My small feet stepped across the sidewalk and my blue eyes widened as I took in the sights and sounds of Times Square. I had seen this bustling hub of activity often on television or in movies, but this time, I was visiting it myself. Today, many years later, I can still remember the awe I experienced as I saw flashing advertisements, huge buildings, and a wide variety of individuals rushing around. After that trip, I would often think about how exciting it was to explore such a fascinating place—and how glad I was to not be living in Times Square, with all of the noise and distractions that could easily pull me away from prayer and work.
However, it recently occurred to me that I bring Times Square into my home daily, in a way—and I’m not exactly happy about that. While eating my breakfast one morning, I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed—an action that many people, I’m sure, can relate to. And as my eyes took in advertisements, cat videos, and countless updates from people I know in varying degrees, it hit me: Wait, this is kind of like putting myself in Times Square again.
True, I wasn’t standing in a massive crowd of people on the street, but right in front of me, I was seeing the lives and images of many people on display. Viral videos and advertisements were playing automatically as I glanced around the page, and I couldn’t focus on any solitary thoughts as I clicked links, commented on posts, and ate my cereal. The more I thought about how I was inviting a hub of chaotic activity into my mind before I had even eaten or taken some quiet moments in prayer, the more displeased I grew. I need to change something, I thought. But, aside from “trying” to hold myself accountable regarding social media, I did not do much to change my habits.
Several weeks passed, and I found myself in a starkly different place: Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey, a monastic community tucked away in rural Oklahoma. As Mass began, I knelt with my husband and son and immersed myself in the complete stillness and peace. There was a tranquility that draped across the crypt as the monks and congregation offered their prayers to God. As I explored the grounds later on that day, I continued to encounter this peace and tranquility. Even as I was perusing the gift shop or hiking the trails, I did not feel like talking loudly—and when I did, it felt unnatural. Simply by being in the presence of the abbey, I wanted to be still and hear God speak in the quiet.
After my visit to the abbey, I thought about this contrast: the busy, flashing distractions of social media and the beautiful, peaceful solitude of the abbey. While some people may see benefit in cutting social media and technology out of their lives, I realized that this would not be beneficial to me. I am not called to live in solitude like a monk, and as a writer and blogger, social media holds a very important place in my life. Not only that, but I enjoy living in a city and connecting with the local community through events on social media.
However, I’ve realized that I do need to put effort into finding a balance, because this won’t happen without work on my part. As Advent draws near, I’m intentionally creating boundaries for myself, so that I stop filling my heart and mind with constant noise from the Internet. I invite all of you to honestly examine your lives and use of social media, so that when Advent comes, we may all embrace more solitude and quiet as we prepare for the birth of Our Lord.