A few times every year, I go through my social media platforms, removing various accounts and people I follow if I decide they no longer impact my life in a positive way. I’m not saying this to be harsh — these are mostly celebrity accounts that I followed on a whim, but now inundate my feed with promotional content.
Recently, during my yearly purge, I decided to add some accounts as well — Catholic ones that many of my friends have followed for years. I added a few, and my Instagram feed and stories were soon filled with beautiful photos of churches, pretty Bible quotes on floral backgrounds, and posts about #gratitude and #blessings — usually all in sepia tones. In the social media age where it’s easy to share everything, this is certainly a great outlet for sharing one’s faith.
For someone like me, though, it can sometimes feel like everyone is on the same page when I’m not. I don't post #jesusinspo on my social media. I haven't consecrated myself to Mary. I don't respond with sentences like, “God has blessed me abundantly” when people ask how I'm doing. These are a few of the thoughts that go through my head when I see this content, and then I start to panic.
It’s not a new idea that we constantly compare ourselves to each other — something made even easier when you can see glimpses into strangers’ lives with just the click of a button. Before I joined the social media scene (specifically Instagram) about five years ago, I didn’t have a lot of perspective about my prayer life. Now, it seems like every time I log in, I see these accounts bursting with beautiful content, proclaiming the good news to the world.
That’s just not me. But should it be?
Am I a worse Catholic or Christian because I don’t feel the same way? It’s not just on social media, either. I’ve attended Mass with several friends who whip out notebooks to jot down thoughts during the homily; who tuck shiny, golden prayer cards in their car visors; who show me pictures of their trips to the Holy Land. In 95 percent of my daily life, I’m outspoken, but when it comes to talking about my relationship with God, my mouth closes and I usually make some sort of generic comment.
Prayer and religion are two really intimate parts of my life, and as much as I’m thrilled that so many people can be so open about them on social media or in person, I’ve always struggled with articulating my feelings in an appropriate way. Seeing others share in this way often makes me feel inferior, although I know intrinsically that God loves us all fully and unconditionally — our Instagram feeds don’t change that. Everyone has a different way of expressing themselves, but it’s hard not to hold myself up to the glossy, curly-font, filtered quotes and posts about God that I see on social media.
There must be something wrong with me. Do people think I’m a fraud because I follow these kinds of accounts but can’t follow through myself? These are real thoughts I have had, feeling many times like my prayers maybe aren’t as good or important because, frankly, they don’t seem as curated or as loud as others.
I know this sounds basic, but it’s a good reminder that prayer, and subsequently, a prayer life, comes in many forms. What works for one might not work for another. I know that pulling out a journal during Mass would be a terrible tactic for me — as a writer, I’d get lost in my own words and completely disassociate from the Mass. So what was going to work for me?
Sharing on social media was out. It never felt like an appropriate outlet for me. Talking about it with friends? Unlikely, since it’s hard enough even around people I’m close to. When I think about my prayer life and the times I have felt closest to God, the answer is actually pretty obvious — through song.
A choir kid and performer for most of my life, I discovered prayer and worship music in middle and high school during week long mission trips I participated in every summer. As I entered college, it wasn’t really the “cool” thing to do, but I joined a Christian a cappella group.
Post-graduation, however, it’s been a struggle to maintain that same sort of feeling and connection now that I no longer have those outlets. It becomes a cycle: I think about how I should have a better prayer life; then scroll through social media; see posts from others who present full, beautiful, loud posts about their passion for Christ; then feel bad again knowing that I’ll never be like that.
When it really comes down to it, though, it’s not bad for me to feel this way — it’s simply a reminder that I too have that push to deepen my prayer life in the way that’s right for me.
Thankfully, I have parish — a place to sing and focus that energy to God without distraction. Once I leave, however, the high fades. I’ve learned throughout the past few months that worship music can be a strong indicator of how I’m doing in my faith life. When I haven’t listened to in weeks, maybe months, sometimes just hearing one song (like the Hillsong classic "Oceans") can remind me why I’m Christian and why prayer is so important.
Music works for me, and I also find solace in journaling. Although it’s hard to remember to write every day, I’ve challenged myself these past two years (and will again this year), to journal every day of Lent. Only after I started addressing my journal entries to God instead of just jumping into a speedy recap of my day did journaling become a more peaceful habit, rather than a nagging one.
Journaling and music fill me in ways that some conversations and public proclamations of faith can’t. For some, taking walks, spending quiet time in adoration, or even putting on Relevant Radio while cooking can be ways to deepen one’s relationship with God. For me, doing something even as simple as putting in my headphones can change the pace of the day for the better and leave me feeling more fulfilled, instead of frustrated.
It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a reminder that my prayer life does exist and that I can take proactive steps to respond to that desire to build my relationship with God. There’s always going to be that ache to be closer to something I don’t understand, but prayer can illuminate those mysteries in unexpected ways. For me, sometimes even a simple lyric or chord progression can make me literally stop in my tracks — like the line, “What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near?” from “Blessings” (which won the 2012 Grammy for Best Contemporary Christian Music Song!). Taking an active step, no matter how small, can lead to great things — I’ve certainly seen it in my life.
While I probably won’t stop following those picture-perfect Christian accounts, I’m going to make an effort to put my phone down more. Prayer and God come in many different forms and, at least for me, I know that I’m not going to find them scrolling through Instagram.
If that’s your jam — fantastic! As you post your testimonies and I plug in my headphones, I think we can both agree that in life, all kinds of prayer are possible and powerful.