It’s Not You, It’s Me: On Attending the Funeral of a Friend and Saying Good-Bye to Social Media

IMG_0697

Last Sunday afternoon I drove under gray skies, through rain that was soon to be sleet, to the funeral of a young man I went to high school with. His name is Peter. The calendar said spring was less than three weeks away, but there was another snow storm on the way. Canadian geese circled the fields, uncertain as to whether they should be heading north or south, which was kind of how I felt, driving to a funeral being held for a 35-year-old father of three. I felt disoriented, unsure which way to fly. These things aren’t supposed to happen. 35-year-olds shouldn’t die of cancer, leaving their wife and children and parents behind.

The Lutheran church was packed and just as I walked in they set up an extra row of chairs at the very front, which is where I sat. Then the family came in. Peter’s father was my music teacher in middle school. Peter’s uncle was my first baseball coach. We called him Mr. P. He taught me how to keep my elbow up, how to pitch with my fingers along the seams, how to turn my glove so the ball wouldn’t skip off my palm and hit me in the face.

Peter’s cousin, Johnny, was one of my closest friends, someone I’ve known since I was six years old. We grew up playing baseball together. He was the catcher and I was the pitcher and we created a series of signals – one for a fastball, two for a curveball, and three for an off-speed (even though every pitch I ever threw pretty much did the same thing). I remember how the seams felt against my fingers, rough and spinning out of control. I remember how I accidentally hit my fourth grade girlfriend in the hand while she was batting for the opposing team. I remember how she came to school with a splint on her finger. I gave her a jar of root beer barrels for Christmas later that year.

While I was never extremely close to Peter, his family always formed a backdrop to my existence, like the mountains do for those who live in California – always off in the distance, always there. Peter’s older brothers were the cool upperclassmen. His father introduced me to John Denver. His uncle taught me the great American past time.

I saw them all walk in, single file, and sit in a pew across the way from me. All of them with their families and their children. Then Peter’s wife came in and sat down, her two little girls dressed in beautiful dresses, one of them looking exactly like Peter. They didn’t cry. They were too young to understand the weight of such a moment. They giggled at something, then sang with all their hearts when the hymns were sung. At some point in the service they got down on their knees and colored on papers, the pew serving as their desk.

She’s a wonderful mother who lets her children smile and draw pictures at their father’s funeral. There was so much I learned in that moment about life and death and creativity. So much.

* * * * *

One of my favorite scenes from The Lord of the Rings movie is when Frodo offers the Ring of Power to Lady Galadriel. He is already tired of carrying it, and the mission feels impossible to him.

Have you felt that before, the weight of life, the heaviness of being? Perhaps you feel it right now, this very moment. The downward pull of discouragement or sadness or death. Pain. Hopelessness.

Galadriel seems intrigued by Frodo’s offer, and as she imagines what it would be like to wield the Ring of Power and be in complete control of everything, she grows large and ominous.

“You offer it to me freely?” she asks. “I do not deny that my heart has greatly desired this…In the place of a Dark Lord you would have a Queen! Not dark but beautiful and terrible as the Morn! Treacherous as the Seas! Stronger than the foundations of the Earth! All shall love me and despair!”

It is so easy to convince ourselves that great power would not tarnish us as it has so many others. I am different, somehow. My resolve would hold. I would be fair and wonderful.

Just as she is about to take the ring, something inside of Galadriel changes, and she seems relieved as she turns down Frodo’s offer.

“I have passed the test,” she says. “I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.”

* * * * *

At one point during Peter’s funeral the Lutheran clergy led us through communion. It was a beautiful moment, watching so many of my old high school friends and teachers and absolute strangers walk to the front.

“The body of Christ, given for you.”

A small piece of bread.

“Amen.”

“The blood of Christ shed for you.”

A sip of wine from a single cup.

There was something disarming there, walking slowly in a long line, taking part with so many others. There was a healthy diminishing, a coming back into line with who I truly am, not who I’m so often striving to be. There was, for the briefest moment, an understanding that I am not the center of everything.

I sighed, and I looked over at Peter’s family. They watched the crowd receive communion. There was wonder on the children’s faces, as if all of these people were doing this for their father. And in many ways they were right.

* * * * *

Every so often, I read through Brennan Manning’s book, Ruthless Trust. Maybe once a year. This time one particular quote pierced me to the marrow.

“The way of trust is a movement into obscurity, into the undefined, into ambiguity, not into some predetermined, clearly delineated plan for the future…The reality of naked trust is the life of a pilgrim who leaves what is nailed down, obvious, and secure, and walks into the unknown without any rational explanation to justify the decision or guarantee the future. Why? Because God has signaled the movement and offered it his presence and his promise.”

I realize that there are areas of my life where I do not trust God. One of them is my writing. I am determined to follow any predetermined, clearly delineated plan that I can find. I listen to all the gurus who say this is how you build a platform, this is how you gain an audience, this is how you get a book deal. I resist obscurity. I want future guarantees.

But I’m tired. I’m tired of promoting myself. I’m tired of relying on my own ability. I’m tired of trying to convince people to read what I write.

So, for a time, I’m walking away from the clearly defined path. I’m going to take a break from social media, the main driver of traffic to my blog, and I’m going to simply write. No sharing. No endless Facebook promoting. No mind-numbing Tweets.

I don’t say this to criticize what others are doing. There are some excellent bloggers out there making an amazing difference in the world, and receiving their status updates and reminders has always been a pleasure. I think that by being on Facebook and Twitter they’re making the world a better place. But for me, the time has come to walk a different path, even if it doesn’t make sense or appear to head in the direction I’ve always wanted to go.

I’ll still be posting here every Wednesday, so I hope you’ll join me. I’ll still occasionally send out emails to those of you on my list, updating you on my latest projects or letting you know what some of my writer friends have been up to. I’d love to get emails from you, anytime: shawnsmucker(at)yahoo.com. But after today I won’t be on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, at least not for a little while.

It’s actually a huge relief, the diminishing. The trusting.

What unorthodox path are you being called to follow?

44 Replies to “It’s Not You, It’s Me: On Attending the Funeral of a Friend and Saying Good-Bye to Social Media”

  1. Shawn-
    Good morning. Your writing was the first thing I read today after my devotions. The sadness of losing anyone young is a heavyweight two bare. In my tiny art studio in cocoa beach Florida I make prayer flags for those that need them. In the past six months we have had so much loss of young life that it’s hard to look at my young adult children and not worry. To live each day to the fullness of what we believe our body and soul needs is the most important thing. I praise you for your choices and look forward to reading Your weekly posts.

    1. Thank you, Sheri. I think making prayer flags sounds like a commendable activity. If you feel so inclined, please make a prayer flag for me, that I would learn what it means to diminish.

  2. Oh, thank you. I am SO right there with you. The self-promotion is so hard, feels so fake. I asked you to swap guest posts because I really like your message. But I am just not a guest poster, a favor-doer just to drive traffic to my blog. I’m not willing to do “whatever it takes” to build a platform. I want to be myself and write what I write. Thanks for sharing this post and for recognizing your need for a break.

    1. I never got that feeling from you, JJ, that you were simply seeking traffic. It was an honor that you asked me to swap posts. Perhaps we can still make it happen at some point.

  3. The loss in this post is palpable. And yet, like all sorrow, it brings with it a beauty out of reach in the casual welter of our daily lives. Thank you for putting pen to the sacred, Shawn. Even (or especially) as it shows up in the sideways glance.

    Every Wednesday, huh? I accept your invitation.

    1. I never thought of sorrow and beauty in that way, Kelli, but you’re right – there is a symbiotic relationship between the two, and achingly so. See you next Wednesday.

    1. Thanks, Michelle. You’re one of the first online friends I made, and so there is definitely a sadness that I will not be interacting with you and other friends for a time. Perhaps that’s the main reason I need this time away – to value the true friendships I’ve made on FB and Twitter, and to move forward on social media with that in mind. We’ll see.

      1. I hear you there, Shawn — there are genuine friendships I have with people I have yet to meet in person, and sometimes I lose sight of that in the hubbub of social media.

        I think I may have also gained some clarity just now for my blogging practice right now, too . Not just in the writing, but in the reading: To help foster and grow genuine relationship. Screw the numbers (as nice as they can be some days to be honest) — I want to get to know and connect with *people*.

  4. A very well known blogger, who by all accounts is a great person too, tweeted yesterday “subscribe to my blog, it’s really awesome”. IMO that crossed the line of platform building. I frankly have no problem with someone promoting their message – I think they did that in Acts to some degree. But, telling others your message is awesome? Maybe let them figure that out. God bless you and your family Shawn.

    1. I’ve always wondered if a blog worth reading would find its way into the world whether or not I share it myself. I guess we’ll find out. Thanks for your comment, Kent. But also remember that the “really awesome blogger” is probably writing that out of insecurity or some other sense of personal shortcoming. We all need grace from each other on a daily basis.

  5. Oh my, this is so me right now. A friend just alerted me to this post because I’m so weary of social media at the present, all the self-promotion feels yucky. Admire you for hanging your hat up for a while and resting in peace. I’m attempting to do something similar through Lent.

    1. Hi, Shelly! Good to see you again. I think most of us bloggers know the feeling, but it’s hard to know what to do with it. I think we each have our own path to follow, and as long as we remain consistent and true to that path, then we will get where we need to go. Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Yay you, Shawn! A hard decision, but one I understand having come to a similar conclusion recently myself. Trusting to follow when our heart, instinct, conscience (however we identify “it”) leads.

  7. Your decision is to be commended. My relationship with social media in general has always been love/hate, but mostly hate. In the past couple of weeks I’ve removed my Facebook presence completely and several other media sites have also been axed. The last one standing, Twitter, has me questioning myself as well. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve given up looking at the endless barrage of tweets and I’ve found how nice that is. My objective through writing and blogging is to release the demons and monsters in my head in the hope that someone else finds my stuff remotely relatable.

    1. I think we often fall into the American (or perhaps human) fallacy that to make a difference we must be big and important, with a large audience and a wide reach. If you write what you are supposed to write, and if you are authentic, you will make a difference.

    1. Thanks, Leigh. You’re RT of Laura’s blog post sent me over there and then was kind of the final straw for me. I’ve been thinking and feeling this for a long time. So I guess social media convinced me to give up on social media. How meta.

  8. Beautiful, just beautiful. And I have been feeling the same. I loved the same part of LOTR one of my favorite themes that is present in all of Tolkien’s books and writings. We relate because we all struggle with the same thing. I honor your move, and will follow your posts here. Holding you up in prayer, Lori

  9. “The way of trust is a movement into obscurity,”

    I gave up platform building because it wasn’t me. I am a sporadic writer and forcing myself to post more often did not feel good. It wasn’t the authentic me. My best writing comes on it’s own, when I have something to say, not when the calendar tells me to write.

    But obscurity… oh how I’m not sure I’m okay with that. Should I spend my days writing if no one reads my words? Thank you for this post and the Manning quote. It hit between my eyes. I feel called to right but I do not trust enough when the results drive me. Something to ponder and address in my soul.

    1. Moving into obscurity is such an uncomfortable thing, and as I do it I find myself clutching at any small amount of notoriety I can find. What if I set up my posts so that they automatically post to FB and Twitter? What if I ask my readers to share my posts? What if … But obscurity brings with it such an incredible amount of peace. The pressure is gone. Completely gone. Already I feel transformed.

      1. I’ve been thinking about this over the last week. The whys of writing and is there value if just a few read. Your right that leaning into the obscurity is freeing. I can write when and what I really want when I stop worrying about the reception. It is hard to let go though of success markers that I fail to reach anyway.

  10. Shawn, I am a Facebook friend and blog reader who rarely interacts with you or comments, but I do have a great appreciation for your writing. I hope you will keep in touch, and I will try to come here as often as I remember to. Peace.

  11. Awesome decision, Shawn.
    You will only be blessed through your social-media break.
    I am choosing to not check email or blogs or any other non-essential internet surfing during the morning hours when my children are awake. Choosing to reserve that for the afternoon nap time.

  12. Time for me to read that book again. Wow. I’m glad you’ve not given up blogging, Shawn. Because I love this weekly post. Truly. But I get the FB thing. I might try staying away, too. (Did you know that Sundays are exempt from the fasts of Lent? That saves my bacon some years. :>)

    1. Diana, I remember one year I gave up dessert for Lent. Growing up as a fairly conservative Evangelical, I didn’t know much about Lent or how to keep it. I remember the horror at realizing I could have been eating desserts on Sundays the entire time!

      I’m not sure if this is just for lent or for a longer period of time. I guess I’ll have to see how it goes.

  13. Yes. So thankful I found my way here today. I have given up social media and blogging for months on end before because it was what I needed to do for soul care. I’m going about my dreams all wrong and how will I ever get published if I keep having to pull away? Maybe I won’t. I don’t know. But what you said resonates so much because it all gets tiresome at some point and I want to make space for trusting God even if that path leads me to quieter places. Wednesdays, huh? Sounds good to me.

    1. Trust me when I say that getting published will never bring you the sense of peace, joy, or love that making space for trusting God will bring you. Thanks for your honesty, Alia.

  14. I’m so torn when it comes to all of this. Facebook, picture posting, iPhone over-use. I can’t seem to balance it and use them modestly. I would love to ditch them all to become more present in my life. Have done it once for a short period and it really was interesting how more “there” I was.

    But I also get a lot of meaningful discussion out of Facebook. I’ve tapped into a professional community that enriches me and I’ve learned a ton from them. I feel connected to family I never get to see and friends like you i never get to see. So it’s a really hard thing to give up.

    Enjoy your break, hiatus, or complete exodus, whichever it turns out to be. Will miss you. I still think about doing it all the time. Especially getting rid of my phone. I look at it all the time even if there’s nothing new. Ahhhh!!!

    1. You hit the nail on the head, Jason. I’ve made real-life honest-to-goodness friends on Facebook and Twitter, people I eventually met in real life and continue to cherish. Plus all the good old friends (like yourself) whose lives I enjoy following. Maybe I need a break so that I can separate all the various aspects of Facebook and then embrace the valuable ones and discard the meaningless ones.

      As a writer, Facebook and Twitter have always been more about promotion. As a person, I’ve enjoyed the connections. We’ll see where this leads. In any case, send me an email from time to time and let me know how your life is going.

  15. Hi. I think this is my first time visiting your blog; I followed a link from Alia Joy. This post resounded w/ me b/c I lost one of my dearest childhood friends to leukemia on February 9th, also b/c–after 5 years–I deactivated my facebook account on January 25th, my oldest child’s 14th birthday. It’s been a little awkward at points, my new life w/o fb. I don’t always know what’s going on, now, and it’s trickier to get in touch w/ folks than it used to be. But I do feel happier and less distracted, more focused and productive in my writing. May God bless your time away from social media.

  16. I think anyone who has spent time learning about “platform building” and using social media intensely comes to a place where they no longer enjoy it or trust it to carry their authentic voice. I read this one just as I am considering doing my own form of retreat. Thanks for offering a way to continue in a modest way using the blog but without doing much on FB and Twitter. I’m always interested in models, especially when they are spiritually based.

Comments are closed.