It’s time for another review! I try my best to maintain a variety of posts, and I hope I’m not repeating the cycle too soon. The title starts with a hashtag… did I make a typo error? No, the title of the book comes with a hashtag, and there’s a pretty good chance you can already guess what this book is about.
To be honest I forgot why I wanted this book. I bought this book shortly after it was released, which doesn’t happen too often. Nevertheless, I didn’t regret the purchase. It is one of the few books I completed in a few sittings.
Craig Groeschel is a heralded pastor in the U.S. One of the most well-known fruits of his ministry is the popular YouVersion Bible App. He pastors LifeChurch.tv, which I believe live-streams its services every Sunday. There’s a bunch of videos of his sermons on Youtube and he is very active on social media.
Image courtesy of Amazon
Title: #struggles: Following Jesus in a Selfie-Centered World
Author: Craig Groeschel
Categories: Social media, Technology, Christian life, Spiritual growth
Allow me to start with the introduction; it’s a very honest and relatable piece of writing.
“We’re busy, but bored.
We’re full, but empty.
We’re connected, but lonelier than ever.”
The problem per Groeschel, is that technology solves an old problem, but creates a new one – a bigger one, perhaps. We try to escape from real-life struggles but at the same time migrate them to the virtual world. Envy, jealousy, unnecessary comparison, lust and greed still exist. It’s just that they now exist in the world of ones and zeroes, hence the #struggles. Groeschel states that we need to regain #control, and that there are particularly eight areas of #control we need to regain:
For each area, there is a chapter exclusively devoted to address them in detail. The first value to redefine is contentment, which is easily killed by us comparing ourselves with other people virtually. There are basically three types of envy you potentially harbour: financial and material envy, relational envy, and circumstantial envy. There’s only one cure to the envious: Christ. Until we let Christ be all we need, constant discontent will always drag us. How do we put this to practice? As straightforward as it sounds, stop comparing. We also need to celebrate other people’s successes, and cultivate a heart of gratitude. As Solomon said a few thousand years ago:
… for the happy heart, life is a continual feast (Proverbs 15:15, NLT)
The second problem is intimacy. It’s so easy to label someone a “friend” nowadays. Being connected in a specific social media platform instantly makes you befriend somebody else. We’re now also very accustomed to immediate affirmation and instant gratification as metrics of friendship. This results in what scientists call deferred loneliness. Instant gratification defers our opportunities for loneliness that can develop into more meaningful relationship. We even develop this millennial disease called FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Now, how do we solve this issue? Be present. Presence is powerful. Get together with people instead of using Hangouts. Be physically present when you can.
A person-to-person conversation can go to amazing places that texting back and forth will not go.
Make sure that the person you’re with is the most important person in the world when you’re together.
Instead of FOMO online, what you really should be afraid is missing out on the people in front of you.
Now, authenticity. The online world is a perfect place to put on veils and masks so nobody (or at least as few people as possible) can see the real you. We not only filter our shots of our lunch, but also our identity. We cherry pick which sides of our lives can and cannot be seen by others and create multiple versions of ourselves for all kinds of reasons.
Social media practically trains us to present a self that isn’t honest.
Okay… so how should I behave then? Beth Moore once said: “Be authentic with all, transparent with most, and intimate with some.” Everything we say must be true but not everything true should be said. Don’t overshare. We have to drop the veil. Don’t pose as somebody else. The danger when you are so used to showing your filtered self is that you may not be able to know your true self.
That is scary.
Only Christ can remove our veil. Our identity comes from who you are following, which better be Jesus and not anyone else. We also have problem with being desensitised. As social media thrives, empathy plummets. Noble causes become easily abandoned, people become more self-obsessed, we have a hard time becoming sensitive to what really matters, and we are trained not to interact directly as often as we used to. The original Greek word for the word “compassion” means to be moved as to your bowel. Yes, compassion should be pretty similar to having butterflies fly in your stomach. However, having compassion alone is not enough. True compassion requires action.
To say you care but then not act is not to care at all.
And here’s what I love: When you get outside of yourself, God changes lives. But sometimes he does what you least expect – the life He changes most is yours.
The next thing on the list is integrity – which is “who you are when no one is looking”. Groeschel deals with lust, conviction, and peace in this chapter, supported by various statistics of how dangerous technology is in attacking our integrity. The reconciliation begins with us being honest with ourselves and starting to put protective controls in place. Technology also sometimes robs us of our peace, which can be measured by how content we are. There is no other way to resist these unceasing temptations but to submit to God (James 4:7-8).
Scrolling down the list brings us to encouragement. It is about using social media to encourage people, by at least not contributing to the problem. Being quiet when you don’t need to speak up and not gossiping. I like how gossiping is being defined: talking about a situation with somebody who is neither part of the problem nor part of the solution. Spectating is also participating in gossip. We need to carefully reflect and ask what draws us into gossiping, why it makes you feel rewarded, even if someone else looks bad? We need to ask ourselves before we post anything: Will my post become helpful or hurtful?
I strongly advocate the THINK formula for this case:
Is it True?
Is it Helpful?
Is it Inspiring?
Is it Necessary?
Is it Kind?
In this era of oversharing, you should also avoid sharing things that do not belong in public domain. Keep what’s private, private. Then, ask yourself if you’re actually permitting or even encouraging others to gossip. You shouldn’t associate with those who gossip. Consider yourselves warned, though: even if we obey these three rules, we will sometimes be shot with slander, but we must endure. Expect persecution, but endure it.
Let’s now talk about restoring worship. There is a great chance we’re practicing idolatry with social media. Idolatry is taking anything and making it more important than it should be in life. Timothy Keller eloquently sums it up as:
An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.”
We need to stop and reflect: Are we being seduced? Are we placing too much value to something that’s not important? God has always wanted the first place in our lives. He should be first. Anytime He’s not in the first place, we will seek for satisfaction somewhere else, and it turns into a vicious cycle until He sits in His rightful place.
Finally, Groeschel brings us to the topic of rest. Every chapter opens with several quotes, and I can find one of my favourites here:
Because God has made us for Himself, our hearts are restless until they rest in Him. – St. Augustine
I didn’t know that something called nomophobia exists. It’s the fear of being without a mobile device (hence no mobile). We constantly distract our minds and never let it shut down and rest. We indeed have freedom to do many things, but because we can do it doesn’t mean we should do it. We should not be mastered by anything. There’s a great tip to practice this: be still. Be completely still for five minutes. Also plan some good defensive and offensive strategies. Turn off your social media notifications. Commit to a dedicated time of solitude every day.
To conclude, Groeschel invites the reader to really acknowledge that a problem actually exists. This is hard because the longer a problem persists, the more discouraged you become, the more excuses you make and the more you learn to compensate. You cannot change what you are willing to tolerate. To be able to change, you need to want to change.
Overall, I like this book for its heads-on-ness. It’s spiced up with your usual “pastor humor”, although sadly there’s a fair amount of hashtag abuse #throughout #the #book. At the end of the book, Groeschel prescribes the Ten Commandments of Using Social Media, which in my opinion is highly relevant to us. These include: #3: Use social media to facilitate, not replace, real relationship, #6: Do not post out of emotion, and #10: Do not base your identity on what people think. The book is lightweight, and it can certainly be finished within a few days. Nothing “too theological”, but it’s filled with lots of careful dissection of various bible verses. Finally, Groeschel also inserted practical safeguards for you to apply in the form of “protective” apps and programs for your devices.
Let me know what you think of this book by leaving comments!
The next review will be on a business book about productivity.