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The most important lessons 4 women learned from doing President Nelson's social media challenge

SALT LAKE CITY — Deloras Collins had been watching general conference throughout the day on Oct. 6 when she stepped away briefly during the women's session to give her son a ride.

Upon her return, the 59-year-old Latter-day Saint from Chico, California, opened Facebook in time to see a few of her friends signing off the social media website for the next 10 days.

"What in the world?" Collins said.

Following quick web search, Collins learned of President Russell M. Nelson's four-part invitation to sisters in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with the first being "a 10-day fast from social media and from any other media that brings negative or impure thoughts to your mind."

Read a summary of President Nelson's address given during the women's session of October 2018 general conference.

"Pray to know which influences to remove during your fast," President Nelson said. "The effect of your 10-day fast may surprise you. What do you notice after taking a break from perspectives of the world that have been wounding your spirit? Is there a change in where you now want to spend your time and energy? Have any of your priorities shifted — even just a little? I urge you to record and follow through with each impression."

Attendees sing outside Temple Square during the 188th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018.
Attendees sing outside Temple Square during the 188th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred

For Collins and many others, taking a break from social media and writing down observations and lessons learned became a meaningful and even a life-changing experience.

"I've gained a greater testimony of a living prophet," Collins said. "If he asks us to do something, we need to have the faith to follow him as he follows our Heavenly Father. If he asks us to do something, it's not just something off the top of his head, there's a reason for it. In this conference I learned that reason — to remind us what's more important in life."

Collins, who joined the Church in her late teens and later served a mission, once had teachers tell her she was a good writer. So she decided to document her social media fast with a daily journal entry.

"I wanted to express how I was feeling as I was going through it. There were a lot of emotions," Collins said. "It became a learning experience and I wanted to share it with friends."

The first 24 hours were difficult. As a divorced mother with a son in college, Facebook is Collins' main connection to the outside world. She initially missed one friend's regular "Good Morning" post and wondered if another friend's daughter had her baby, among other missed online interactions.

Finally Collins called someone. They talked for more than an hour. She reached out to others. They agreed to communicate directly more often.

"These short but profound conversations brought tears," Collins wrote in her journal. "It was nice to remember and feel that love of true friends."

The next day Collins realized the fast was not a punishment, but a gift.

"I'm not missing the negative news," she wrote. "My outlook seems so much brighter."

As the days passed, Collins found herself praying more and reading the Book of Mormon. She was also more productive. On Day 6, she and her son began cleaning up their garage.

“My outlook seems so much brighter. ”

On Day 8, she wrote: "I see the plan for his challenge. I definitely see that what I wanted was indeed not what I needed. I needed to trust and follow the words of a prophet. I feel blessed for doing so."

"If I got only one thing from the challenge it is this — I have remembered how exciting it is to be a member of this Church," Collins penned on Day 9.

When her social media fast was over, Collins shared her writings with a small group of friends. More male friends responded than women, which she didn't expect. Her male friends expressed support and gratitude for her words.

Other friends accused Collins of being judgmental. She was also quoted in a Relief Society lesson, she found out later.

Her biggest takeaway from the 10-day social media fast?

"Personal communication," Collins said. "People have thousands of 'friends' and yet they feel lonely. We need to talk to each other and spend more time with each other on a personal level."

Tracey Christensen, of Provo, Utah, wasn't surprised by President Nelson's challenge. When the Prophet asked the youth of the Church to do a seven-day social media fast last June, she joined her three teenagers in that experience. This time it was for her, and she started almost immediately after the women's session.

Although she doesn't spend a "huge amount of time or energy" on social media each day, the break was beneficial, Christensen said.

Following her fast, Christensen listed five things she gained: more time, more personal connections, she read more, she pondered more, and her home felt more peaceful (or "was I more peaceful?", she wrote in a Facebook post).

"Even if the only benefit was more time in my day then it was worthwhile," Christensen said. "It was easy for me to carve out more time to read the Book of Mormon, to find more time in the temple and spend more meaningful moments with my kids. I can't say some big miraculous thing, but definitely my time was magnified."

Christensen concluded that social media itself isn't bad, but it is a matter of learning to master its use. She also felt blessed for acting quickly on President Nelson's invitation, she said.

"(President Nelson) does understand exactly what we need and that was proven to me through my experience," Christensen said.

Amanda Leach, a lifelong member living in Santaquin, Utah, was excited to see how a break from social media might influence her life in a positive way. She was willing to make the sacrifice even thought it would affect her skin care business. Leach also invited her twin 18-year-old nieces to join her, which they did.

After a few days she realized she had a greater grasp on everything in her life. She felt better because there wasn't an urge to compare herself to others. While her business traffic slowed some, there was more direct communication.

Members of the Young Women Choir from Stakes in Pleasant Grove form hearts with their hands as President Russell M. Nelson leaves the general women's session of the 188th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held in the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City on Oct. 6, 2018.
Members of the Young Women Choir from Stakes in Pleasant Grove form hearts with their hands as President Russell M. Nelson leaves the general women's session of the 188th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held in the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City on Oct. 6, 2018. Photo: Laura Seitz

"It actually felt really good," Leach said. "Yes, it did take my business down a bit but what I took out of it was worth more to me."

The fast gave Leach a new perspective.

"I feel less pressure," she said. "It's not so big in my life anymore."

Chelsey Ortega, of Orem, Utah, felt prepared for the social media fast because a week earlier she felt inspired to uninstall the Facebook app on her phone and only access it from a computer. She "went dark" right immediately after the women's session.

During her 10-day experience, Ortega received personal revelation on how to help her son with homework, she read the Book of Mormon and found more important things to do with extra time she no longer spent scrolling a news feed. She did confess to looking up something quickly on Facebook and Pinterest, but just once.

When the 10 days were up, Ortega didn't want to get back on Facebook or Twitter, but did want to reconnect with her friends. The first post she read was negative and she didn't stay long. She opted not to reinstall Facebook or Twitter on her phone and wrote about her overall experience in a blog.

"I loved being off of social media for 10 days. I didn't miss it," Ortega wrote. "This fast was good for me."

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