In this video Fr Mark discusses an opportunity that the present solitude gives us.
One of the memes doing the rounds at present jokes that if the current lockdowns had happened twenty years ago, we would all achieve the perfect game of Snake on our brick phones. I’m not sure why my phone is featured in those memes, but that’s a question for another time. Anyway, all this goes to show that if we thought we were dependant upon our devices before, they’ve become all-the-more central for a lot of us in the current isolation. And though the benefits and dangers of social media are well-known to us, as our interactions have become more-and-more virtual in recent weeks, I think it’s worth pointing out a significant spiritual issue inherent in all this, as well as a perhaps unexpected opportunity that the present situation offers us.
First, let’s be honest, the urge to keep up appearances is old as humanity itself – we’ve always liked to be liked by others, and the possibility of falling into vanity and self-obsession are hardly new problems. But this age-old game has taken on a new dimension in the social media age, with the constant stream of likes, shares, view counts, etc.
And it’s a trap that all of us can fall into with great regularity – to be looking sideways, as it were, for our cues, for our inspiration, for our sense of how we should act, for our sense of self-worth. What are people talking about these days? What should I be paying attention to? How do I look? Do people like me? Am I loveable? Does my existence count for anything at all? We look sideways—we look to others—in search of the kind of thing that we can really only find in God. So it’s worth asking ourselves: who is our audience? Is our audience the eyes of others, or is it the eyes of God?
Consider this line from Jesus in Saint John’s Gospel: “How can you believe, since you look to one another for approval and are not concerned with the approval that comes from the one God?” It is God who sees us as we truly are, and it is he whom we should strive to please above all else.
At the end of the day, our big-picture task in this life is to grow in love of God and love of our neighbour, and this requires ongoing conversion on our part. We can never claim to have this fully sorted out, and if we get too comfortable or complacent where we are, God will find ways of shaking things up for us, so as to encourage us to take the next step with him. And my point is that this ongoing conversion that we are all called to is not very compatible with the posture of keeping up appearances. God can’t lead us deeper if we’re constantly focused on putting out an idealised image of where we currently are.
When I was trying to figure out God’s long-term plans for my life back in my mid-20s, I ended up going away for year, so as to have space from other people’s expectations and let God get at me. In essence I took a year-long break from needing to keep up appearances.
Now I’m not saying that everyone needs to do something like that—indeed, at present we can’t—but it might just be that in the enforced solitude of the present time God is offering us all an opportunity for some small equivalent of this. Perhaps this time of solitude is our chance to take a break from keeping up appearances, and to let God break through to us.
The irony of me saying all this on a social media video is not lost on me. And indeed, there’s nothing wrong with online communication, and as social beings we will always need to be presentable to others is various ways. But don’t let yourself get too wrapped-up in your online persona. We should first-of-all look to find our inspiration and value from the one who doesn’t go up and down with the tides of fashion or mood – from the God who is our rock, who sees us as we truly are, and who loves us more than we love ourselves.
So I would encourage you to see the increased solitude of the present time as an opportunity take a break from seeking to impress others, and instead to first-of-all strive to please God. That instead of looking sideways for our cues and our affirmation, this is a chance for us to look up.
Thanks so much for watching, and until next time, be a saint.