I Caught the Thief

I have long been a proponent of finding ways to slow down and catch moments. That’s a large part of the intention behind Monastic Mamas. To slow down. To catch one’s self–the voice inside along with the voice of God–in deliberate and intentional ways. Morning pages. Centering prayer. Deep breaths. Quiet rhythms. But despite the clarion call for others to embrace the surrender, there was one last space where I wasn’t letting go. One final place of surrender that felt too costly. Now I’m realizing that the decision to not surrender was costing me more than I let myself understand.

I had taken an intentional break from social media for almost 7 years. I’d never really engaged in Facebook and had intentionally stayed off Instagram. I was the person that people called to say, “I know you’re not on Facebook, so I’m calling to let you know about ___________.” I felt the call to drop the comparison trap when I was a young mother. I wanted to run my own race and stop looking left and right. That decision was one of the healthiest decisions I’ve ever made. I missed so many cycles of drama and silliness that were raging in spaces and with people I had no connection with and along lines of division of which I simply did not want to be a part.

But then, about 2 years ago, in deciding to start Monastic Mamas, I became aware of the beauty of social media, both for connecting with current clients and engaging with potential clients. What I didn’t realize when I took my fresh-faced opinion out into the world on social media is that there is a whole way that engaging in those spaces affects a person. Not only does it draw you into conversations you never really wanted to have in the first place, but it becomes a space where showing up can feel like actually showing up, when all it really is ultimately is stopping by. I’m speaking both about the creative life and real-time life and relationships.

When you show up creatively on social media, especially as a writer/content creator, you can feel like your work is done. You shared a post, a picture, a thought, so there you are. Your work is in the world. I would argue from experience that this is a lie. While sharing on social media is a strategy and a gateway into doing your creative work, it is not the work itself. And when it becomes the work, you stop actually showing up to the work.

I’m not great at analogies, but I’ll give it a go here. How many times have you seen gushy, lovely posts between couples where they are going back and forth in the comments sections about how much they love each other? (P.S. – I am slightly guilty of this.) Maybe you even begin to feel crummy because you and your spouse don’t do the PDA thing on social media. The posts keep coming until one day, they stop. And then you find out that this same gushy social media couple is splitting. This is obviously a very simplified version of a reality, though I’ve sadly seen it go just this way. My point is, they were doing “the work” on social media of caring for each other, but it wasn’t real. Or, at least, it was as real as they were able to be or as deep as they were able to go in that season in that space. But something in the real world wasn’t aligning. And this is exactly what social media allows us to do, both as artists and people living real, messy lives. It allows us to do the work without actually doing the work.

There is another weird phenomenon I’ve slowed down enough to notice lately. And that is the phenomenon of guilty joy. As I’ve slowed down, I’ve realized how very grateful I am. I have been intentionally cultivating gratitude for the past 5 years or so. I also have been digging into good reads to help me learn how to cultivate gratitude. This practice of intentional gratitude has truly led to, you guessed it, more gratitude! But here’s the thing. I will catch myself in a moment of true gratitude that completely overwhelms me. And then, almost as quickly as I recognize the swell of gratitude, I’ll think this thought: “But someone somewhere else is not having this moment. Someone somewhere else is suffering. I should not be allowed to feel this when someone else is denied this same privilege.” Almost as quickly as it comes, the gratitude evaporates. And I’m left with a deep sense of both guilt and anger. I’m angry because I feel shame that I felt gratitude when others don’t get to. (And, yes, I recognize in writing that what a jerky point of view it is to think that others who don’t have what I have don’t feel gratitude. That is a new kind of self-righteous weirdness). And I’m angry because I can’t reclaim my feeling of gratitude. I feel robbed! I’m in a no-win double-bind. I am grateful, even as I type this, that I’ve slowed down enough to actually recognize these feelings. It’s so easy to breeze right by and keep doing the same. damn. thing.

I heard a quote lately from Lisa Victoria Fields, founder of the Jude 3 Project. She so poignantly said, “If you won’t cross the bridge, don’t cross the ocean.” As I was driving this morning, having my gratitude moment for the beautiful trees surrounding the wide Atlanta suburban streets, my car with A/C, my happy kids and my sense of possibility for all the ways I have re-claimed my story, I quickly felt the pang of guilt and anger. There are so many political/social battles raging right now. Maybe it’s just that I’m a late blooming adult and so I’m more aware of it all than I’ve ever been, I thought. But then I remembered every post, every story, every one else’s words telling me how I should feel, what I should believe, how I should fight or why I should be rejoicing. I so often, as an empath, a Christ-follower and an artist, feel the need to be some kind of truth-warrior. I want to change the world. I want to make a difference. Prophet artist. Defender of the messy middle. She-warrior for empathetic spaces. (Shall I keep going? Again, my self-righteousness is firmly on display here.) My husband has to remind me often that my job is not to save the world. My job is to live in peace, kindness, gentleness and honesty/integrity with whomever I bump into and, mostly, with myself. I don’t need to solve global warming or world hunger in some “other” world when I have people to care for right here in my own. “Don’t cross the ocean if you won’t cross the bridge, the street, the aisle.”

I have realized that one of the travesties of the social media machine is that good-intentioned people will try to use you as human capital to make their own opinions, voices and values amplified. And if you don’t choose sides–and choose them loudly–you are an imposter, a traitor, useless. But I am a fan of the messy middle. And I’m realizing that often my silence is not betrayal, it’s wisdom. There is a time to use my voice, but if I let myself be bullied or intimidated (or simply influenced) into using it at every turn, for everything, without space for reflection and thoughtful response, I am being used. And I really, really don’t like being used.

I’m a late adapter to most everything. If there is a trend I’ll jump on it about 5 years later, mostly out of pure skepticism (and some laziness). But for some reason, I’ve fallen prey to the social media machine. Yes, there are times when I’ve felt it necessary to post about a particularly divisive topic (and looking back, I would again on a few issues). But there are also times when I felt I needed time to process and reflect (or simply allow myself a pass on the whole thing) but felt that if I didn’t express my voice, I would be seen as uncaring or deaf to other’s pain. But in allowing myself to feel that weight, I was also allowing myself to be consumed and used by a system that is built on divisiveness, fear and outrage. How else would the attention of millions be cultivated and claimed?

So, for now, I’ve taken a small step to reclaim my own sanity and keep a sense of gratitude at the forefront of my life. I have deleted Facebook and Instagram from my phone. That is a small but powerful win for me. As a business owner, I will continue to utilize both of these platforms. They serve me well in many regards. But I want to be very clear with myself about how they serve me and how they don’t.

I imagine you have a few systems, environments and relationships in your life that aren’t serving you anymore either. Maybe, you jumped headlong into certain spaces or places with the promise or belief that they would garner some sort of win for you and over time, you have found yourself in a space you no longer want to be. There is no guilt or shame there. You are responsible for your life and part of that responsibility is taking a good look at where you are and where you want to be.

If you are willing to take a peak behind the curtain of your own daily practices, I highly recommend the book “The Gap and the Gain.” Here is one of my favorite exercises from the book, which I just completed a couple of nights ago. It’s called The Experience Transformer (the following prompts are straight out of the book).

*Think about any specific experience – positive or negative. (I would also say “think of a particular season” if that feels a bit easier.)

*Ask yourself: What about this experience worked?

*What “usefulness” can you get from this experience to improve your future?

*What can you learn from this experience about what you don’t want?

*Knowing what you know now, because you’ve had this experience, how will you approach your future differently?

*What about this experience are you grateful for?

This kind of intentional question-answering through writing always reveals so much. And I love that the prompts leave us with what we are grateful for–what we have learned–from a particular season or experience. Because truly nothing in life can be labeled “fail” if we are either learning or leaning into the truth of it. It’s all in the framing.

I have learned so much from the experience (or experiment) of engaging in the social media machine as an entrepreneur. And moving forward, I will use it with more intention. Because truly, this is just a model for so many other spaces in my life where I have the beautiful opportunity to slow down and really listen. To myself and my feelings. To God and God’s best for my everyday life.

How are you choosing (or not choosing) to slow down these days? Maybe you read this and think “I don’t even engage in social media. I’m good!” But social media is not really the issue. Valuing yourself, your time, your emotions and your connection with your chosen daily practices and where you put your energy is. Take some time to journal through and see what the writing revels. Take some time to catch the daily thieves of your gratitude and joy.

Also, I shared this reel on Facebook and Instagram a few days ago and it got some interesting comments. Some positive and some … well, less so. It was a bit of a personal experiment and it proved the point (mostly to myself) of social media doing exactly what social media was designed to do.

Be blessed!

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