Even Digital Missionaries Need a Break
There are lots of stories around my province, as there are in the collective memories of many religious communities, of missionaries who burned out. They didn’t burn out because they were doing something selfish or unholy, but it was precisely because they were trying to do so much good, responding to the needs of the community, working for justice and peace, that they just depleted their energies. I’ve been thinking about these missionaries lately after reading something written by Cornel West. What I began to reflect on was the ways in which people engaged in a lot of Internet-based work –pastorally, theologically or otherwise — might need to learn the lessons of those who have gone the extremes of immersion and service in worlds very unfamiliar and challenging.
The Internet is a world that is, in many ways, very unfamiliar and challenging. Although we’ve come to so deeply depend on it for our business, education, leisure and entertainment, it remains a relatively new experience in an otherwise analog reality. It still requires a lot of energy and can potentially wear someone out. I’ve never had that experience, nor have I come close that feeling, but what Prof. West’s little reflection got me to think about was how I use my energy, challenging me to consider questions like: am I using my energy in the best way? What else could/should I be doing when I’m online? How much is enough?
Some of you might have noticed that the Dating God Podcast has more or less come to a halt. While not originally intended to just stop — my schedule has been so busy these last few weeks that I haven’t been able to produce the next episode — I’ve come to realize that I only have so much ‘free time’ (whatever that is! ha). How I use that free time that is not already occupied by educational, ministerial and community commitments, which are many, is what I’m considering these days.
I think the most balanced and healthy missionaries that I know have intentionally taken periodic breaks from the intensity and stress of their good work. Sometimes that means physically getting away from a place only to return refreshed, other times it means creating a space or engaging in activities that one finds renewing, relaxing or energizing. This sort of thing requires an awareness of the ebb and flow of life, ministry and community. At times we might be more drawn into work or activities that take energy from us, while at other times we are keeping a very healthy balance.
This balance is what I think needs to be considered more often in our individual and collective use of the Internet and social media. I think that I need to take a little less time online and a little more time doing things (or doing nothing at all) here and there. No need to fear, this does not mean that I’m going anywhere, nor am I planning to stop blogging. But it does mean that I will suspend the Dating God Podcast for at least a few weeks or months. It’s coming back and I have some programming ready to go, but it is something that can wait. I also hope to be better about how much “wasted time” I spend online (as opposed to useful time like writing this blog). This wasted time includes zoning out and blankly surfing the net, using Facebook and the like.
This is markedly different, I believe, from actively engaging with these media for purposes of mission and ministry. I still believe — 100% — that such engagement is not only a good idea, but entirely necessary (as Bishop Hubbard also mentioned in his recent column about the Church’s failures, one of which was lack of digital engagement).
I suppose what this more rambling-than-usual post is all about is to share that I’m going to spend some time these days reevaluating the ways in which I might renew and recharge in the digital mission of modern ministry and engagement online in order to recognize what is valuable and what is not. And suggest that others might consider doing the same. That’s all.
I hope everybody has a nice weekend! Peace and good!