Starting, Stopping, and Starting Again: How I’ve Learned to Be Healthier Online

Starting, Stopping, and Starting Again: How I’ve Learned to Be Healthier Online

A few months ago a friend asked me, “Shannon, I don’t see you posting on Facebook or writing on your blog as much as you used to. Why is that?” I had to pause and think about my answer for a moment before replying. My response actually surprised us both:

“I guess I stopped blogging because I didn’t need to anymore.”

Why I Started Writing

I started blogging semi-regularly when I was a new youth pastor serving in my first full-time role in a small, rural community. Randy and I had moved for this job, so we didn’t know a lot of people in the town outside of our church congregation. I was fumbling my way through ministry and trying to figure things out as I went: denominational politics, local church influencers, difficult parents, unengaged teens. I was far removed from the support systems I previously had around me, both geographically and emotionally. Our closest friends lived an hour and a half away. I was no longer in the cozy cocoon of my seminary community or the protected cushion of my internship experience. Like many pastors, I was quickly confronted with the reality that there was a big gap between my ministerial educational training and the actual daily experiences of pastoral ministry.

I had a lot of questions and I needed to do a lot of processing. So I turned to the internet.

Blogging became an outlet for me when I didn’t have an in-person community. During that difficult season of ministry, I am grateful I had a place to ask hard theological questions, dig deep into tough issues, and wrestle with ministry, life, and faith. Even if no one read my posts, the simple act of writing them and clicking “publish” to send them out into the ethosphere of the world wide web was cathartic. (I think that’s part of the emotional high that so many people get from posting on social media.) But occasionally, my posts would spill out beyond my blog and onto Facebook or other message boards, temporarily fulfilling my need for an in-person community with a digital one as I engaged in online discussions and chats.

Blogging and social media were great tools that served a purpose for me at a time when I needed them and had very few other outlets and safe spaces. While I am grateful they were available, looking back on that time of my life now, I can see that these online communities often became very unhealthy and even toxic for me.

I would spend hours endlessly scrolling through Facebook comments, seeing if certain notorious pot-stirrers would give me fuel for my next scalding piece. I would closely follow denominational drama and upheaval, looking for potential “big news” I could be the one to break. I would allow the simmering negativity of those in my online communities to stoke my own fires of cynicism. I would often neglect the pastoral care of my local community for the glamor and allure of being a part of something larger than life. (Let’s just say that “2015 Shannon” would have been all over the recent online discussions in Church of the Nazarene social media circles sparked by a certain article published in the official denominational magazine.)

Why I Stopped Writing

Eventually, I got to a place where I no longer needed the draw and fix of these online interactions. I wish I could say that there was some dramatic breakthrough that caused me to “come to my senses,” but it was really a series of small, healthy decisions: I stopped blogging mainly because we moved back into a city where I once again had an in-person community of friends and a support system I could lean into. I took a job where I had a team of co-workers who quickly became confidants that I could turn to for advice, guidance, and deep conversation—instead of needing to seek out those interactions digitally. I realized that Facebook was taking up too much of my time, so I disabled the push notifications from my phone and removed the app icon from my home screen. My husband and I became a part of a super supportive small group where we openly and honestly share about our struggles and burdens. I also see a talk therapist regularly, which I highly recommend to anyone.

And I still have online and social media communities that I lean into… but they are highly curated and moderated groups of people that I trust, such as a Facebook group for women youth pastors only or subreddits devoted to my niche interests. I’m also more quick to use the “mute” feature on Twitter or the “block” button on Facebook to shut out the haters and the trolls of the online universe.

Online communities can be good and beneficial and even necessary. (And I’m not just saying that because it is a big part of my husband’s job.) But we must be careful that we don’t abuse these digital platforms or allow them to control us. When that happens, they quickly move from healthy to harmful and from good to toxic. (A quick Google search reveals the hundreds of studies that link depression, suicidal thoughts, and anxiety to social media use.)

Why I’m Writing Again

But now, I’m thinking about dusting off the old blog again, hopefully for better reasons and on more life-giving topics this time. Here are just a few ideas:

As I wrote about in my last post, Randy and I have entered into the process of becoming foster parents…a journey that I’m sure will warrant at least a couple of blog entries along the way. As I mentioned above, over the last year I’ve been regularly seeing a therapist for the first time in my life, which has been insightful, painful, healing, and shattering. I’d love to explore that further through my writing and reflections. And if you haven’t noticed, we are in the thick of what is sure to be another intense presidential election season; there’s no better way to get through it then with some online humor and satire! I’m wondering if there are other things you’d like to hear more about in my writing. If so, let me know!

Maybe blogging isn’t something I need anymore, but possibly I can still gain something, and maybe you can too.