There is this incredible scene in the movie version of The Lord of the Rings where Frodo offers Lady Galadriel the One Ring. His offer surprises her, and she imagines what she could accomplish with that kind of power:
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!
As she speaks she seems to grow in size and her voice becomes terrible and massive. But then, somehow, she refuses the Ring. Somehow, she turns away from all of that “potential.” She suddenly seems older, almost frail. But also relieved:
I have passed the test. I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.
Choosing to diminish is perhaps one of the most counter-cultural things we might choose these days. Choosing to become less (or perhaps to remain who we truly are instead of seeking to be something greater) is the hard way of downward mobility Henri Nouwen talks about.
Why not put the things you know are important, things like your family or your community or your true calling, on the back burner while you take some time to make money, to grow your following, to build a career?
This is the question we are confronted with every day, and how we answer will determine the course of our lives.
* * * * *
We are, all of us, offered Rings of Power. We are all, from time to time, presented with things that, if we take them, promise to increase our platform, our influence, our own little kingdoms. But there is always a price.
Always a price.
Recently I’ve realized that, for me, one of those little tiny Rings of Power is Facebook. That might sound kind of funny to you. Innocent little Facebook? Maybe for you, Facebook is not a problem, but for me? Facebook whispers many promises, the kind that appeal to me and my own deep-seated issues.
“Look at how much they like you,” FB whispers.
“You’re a good writer – the likes are evidence of this.”
“Look how popular you are – so many friends and fans and followers.”
“I’ll help you sell books,” Facebook reasons. “How will you tell anyone your new book is out if I’m not around to help?”
“Publishers won’t be interested in your work if you’re not on Facebook,” Facebook says.
Facebook knows how to speak my language (as each of our own Rings of Power know how to do), and the reasons pile up on one side of the scale, daunting and beautiful and so weighty, so important.
On the other side of the scale, measured up against all of those appealing, valuable, rational reasons for staying on Facebook, are the weightless, powerless, plain-vanilla-kind-of-reasons. These reasons comes to me in a still, small voice, the kind of voice that is not overpowering in the least, the kind of voice I have found easy to ignore in the past. The voice whispers, “Your life is too noisy, your mind is too cluttered. You need to trust that I will make you everything you need to be, that I will give you good gifts. You need to trust that I will not forget about you.”
They sit on the other side of the scale, the weightless reasons, full of silence, simplicity, and trust.
* * * * *
One of the things I heard loud and clear during my 48 hours of silence a few weeks ago was this: “Withdraw from social media. Look for truth and love in the silence. Spend less time caring how many likes you get and more time breathing, more time listening.” I came back determined to do exactly that, but I am learning something about myself: I do not have the strength, right now, to turn away. (Even this moment, as I write, I am checking for likes on something I posted a few minutes ago.) I am not like my wife, who has a FB account she rarely checks. I’m addicted to what Facebook has to offer, and the only freedom for me is the freedom that comes in giving it up completely.
This voice, what it is asking me to do, it doesn’t make any sense. By all accounts, a writer such as me should be building a platform, not dismantling a section of it. I should be posting multiple times a day, using Facebook to grow my reach and my readership. I should use it to become friends with influential individuals. I should be targeting likes and shares and using Facebook to make my voice louder.
But I’ve learned something these last five or six years – when that still small voice speaks, even if what it says doesn’t seem to make any sense, listen. When it tells you to sell and move, do it. When it tells you to go on a cross-country adventure, listen. When it suggests you go on that overseas trip even though you’re in the middle of a tough time financially, go.
The problem with Facebook and social media is that, for most of us, it becomes the noise that blocks out the still, small voice. We forget how to listen. We become battered, driven by the noise around us, the noise that at first has so much to offer, the noise that speaks to the wounded parts of us. So we join in, we shout a little louder. We lose sight of the fact that suddenly all we’re doing is screaming to the world…about ourselves.
“Look at me! Look at me!” we plead, trying harder and harder to project our voice above the chaos. But the louder we shout, the smaller we become.
I’ve become so small. So silly. I’m sorry I haven’t been a better listener. I’m sorry I’ve added to the noise in your life.
* * * * *
I have to be honest: in my heart, I’m still not okay with diminishing. I still want to be famous and popular. Like Galadriel, I want my own little kingdom to be “stronger than the foundations of the earth.”
But I also know the relief that will come at the end of the week when I deactivate my FB and Twitter accounts. When I click those buttons and no longer have access to those particular addictions. In that moment, I will have passed a test. A small test, perhaps, but I will have chosen to diminish. I will have chosen to remain me.
Can it be that the meaning in my life has less to do with having thousands of “followers” than it does knowing the people who live in this small part of my own city? Can I somehow believe that the new creature I am destined to become might not be bigger or fancier or more popular, but smaller and kinder and simpler?
Simply me. Only me.
I’m starting to believe “me” might just be good enough.
* * * * *
Farewell, Facebook and Twitter. I say that with a little disappointment, a little sadness, a tinge of anxiety, and a huge sense of relief.
* * * * *
I’ll share this post through the weekend and then close my accounts. After that I’ll still be blogging about once a week and sending out an email newsletter a few times a month (you can subscribe to that in the upper right corner of this page). I’ve met so many wonderful friends through Facebook and Twitter over the last few years, and I hope we stay in touch. You can always contact me through the blog or email me at shawnsmucker(at)yahoo(dot)com.