thoughts on breaks from the internet.

I’ve been online, in some capacity, for more than two decades. I played games on dial-up in the 90’s, I started blogging in 2003, and I’ve loved social media since its inception. After babies, though, I realized how easy it was to use the internet as an escape. I could numbly scroll through news headlines or cloth diaper sales pages (it’s real) and forget about how much money we didn’t have or how many hours I’d have to work the next day or whether or not I’d be able to pump enough milk.

I have learned so much from being online. So much. I’ve always been a voracious reader, but having articles and blogs and think pieces at my fingertips has just taken me to a next level. Drake released a new album. Do we think he’s really talking about XXXTentacion in that one track? Ominous blurbs about China and Canada filter through my car radio. What actually is a trade war, and are we in one? A patient swears she doesn’t use cocaine and thinks her marijuana might have been laced when her drug screen comes back positive. Is that possible? Beth Moore writes a powerful open letter to her brothers in Christ, calling them out and up. Historically, what is the Southern Baptist Convention’s track record with their treatment of women?

Skincare. Fashion. Theology. Parenting. Medicine. Google is one of my best friends. And if you come at me with some outlandish headline, I will definitely Snopes it on the go.

And don’t even get me started about social media! I learn more, laugh more, grow more, and love more than I ever could have imagined, just from connecting with others through platforms like Twitter and Instagram. Old friends stay close and best friends point me to Jesus, every single time I open those apps.

But along the way, it became apparent that I’d need to build some boundaries. My parents had obviously grown up without the internet, and my friends were on the front lines next to me. How much time is too much time? Where to keep my phone at night? When to delete apps and take a break? Who to follow and unfollow? How to talk about my kids online? How do I want to feel when I get on and then hop off again?

The weekend break was, and still is, a great idea. I try to delete social media apps from my phone for at least a day or two each week. Turning off all (ALL) of my notifications helped, too. I still stick to that one. Whatever it is, I’ll find out about it when I sign on. Lastly, being intentional about who to follow and what to click became a priority. I try to only consume that which is life-giving, whether online or off. But even with all of these safeguards, anxiety crept in now and again. A general, unsettled feeling settled upon me as soon as I posted something, or when I anticipated checking in again.

So I started taking real breaks. One month last summer. Christmas Break. Special trips or adventures. Another month this summer. And I got hooked. Whenever I go dark, I go all in. I leave my phone behind, forget the world, get lost in the moment. It’s an incredible feeling. Intoxicating, almost. I once told someone it felt like being the only sober person at a party on a yacht at sunset, when everyone else was partying too hard to soak up the vibe.

But there’s a dark side to going dark, and this is something I rarely mention. I ignore the news. I miss a friend’s birthday. I don’t return texts on time. It’s sort of like getting a scary bill in the mail and quietly placing it, unopened, in a drawer. I base each day off of how I’m feeling, how I want to feel. Is there a thing as being too self-aware? Because getting caught up in one’s feelings and thoughts is certainly real.

I think what I’m saying is, I make my internet breaks all about me. I get away for the right reasons, but I want to stay away for the wrong ones.

I do not have an answer for this dilemma. I do not think I can find it on Google. Here is what I do know. I know that the Bible has answers to everything, answers that never go out of style. That book has taught me so much about work and rest and people and life management and how to keep my soul healthy. And so, I know that I will continue to stay online and stay on guard. I know that there is no such thing as balance. I know that the internet is incredibly useful and most likely here for my forever. I know that I lean towards introverted selfishness when left to my own fleshly devices.

I know that rest is important, and that pausing to check my heart and soul and mind is crucial to my lifelong mission of making Jesus known. But I know that too much navel-gazing makes me dizzy. It leads me straight into walls, or onto my head. I also know that when Jesus pulled away to rest, he was always interrupted. He rolled with it, and it changed the world.

when I write for others: Upwrite Magazine

Occasionally, I get to write for magazines, newsletters, blogs, and everything in between. It's neat to go back and read my words from another time. There's always room for grace and growth and a smile or head nod. Here's a piece from December 2016.

I figured I might as well start my self-care journey in the bathtub. It sounded like the most obvious (bubble baths! candles!), and it just so happened to be the very spot where I’d experienced suicidal thoughts just a few months before. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I married, inherited and/or birthed six children, built and sold and bought a couple of houses, started my career as a nurse, and jumped into vocational ministry alongside my husband, all in a span of five years. If it sounds like a lot, of course it was. It absolutely was. But it just didn’t feel like it – not at the time. I’ve always wanted to be a grown woman with a man and a job and some kids. I’ve always been a high-capacity, keep-my-plate-full kind of girl. So I just went about my business one day at a time, until I broke.

I hit rock bottom one cold winter morning, after a few months of mild depression and a few precipitating events. My husband sent me to take a bath after I blew up at one of my daughters, and I found myself thinking of all the ways my family would be better off without me. After entertaining dangerous thoughts for a few minutes, I sent my husband a text. I need help. I don’t feel safe. He immediately went into action, and I’m forever grateful for his initiative.

Over the next few months, we walked a beautiful, painful, and simple road together. I started therapy and I cleared my social calendar. I said no a lot that year. I only attended counseling, church and small group, and family events. I fought hard to find joy when I looked into my kids’ faces and by God’s grace, I found it. I also dove head-first into the idea of self-care. It felt unbelievably exhilarating to get a little self-indulgent and spend more time on myself than ever before. And I had permission, nonetheless!

Like I said, I started with the bathtub. There were weekly bubble baths and face masks and magazines and candles. I did a lot of online shopping, and my husband made room in the budget for biweekly manicures. I practiced yoga for the first time ever, several nights per week in my bedroom. There was a lot of introspection and belly gazing. All of those things sound luxurious and amazing now, so it might sound crazy to say that they were hard at first. But depression is a beast. Back then, the bubble baths and the manicures actually had to be put on a list and checked off. They required effort. After awhile, though, I developed a sense of discipline with my regimens and my boundaries and my schedule. Those things became easier. They each tell a small part of my redemptive story of healing now, but I didn’t do everything right during that season. In fact, I got a big chunk of it dead wrong.

Somewhere along the way, I fell for the lie that said self-care started and stopped with me. I fell for the lie that said I had to look out for myself, that nobody else had and nobody else would. I fell for the lie that said I could somehow achieve my way to peace and wholeness, by being more disciplined and taking better care of myself. Looking back, I think my problem lay in my own definition of self-care. It was too small.

Self-care is about so much more than self. For me, it is the exploration of two key ideas. First, for whom am I getting healthy? Sure, I want to be stronger. I want my post-baby body to be able to do the same things that my pre-baby body could. I want to feel attractive when I look at myself in the mirror. I want to read about beauty products and understand what the heck the experts are talking about. I want to feel in the know, up-to-date, and relevant. But it is so much more than that. I want to be healthy for my people. I want my husband and kids to look at me and be proud of me, but also spurred on to become their best selves, too. I want the people in my community for whom my heart breaks to receive the best parts of me, in a way that doesn’t drain me when I pour out for them. I want my patients at work and the folks at church and the people online to be blessed each time we interact. And so I take care of myself. I take it seriously. But it’s not just for me.

Second, what is the aim of my discipline? I grew up in a Christian, upper-middle class family with doting parents and opportunities galore. And yet, I spent most of my life convinced that I needed to earn approval, and that I was only one bad decision away from falling out of right-standing with God. Once I went through counseling, I realized that even I need grace. No amount of striving can help. Grace is not just for the serial killers and the prostitutes out there.

If sin is nothing more than separation from our Creator, then we’re all outside in the cold. Grace is just an invitation inside, a seat at the fireplace with the One who makes things right again.

So I refocused my sense of discipline off of just self-protection and self-preservation. I dug into the spiritual disciplines that people have been using to take care of their souls since the very beginning. I began reading my Bible every morning, and spending more time with God. I practiced exploring humility in a very basic way – confessing and repenting in front of my husband and kids on a daily basis, and asking for help when I needed it.

Reshaping my life around these two ideas has completely revolutionized both my healing process and my working definitions of self-care. It can start in the bathtub if it needs to, but it can’t stop there.

People are literally dying to get a little good news from those of us who are healthy enough to carry it.