One university student seems to think so.
In the shortened excerpt of The Happiness Effect below, author Donna Freitas interviews Jennifer, a senior at a Christian university in the southern United States. Jennifer explains how she shares her spirituality on social media, and how she sees God in everyday Facebook posts.
From the moment Jennifer sits down for our interview, I know I’m in for a treat. She’s a bright, bubbly senior at a conservative, southern, Christian university. A pretty redhead with freckles, she talks enthusiastically about all the things she loves about her studies, her experience at college (she’s made two “lifelong friends,” she immediately tells me), and how, during her four years here, she’s been “pushed in the best of ways.” She has a ring on her finger, too— she’s engaged and thrilled about it. At the core of all these things, for Jennifer, is her faith. She’s a devout Christian and a member of the Pentecostal Church of God, and she can’t really talk about anything without bringing up her faith. Her father is a pastor, and she both teaches Sunday school to preschoolers and works with her church’s youth group on Wednesdays. Jennifer is a psychology major, and while this has challenged her faith at times, she believes that her major has helped to “expand her horizons.”
Jennifer says that one of the things she asks herself before she posts is whether or not what she writes will “uplift” others. She wants to make other people happy.
“[Religion] is a big part of my life because I do have a relationship with God,” Jennifer says. “You know, we talk on a daily basis, and it definitely influences the decisions that I make. My faith is a big part of how I decide things I’m going to do, things I’m not going to do. I don’t think I worry as much as other people do because I believe that there’s a plan and there’s a purpose for everything that’s destined by God. So I don’t have to worry about the future as much, because even though it’s unforeseen, I know that everything will be okay.”
I begin to grow curious about the ways Jennifer’s Christianity will affect who she is online and what she posts, if at all. Most of the students I’ve interviewed are only nominally religious, so faith isn’t something they discuss when they’re talking about social media. And the more devout students I’ve met usually tell me that social media isn’t the place to talk about religion, and just generally students see posts that have anything to do with God, prayer, or even worship attendance as one of the biggest no-nos of online behavior, right alongside politics. It’s the old cliché about polite conversation updated for the twenty- first century. It’s best not to ruffle any feathers on social media— you never know who might be watching.
But Jennifer is very different. At first, she sounds like most everyone else, saying that she never really posts anything bad on social media— if you have a bad day, you should keep it to yourself. She posts happy things and things she’s thankful for. Jennifer says that one of the things she asks herself before she posts is whether or not what she writes will “uplift” others. She wants to make other people happy; she believes people will be happy for her when she’s doing well, and she also gets pleasure out of seeing others doing well. Jennifer gushes about the announcement she and her fiancé made about their engagement and how many “likes” and sweet comments they got. It was her most popular, most uplifting post ever— exactly the kind of thing that belongs on social media, in her opinion.
Then I ask Jennifer if she’s open about her faith on social media. Yes, she tells me, she definitely is. At first the posts Jennifer mentions that relate to her faith seem pretty low-key. If she finds twenty dollars, she’ll post something like, “Lord bless me today, I found twenty dollars.” Sometimes she’ll ask for prayers on Facebook, too, usually for things like an exam she’s studying for or a paper she needs to get done, but never for personal or emotional needs. “I don’t think the whole world needs to see [those things],” she says. “There’s a lot of people on Facebook who, I don’t want them to know my needs. I don’t confide in them like that. The people who I would request prayers from for personal needs or emotional situations, I would confront face to face, usually one- on- one.”
“So, I think you can spread the gospel, you can spread hope, you can spread love through social media, which would be, by doing that, you would be glorifying God and you would be uplifting Him. So I think He can use social media.”
This is where our conversation circles back to Jennifer’s earlier mention of God’s plan. “I think God can use anything for His glory,” she says. “Not everything on Earth may have been set up or created to glorify Him, but I think He can use it. So, I think you can spread the gospel, you can spread hope, you can spread love through social media, which would be, by doing that, you would be glorifying God and you would be uplifting Him. So I think He can use social media.”
I ask Jennifer to explain what exactly she means.
“Yeah, yeah,” she says, laughing. “I mean, not literally, you know. He doesn’t sit down and type up a message for you, or whatever. But, yeah, I think through people, because people are the ones that are using Facebook, and God can use people, so if He can use people to do anything, to preach in a pulpit, to sing a song, He can use them to type an encouraging message on Facebook, or spread hope or love through a post that could uplift others, or encourage them to continue, you know, the fight or whatever.” It’s not as if social media is holy, Jennifer wants to reassure me, it’s just that the Lord works in mysterious ways and sometimes it’s through Mark Zuckerberg, even if he doesn’t realize it.
While so many of Jennifer’s peers are working hard to please and impress their audience— future employers, professors, college administration, grandparents, sorority sisters, and fraternity brothers— Jennifer’s number one viewer is God. She believes God is always watching her, even on social media, so she posts accordingly, trying to appear happy at all times and to inspire others, but most of all to serve God.
When Jennifer goes online, she tries to ask herself, “Will this glorify God when I post this?” She doesn’t always do it, she tells me. She’s human, so she makes mistakes. But she believes that when she’s on Facebook she’s in a “role model state,” so she feels a responsibility to do the best she possibly can to allow God to work through her.
The difference between Jennifer and almost everyone else, though, is that the effort to please God and appear happy doesn’t seem to exhaust her. Rather, she seems invigorated by it.
Featured image credit: “Social media” by dizer. CC0 Public Domain via Pixabay.