The Narcissism of Knowing (Article + Podcast)

In the age of Twitter-isms where people ineffectively whittle truths down to grotesque snippets of useless information, it’s significantly rare for a tweet to grab my attention, much less cause me to linger for hours in thought. So, it took me off guard when I scrolled across a tweet from Kevin DeYoung (who remains one of my favorite authors despite our vast theological differences) that stopped me mid-sip of Coke Zero.

Loads Only God Can Carry

DeYoung’s tweet said: In our internet age, it is easy to be overwhelmed with burdens that only God is meant to carry (@RevKevDeYoung). Admittedly, I’m a bit weird and prone to introspective fits of circular thought, but if you chew on DeYoung’s tweet for just a minute, undoubtedly, you’ll feel anxiety lift off your shoulders too. Because it’s profoundly satisfying to admit some burdens are too heavy for we finite humans to carry. Some loads are so enormous only God can carry them.

Some loads are so enormous only God can carry them.

The Global Mental Crisis

We live in the golden age of the internet with global this and global that. Our economy is global. Our food is global. Our goods are global. With the click of a button, we have access to worldwide information. And while much of this is excellent, with it comes worries that previous societies did not entertain. For example, take the love-hate relationship most people have with social media. It gives us more unfettered access to daily information about other human beings. That steady stream of data can be nice, but it can also be stressful and worrisome. People often say our world has grown smaller, but the reality is that the world is just as big as it’s ever been. However, our sphere of awareness has increased exponentially. This ever-growing sphere of awareness means our sphere of worry has grown and continues to grow at the same pace. New knowledge generates new anxieties from which we once had a measure of blissful ignorance.

Worried About What?

Psychologists have recently begun to notice a concerning pattern in their patients that ties into our topic at hand. Frequently individuals who are otherwise healthy seeking help for their anxiety are suffering from worry, but they aren’t sure what precisely has them worried. In other words, they’re anxious, and they don’t know why they are anxious. This troubling trend has led some health care professionals to prescribe a temporary distancing from the news, the internet, smartphones, and social media. Interestingly, in most cases, this led to a dramatic decrease in reported anxiety. A quick Google search will tell you that most psychologists attribute this almost wholly to social media. Mainly because of the unhealthy comparisons social media causes individuals to make either consciously or subconsciously. For many people, when they distance themselves from social media, their happiness increases drastically. But what if there is more to the story? You probably don’t need a statistic to tell you stress and anxiety levels are at all-time highs. And it certainly isn’t just because we’re all comparing ourselves to someone else’s Instagram.

Global Problems at the Local Level

I’m not anti-technology, nor do I look at the past with rose-colored glasses. Technology is just a tool that can be used for good or evil, and every past generation had its particular set of struggles and dangers. However, you don’t have to go too far back in history to find a time when people, in general, were far less neurotic and narcissistic (self-absorbed). For the most part, they were consumed with the problems of their families and their local communities. Those problems were real and very concerning, to be sure, but vast universal problems were only vague shadows on their radar screens. In my opinion, the rapid proliferation of modern information leaves the average individual feeling helpless and hopelessly aware of problems beyond their ability to solve. And, when they try to solve global problems, a significant disconnect from local reality occurs. For example, it isn’t uncommon to see local churches diligently striving to solve major water shortages on the other side of the world. That sort of social gospel works like a placebo that triggers a temporary dopamine spike. Everyone wants to feel like they’re making a global impact. Meanwhile, in their local community, their neighbors are still struggling in countless physical and spiritual ways.

The Disconnect

You see, global awareness can produce shortsightedness in our local area. Many people have settled for “feeling” like they’ve made a difference instead of making a difference. Flying into a third-world country for a photoshoot is way different than the hard work of loving our actual neighbors. That disconnect alone is enough to cause all kinds of anxieties. The concept of being a world changer is alluring. It almost makes Jesus’ call to love our neighbors sound a little shortsighted. But Jesus gave us achievable goals that, if followed, do change the world.

Global awareness can produce shortsightedness in our local area. Many people have settled for feeling like they’ve made a difference instead of making a difference.

I Don’t Want to Know

For a good portion of my life, I genuinely longed for the ability to know the future. At the very least, I really wanted to know the details of my future. The tension of not knowing how certain things would turn out left me feeling frustrated with God. In those days, much of my prayer life revolved around asking God to reveal things to me. I arrogantly assumed that knowing would give me confidence. God never answered those prayers. And I’m glad He didn’t. If past Ryan had known some of the things future Ryan would endure, he would’ve run away kicking and screaming. I look back on those times and shake my head in amazement. Now I understand that only God can handle knowing the future with all its twists and turns. It was incredibly narcissistic of me to long for something I couldn’t have managed. I’m at peace with not knowing because I know God knows, and that’s enough for me.

Now I understand that only God can handle knowing the future with all its twists and turns. I’m at peace with not knowing because I know God knows, and that’s enough for me.

Laying Unbearable Burdens Down in Prayer

Oddly enough, that brings us full circle back to the little tweet that started this whole thought process: In our internet age, it is easy to be overwhelmed with burdens that only God is meant to carry (@RevKevDeYoung). How often do we narcissistically worry about things we cannot fix? We have so much knowledge and so little power. My worry won’t fix a thing. Just knowing about a whole lot of issues and problems won’t change a thing. But I can pray. I can lay all these burdens down at God’s feet and trust that He knows what He’s doing. He was the solution long before there was a problem, and He was the answer long before the question was asked.

I can lay all these burdens down at God’s feet and trust that He knows what He’s doing. He was the solution long before there was a problem, and He was the answer long before the question was asked.


If We Are What We Post (What Are We Saying)?

While we used to think that people mostly misrepresented themselves on social media, studies are finding more and more that the opposite is actually true. Studies are discovering that people represent themselves more accurately on their Facebook accounts than they do in person. This is encouraging and distressing at the same time. We have known for over a decade now that people’s inhibitions are lowered when using passive-aggressive forms of social interaction, that’s why so many inappropriate relationships and affairs have begun on places like Facebook and MySpace (back in the day). Similarly, that’s why people become bullies on Twitter who would never pick a fight in person. Studies used to argue that social platforms were influencing bad behaviour, but now experts are suggesting that who we are on social media is who we have really been deep down all along. So how should we Christians view this information and apply it to our lives?

1. What you post about and talk about the most on social media is probably what you care most about in life: if you never talk about God and family than those things are probably not the highest priorities in your life.

2. Your social media posts (or lack of them) say a lot about your marriage, your faith, your future, and your real priorities.

3. Are you a “Lurker” or a “Liker”? We all know the social media user who lurks around but never likes or engages with anything. Studies are suggesting that this imbalance gives a window into the soul. If you lurk and never like but you feel angry when no one likes your posts; you are likely a selfish narcissist. However, if you lurk and never like but don’t care if others like your posts; you are probably just cautious, private, and curious. There’s a big difference between the two. There has been much debate about the narcissistic side effects of social media. Needless to say, the Kardashian worshipping, selfie-obsessed, fame seeking mindset has no place in a godly heart (check out my very first blog post entitled Living Selflessly In a Selfie World and Clothed In Humility).

4. Speaking of selfishness and narcissism; the sheer amount of selfies and how you pose in said selfies is very telling as well. This is my personal observation, the amount of Christian woman (especially married ones) who are constantly taking seductive selfies is staggering.

5. So I think as Christians we should examine our social media “footprint” and ask ourselves are we a reflection of Christ, or are we allowing carnality to run rampant in our online presence. If the studies are right and our online presence is becoming the truest reflection of our inner selves than shouldn’t we be expressing our faith, our joy, our salvation, our love, our gratitude, our reverence, and so on?

6. If it is true that our inhibitions are lowered on social media and that our media footprint is a true reflection of who we are then we must use it as a platform to share the Gospel and evangelize the world. I know there is pressure (even within the Christian community) to remain quiet about our faith on public forums. I’m not advocating being obnoxious, mean-spirited or argumentative. But the cold reality is this; if you won’t share your faith on social media you definitely will not share it in person. Hollywood, advertisers, atheists, politicians, salesmen, and secularists impose their beliefs and preach at me every day on social media. Why should we be ashamed to speak publically of the single most important thing in our lives, the Gospel?

Similar articles The Pros and Cons of Facebook (Part 1) and The Pros and Cons of Facebook (Part 2). For further reading check out You Are What You Post: What Your Social Media Engagement Says About Your Personality, Stanford Scholar Findings, Psychological Stress and Social Media Use, and Social Media Posts May Be Indicators of Personality, Potential Health Risks, and Cultural Differences.

The Pros and Cons of Facebook (Part 2)

Last week I promised that I would follow up my article on the 7 cons of Facebook with a list of pros.  So without further ado let’s jump right into the 6 pros of being on Facebook.

1. It is a great way to share your faith. 

I know that we all have obnoxious Facebook friends who fuss and fight about religion, but don’t let their bad behavior keep you from lovingly (and creatively) sharing your faith in God.  We should be unashamed of the Gospel in every arena of our lives.

2. It is a great way to stay connected with friends and family.

Especially those loved ones who live far away.  I have spent the majority of my life living a long distance from family.  Facebook is a wonderful way to stay involved and up to date.

3. It is a great way stay connected with other churches and ministries.

I always look forward to scrolling through my newsfeed on Sunday evening to see all the wonderful reports of what God has done in other churches.

4. It is a powerful forum for inviting people to your church.

You can and should invite people to your church via Facebook.  You’d be surprised how many people will accept your invitation.

5. It is a good way to gauge someone’s spiritual health.

Church leaders can often gauge someone’s spiritual health by observing how they operate on social media.  I have been saddened many times to find out that an individual who seemed like a sincere Christian at church portrayed a very different persona on Facebook.

6. It can be a source of edification and inspiration.

Now certainly Facebook can be the exact opposite of edifying and inspiring, but if used correctly it can be uplifting.  I regularly come across articles and posts that support me spiritually.

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