How to use social media like St. Benedict

How much time do you spend on social media? Engaging with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, etc., etc., whether for ministry or personal purposes can be: fun, infuriating, overwhelming, inspiring. You laugh at a funny picture, are touched by a tribute from someone you haven’t seen for years, outraged by someone’s political or theological rant. You can find yourself amazed that an hour (or more) has passed. These can be tools for ministry or a distraction and an intrusion, or both.

St. Benedict’s approach to hospitality and community life may be useful in thinking about how to relate to social media. Benedict suggested that community members receive all as Christ. Welcoming guests was a high value. And yet the community was to keep its major focus on their life of prayer and work, without being overly distracted by externals. (I highly recommend Joan Chittister’s great book The Rule of Benedict.)

Of course, Benedict never envisioned the flood of “guests” that can come into our awareness via social media. Still, here are a few thoughts on a prayerful approach to our engagement online:

  1. Be clear about your purpose for engaging with social media, and stick to it.
  2. If you see a post that makes you angry or upset, pray for that person.
  3. Set time limits. Use a timer if necessary.
  4. Pause before you post something that might be reactive or cause others to react.
  5. Compare the time you spend on social media with the time you spend in prayer. What’s the balance?
  6. Think of social media time as a prayer in itself. Benedict taught about ora et labora, work and prayer. All work is sacred. How might that change how you engage with others online?

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