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How to Mind Your Business

An In Touch guide to better spiritual health 

Hannah Anderson and In Touch Ministries staff February 21, 2024

We’ve all been there. You’re online looking at pictures of your cousin’s wedding or messaging with a friend from college. You scroll down your feed and see a meme that strikes you as funny. You like it and hit share. Within seconds, your neighbor’s niece’s boyfriend has commented. He doesn’t think it’s funny and how dare you not care about the poor and suffering in the world! At first, you’re taken aback. But then something rises inside you, so you reply. With facts. And data. And maybe even a Bible verse. Three hours and 37 comments later, you log out, bleary-eyed and agitated.

Illustrations by Patrick Leger

Despite all the positive ways that modern technology connects people, it also links us in more complicated ways. When personal lives and opinions become public, people who barely know us aren’t afraid to tell us what they think. And honestly, we’re tempted to do the same. It can be really hard to just keep scrolling—especially when someone is so obviously wrong. Yet as Christians, we’re called to be people of peace who are wise representatives of God’s kingdom. Or as Paul puts it in 1 Thessalonians 4:11, Christians should try “to lead a quiet life and attend to [their] own business" as a way to honor the gospel. So how can we thread this needle?

Here’s a guide we’ve put together to help you navigate the gray areas of online interactions. And to equip you for those times when a nuanced approach is necessary and clear answers don’t present themselves. We hope these suggestions will help you work through tensions and speak peace in a world—both cyber and real—that’s in dire need of healing.

Mind Your Business

Have you ever wondered why so many social media sites are free? They’re “free” because user engagement allows them to make money through advertising. The more time you spend online, the more the platform can charge companies to get their product in front of you. So they try to keep you online by asking for your opinion, personalizing your news feed, and giving you the chance to comment on other people’s posts.

This doesn’t make social media bad, but it’s a good reminder about the value of our attention. Our time is a gift from God that we must steward well—which includes how we use it and what we choose to focus on. So before you jump into that conversation with your neighbor’s niece’s boyfriend, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Why does this feel so essential right now—why is it capturing my attention?
    Notice what’s happening inside you—what you are feeling and thinking. Are you anxious or uncomfortable? Do you feel the need to defend yourself? Why?

  • Is something outside of me pushing me to engage?
    Maybe your response isn’t internally motivated. Maybe you feel pressure to respond because society has said you should. Would you feel rude for not replying? Have you gotten the message that not speaking on this topic means you don’t care?

  • What good things will I miss if I focus on this?
    Consider what else is going on in your life right now. Do you have time to devote to this conversation? Is there a more productive way to engage? Could you simply be distracting yourself from other, more difficult work?

If nothing else, make sure you pause before you respond. Research tells us that emotionally charged situations activate the amygdala, the part of our brain that acts out of instinct to keep us safe. But as blood and oxygen flow to the amygdala, they flow away from the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain we use for problem solving. As a result, our responses become less rational, and if we’re not careful, we can end up saying and doing things we later regret.

Learning the simple practice of pausing before responding can give you the space to assess the situation and disrupt the cycle of engagement. It will give you a chance to decide whether this conversation is actually what you want to do right now. So before you reply, step away for a bit. Count to 10. Get a cup of coffee. Put in a load of laundry. Call a friend. Or maybe pray a simple prayer like this: “Dear God, I don’t know what to do right now. Please show me what You want me to focus on and grant me the humility to follow Your leading. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

Mind Your Business

Second, figure out what you’re responsible for and what you’re not. Another challenge of modern technology is that it brings all the problems of the world to your doorstep. In the past, news took a long time to travel from one community to another. When the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, it took two days for the news to reach New York City, another two weeks to circulate in the colonies, and an entire month for England to find out. The slower pace of information meant that people’s attention was primarily focused on their own families, churches, and neighborhoods.

Today, however, you can read about a flood in Myanmar and the next minute, a local appeal for school supplies. This can be overwhelming, even paralyzing. How do you know which problems are yours to solve? Even worse, it can feel as if you’re expected to be involved in everything all at the same time. So how can you decide which issues deserve your attention? Which things are your business?

The Cost of Information Overload

If you’ve ever logged off your devices and felt an overwhelming sense of emotional and physical exhaustion, it’s likely you’re experiencing something called “compassion fatigue.” The term was first coined in 1992 to describe the extreme burnout suffered by medical workers, but it has since been applied to the general population, thanks to the rise of social media and 24/7 news. We are so inundated with negativity and distressing experiences that we’re left unable to feel much of anything.

This is a problem for two reasons. First, it can lead to many negative physical and mental effects. According to article Elisa Gabbert penned for The Guardian, symptoms of compassion fatigue include “[behavioral] changes (becoming easily startled, a reduced ability to remain objective), physical changes (exhaustion, anxiety and cardiac symptoms) and emotional changes (numbness, depression, ‘decreased sense of purpose’).” And second, when we give up and shut down, we lose whatever level of efficacy we do possess. Rather than volunteer, donate, or work to raise awareness, we shut down and end up doing nothing to alleviate the suffering we’re witnessing in real time.

The easiest way to reduce our risk of compassion fatigue is to limit our overall consumption of information—in just 15-20 minutes per day, we can gain enough to be well-informed global citizens. Rather than waste time “doom scrolling,” we can instead put our educated energies to good use. For a healthier balance with regards to online exposure, try:

  • Sticking to a few trusted news sources. Traditional news sources such as established newspapers and magazines have a code of ethics and are legally obligated to publish truthful information. Other sites, such as those created by universities, research hospitals, and other institutions that are the authority on a given subject are also good choices.

  • Subscribing to newsletters. Rather than plunge into the deep end of social media and lose yourself, consider signing up for a daily email or podcast. Getting the news in a condensed format is a way to stay informed without becoming overwhelmed.

  • Turning the screens off at least an hour before bed.  Research shows that blue light—the kind that comes from screens—can interfere with our sleep cycle. Avoiding it allows your body’s natural rhythms to take over in the evening. Another reason that’s a wise decision: If your mind is racing or you’re anxious about what you’re reading, a good night’s sleep will be hard to come by.

  • Doing some good for yourself. Take time to care for your mind and body by preparing and eating healthy food. Also, make sure to exercise, spend time with friends, or engage in a hobby that you find satisfying. We are embodied beings after all, and we’re meant to dwell and thrive in the tangible world.

  • Spending time in prayer (as well as silence). Choosing to be in God’s presence is always the best decision. Ask Him for peace and guidance—and help thinking on (and bringing about) “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable” (Phil. 4:8).

Start by thinking in terms of proximity. Ask, What needs are close to me, either by relationship or geography? What needs can I actually participate in solving? This doesn’t mean you don’t care about other causes. But it does mean that you are uniquely equipped to serve certain people and places. Nobody else can replace your influence in your family, local church, or neighborhood. So start there.

Pay attention to how your God-given gifts and resources align with the needs you encounter. Do you have extra money that could cover a financial need? Do you have a particular skill set, like graphic design, that could help? Do you know someone else who could pitch in and assist?

Paying attention to our gifts and resources also helps us recognize which things are not our responsibility. For example, if you’re currently struggling with illness that keeps you at home, you’re probably not called to volunteer for the food pantry, but you might be called to pray or write notes of encouragement to those who are. At the end of the day, we are not called to be involved in every cause. Yes, we should all be involved in whatever God gives us to do. But some of us plant, some of us water, and some of us harvest. It’s essential to discern which part is ours for this season.

Remember that the goal is to use your time and attention in positive ways. One of the biggest risks of getting wrapped up in other people’s business is that we might miss our own. If we spend all our time worrying about how someone else is wrong, we’ll miss opportunities for our growth. And if we focus on tracing down problems on the other side of the world, we might miss the ones in our own house.

But being proactive doesn’t necessarily mean overextending ourselves or being busy for the sake of being busy. In fact, in today’s hyper-connected world, proactively pursuing good work might mean unplugging for a bit. It might mean getting away from all the noise and chatter so you can calm your mind and focus on what really matters.  Perhaps give yourself permission to go “offline” during certain hours or even one day a week. Don’t worry. The article will still be there tomorrow, and unless it’s an emergency, the email or text can probably wait.

If you find it hard to unplug from your phone, consider a “dumb phone”—a stripped-down device that lets you stay in contact with folks but has limited online capability. Another possibility: Some people have found the practice of committing to “Word before world” helpful, starting (and maybe ending) the day with prayer and Scripture before engaging in the business of life. Regardless of what works for you, the goal is to carve out space for the good “work” of sabbath and rest, intimacy and time spent with God. That way, when you do finally emerge renewed from your break, you’ll be able to face the world differently. And you’ll be prepared to do the work God has given you—and only you—to do.

It’s hard to “mind your business” a world that constantly vies for your attention, encourages you to become agitated, and invites you to speak into other people’s lives. A lot is working against you, and learning to navigate this new reality requires humility and wisdom from God. In the words of the famous prayer, it will mean asking Him for the strength to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

With careful attention and, more importantly, God’s help, we can learn to make our way through a variety of online spaces with a calm heart and a clear mind—and to tend our own little corner of the earth with wisdom and grace.

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