"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." ~ Philippians 4:8 (ESV)
Lately, it seems that the both the world as a whole and my own little world has been subjected to upheaval. First it was COVID-19, wrecking chaos on life as we know it. The saddest part of this virus is that it has become so divisive. People are angry with each other if they leave their house, do or don't wear a mask, do or don't stay 6 feet away, do or don't socialize, whether or not conspiracy theories are built or scoffed at, and so forth. No one can be pleased, and this deep discord amongst both humanity as a whole and my own communities in North Carolina and Colorado is heart-wrenching. People are too quick to judge without taking time to understand and show grace and kindness. The COVID-19 situation has sorrowfully killed many lives of both young and old, been politicized and blamed on people, induces anger and discourse, upset economic stability leading to devastating consequences, saddened many individuals and families by removing the hopefulness of reprieve through vacation or entertainment outings, and has caused much irreversible damage worldwide.
Then added to the complex COVID-19 situation are riots and non-peaceful protests fueled by the unjust actions of murder. Sadly, more murders have now surfaced via the riots of many demographic groups, all cherished by God. My heart is heavy for the black communities, the police communities, and other communities that are experiencing unjust treatments. How quickly the sanctity of life has been lost for the minuscule reason of skin pigmentation and past behaviors towards demographic groups. All humanity ought to be valued, forgiven, loved, cherished, and viewed as made in the image of Christ, but sin has skewed these qualities and resulted in terrible actions that have been circulated through most news and social media outlets. Through these riots and anarchical upheaval, unjust behavior towards many demographics of people, coronavirus-related challenges, and clashing opinions surrounding all of these scenarios, I have sadly watched as friendships have been severed, the body of Christ has been driven apart over petty arguments, and humanity now walks on eggshells in caution to not create offense or trods heavily in clouds of anger around each other.
My own health struggles as of late have greatly overwhelmed me mentally and physically with unexpected lifestyle changes, pain, frustration, procedures, hospital stays, surgeries, and isolation. Thus, I have been seeking a desperate escape from the suffocating stress and sorrow. This suffocation and depression seems to have filled every crevice of life, seeped into the work that I treasure, invaded what should have been pleasurable outings, has taken joy out of normally enjoyable activities, and crossed into the what used to be relaxing life at home. It feels as if I am moving through life in a fog. I don't feel like I am living, but rather simply existing in a never-ending nightmare, just dreaming of the time when I will awake from it, but only find that my nightmare is unfortunately a reality that I cannot seem to grasp. Every day I awaken is yet another day to force myself through as I count the hours down until nighttime in hopes I may get an escape through sleep, to only be kept awake by both physical pain and my mind whirling at hundred miles an hour; the only thing that shuts it down for a few hours at time is a hefty dose of melatonin, a cocktail of pain medication, and my arms wrapped around my service dog. But I usually awaken a few hours later, and my mind goes from zero to sixty once again, stirred by the occurrences of the day, the depressing news I have scanned through, or the bitter conversations on social media I have read. My heart feels heavy like a stone; with nothing able to lighten its load. Tears have been a frequent occurrence, and yet sometimes I feel so numb that I have lost all emotion. It is truly exhausting staying alive.
After some reflection and examination of my own lifestyle, I found that social media, specifically Facebook as it is an all-encompassing source of news, arguments, negative content, and friendship and church body divisions, has become a toxic source that has only fueled my stress, frustration, anger, and distraction from the purpose God has given me to serve Him through my work and daily actions. Usually, I flip through Facebook about 5-6 times a day, and at minimum would scroll on it twice daily for about twenty minutes at a time during my respiratory treatments. I used to enjoy reading updates on my friends' lives, looking eagerly at photos of lovely places to travel and my friends' adventures, smile at jokes or memes, and roll my eyes at some of the news articles, but click with interest on others to learn about the happenings around the world. I guess you could say I was a bit of a social media junkie. I loved staying connected to my friends and learning and reading exciting and intriguing articles or viewing lovely photos from around the world. Free time was usually first spent by sifting through Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat to catch up on life. This is no longer the case. I've grown to find social media burdensome, rarely having the delightful appeal of meaningful connection it once held. For months now, Facebook has become riddled with tension, anger, argumentativeness, negative and twisted political news articles, videos of injustice, memes that centered around coronavirus or riots or other negative material, data on illness or death caused by COVID-19, and jovial updates or even prayer requests from my friends were few and far between. Nothing of what I was reading was representative of what we are told to think about in Scripture: true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellence, and worthy of praise. One particular recent post that portrayed division in the body of Christ pushed me over the edge in my decision to cut myself off from Facebook, which was the main source of my exposure to the world's negativity. It took me a whopping five seconds to delete my Facebook app on my iPhone. As soon as I deleted it, I felt a burden seem to lift. I no longer had the temptation to scroll through Facebook and its deep depression. In a way, I felt freed...disconnected from the negativity. Do these personal and worldly struggles and negativity still exist? Yes, but I need not immerse myself in exposure to it as I have for so long. I wish only social media could be used for what I once loved it for: connection with my friends and intellectual posts and articles. Even Instagram is creeping towards much negativity, so that may be the next social media platform to leave my phone. Perhaps one day, both Facebook and Instagram will return back to what it used to be that captured my attention in my freshman year of college in 2013: staying connected with friends and family. But for today, I think I will revert back into of a more personal interaction with my friends through direct texting, email, face-to-face talks or video chats, and if someone wishes to truly delight my heart, a good old-fashioned handwritten letter exchange delivered via snail mail. My brain is still spinning out of control with the daily knowledge of my own personal stress and awareness that the world is struggling in pain, but at least now I have severed myself from negative immersion. I hope that for however long my social media hiatus may be, that I can over time fill my mind once more with reading books rich with deep thoughts, researching Scripture for the purpose of writing poetry, spending more time with those I love, enjoying the beautiful outdoors, and most importantly, focusing on the things of Christ's kingdom.
"Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth." ~ Colossians 3:2 (ESV)
The world is so full of negativity right now that it is impossible to completely avoid thinking about these things. Nevertheless, I believe there are steps we can take to refresh our mind and make plentiful space for God and more wholesome, positive thoughts and activities that will not distract us from our purpose to serve and glorify Christ during the ephemeral life we are given. What are some steps you can take to put Philippians 4:8 into practice?!