bring me and others joy.
And as much as I wish otherwise, jealousy and pride still strike sometimes. I still wish I could be part of the “cool” group, I wish I had the engagement levels others have. I wish people would notice me and share my content.
In those moments I turn to prayer, as well, humbling myself before God in my weakness and brokenness and asking for His healing grace. I thank Him for the blessings He’s given me and return to the Litany of Humility: I ask for “the grace to desire that others may be chosen and I set aside, that others may be praised and I unnoticed, that others may be esteemed more than I.”
2. Setting notifications and alerts
This may seem counterintuitive, but it’s been the best option for me. I’ve accepted that I still desire likes and comments, but at least this way I have a barrier.
Seeing the engagement in my notifications quells my craving. I get excited without obsessing. When I open the app, I’m not discouraged because I already know what is or isn’t waiting for me.
Don’t get me wrong, I sometimes still fall into my old habits, checking my phone every ten minutes for new notifications. When I realize it, though, I stop and remind myself that God is in control, and that gives me peace again.
3. Turning off like counts (for both my account and other users)
This helped me immensely with my jealousy. I can no longer compare my likes to others’ because I can’t see them. Not seeing my own numbers right away reminds me to trust and rely on God.
If you want to give this a try go to your settings > privacy > posts and turn on “Hide Like and View Counts” to hide likes on other accounts.
To hide likes on your own content before you post, go to advanced settings on the last page before posting and turn on “Hide like and view counts on this post.” To hide likes on content you’ve already posted click on the three dots in the top right corner of the post and select “Hide Like Count.”
4. Giving instead of receiving
I still really enjoy sharing content and receiving feedback that shows my content resonates with people. But I’m beginning to shift my mindset to focus less on what I can get out of being online, and more about what I can give to others.
I’m more aware that God wants my content to lift others up, whether by being informative and insightful, encouraging, or just something simple, but joyful.
5. Thanking God
When I get overwhelmed or discouraged by social media, I think about the blessings God has given me on the platform: the relationships I’ve formed, the support I’ve received, and the knowledge I’ve gained.
God is so good, He gives me joy even in the crazy online sphere that never sleeps. All He asks of me is to surrender and trust in Him.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”Proverbs 3: 5-6