When Life Goes Viral

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Hi! I’m Panda, and I like Hallmark Christmas movies.

This past Christmas, I said that sentence 38 times as my two friends (Bran and Dan) and I watched and reviewed every single new Hallmark Christmas movie for The Deck the Hallmark podcast.

In two months, our podcast was downloaded over half a million times, with write ups in Southern Living Magazine, and Brit + Co. The podcast was listed on Esquire as one of the top 21 podcasts of 2018. Good Morning America decided to fly us up to New York not once, but twice, to talk about Christmas movies.

The story of how we started the podcast, how we got on Good Morning America and became the largest Christmas podcast is weird and surreal. It happened quickly and was truly one of the most disorienting experiences of my life.

In one day, I found out that Good Morning America had talked about our podcast in a brief segment. The producers then called us and asked to fly us to New York that night so we could appear live the next morning. As a small business owner, I frantically wrapped up last minute business, had my wife run to buy me a Christmas sweater and rushed to the airport.

After our appearance, our podcast had surged to the 11th most downloaded podcast on iTunes. I had to turn off my phone since it would not stop ringing and chiming with text message notifications.

In the following days we were contacted by agents wanting to create TV shows, requests for us to do live appearances on radio and TV spots and a flood of emails from new fans.

And I was totally overwhelmed.

An “Old and Slow” Faith

In our hyper-connected age, virality is an ever-present possibility. Virality holds the allure that every status update we make, every blog post we write, every video we upload, every podcast we record could launch us to temporary fame. It is an intoxicating, rare prospect, like having a winning lottery ticket or going to McDonald’s and finding the ice cream machine works.

I had the occasional daydream of what it would be like for something I was a part of to go viral. But when the reality hit, my world was upended. I was not prepared for the influx of quick decisions my friends and I had to make, the sudden change in my schedule, the constant barrage of communication that was required. It wasn’t at all like I imagined.

Can I be transparent? My faith in God and the demands of virality felt at odds. My belief in God felt very “old and slow” next to the speed and flash of the entertainment industry and social media buzz. My prayer life was distracted by the buzz of my phone. When I opened my Bible, I longed for a simple message from God about what I should do next. Instead, I found myself encountering discussions of justification, stories of kings and Psalms calling down curses on enemies. All intriguing stuff. All stuff I didn’t feel was immediately useful.

I felt lost, tired and frustrated.

The greatest roadblock to my intimacy with God was distraction.

A New Normal

Things did slow down—in January. And when it was over, I felt emotionally and spiritually drained. I also wasn’t quite sure what to do. I went on this rollercoaster of emotions for the past two months straight. I knew that life wasn’t going to be the same again.

For one thing, we now had thousands of followers and supporters. We now had expectations for season two and tour dates for live shows. We had an entire year of Hallmark movies to watch.

It was during this time I started journaling (a practice I had long neglected). As I spent time writing down my thoughts, reading Scripture and trying to make sense of what I had come through, I realized several important things.

First, the blitz of media attention, regardless of how strong your faith is, is tremendously disorienting. I don’t care how much theology you have read, when the most improbable of events occurs, it is shocking.

Second, the greatest roadblock to my intimacy with God was distraction. My brain craved the instant feedback I would receive by getting emails, Facebook messages, calls and more. It was a rush that made literally everything feel unimportant in contrast. I was not expecting this feeling nor prepared to deal with it well.

Third, the very faith that felt “old and slow” was the fastest thing to adapt to the changes. Here is what I mean: as I was bombarded with data, information and communication, what I knew to be true about God became more precious than ever. When I felt that I couldn’t pray, I leaned into the grace of God to know my deepest needs and fears. When I felt overwhelmed, I ran to Scripture that I knew by heart to quiet my soul. When I was uncertain or fearful about entering into the world of entertainment, I trusted in the sovereignty of God to guide my steps.

My faith was the bedrock that allowed me to survive the onslaught. Those stories in the Bible that felt so distant and remote, after some reflection, reminded me that several thousand years ago there were people who were immersed in a world of uncertainty—and often times battles of life and death. They survived with their faith intact.

These stories also reminded me that as important as things felt in the moment, what was occurring to me is just a very small part of a much larger, longer story. I am not the center of the world. I will one day be forgotten. And the next generation will face a new sort of virality and figure out how Christianity plays a role within their context.

That thought is supremely comforting to me. I am not that important in the grand scheme of things. Christ is still king. His is still the sole source of salvation. His life, death and resurrection still mark the most important event in all of history. Though the earth may crumble and fall, or you get invited on a daytime TV show or get a million likes on Facebook, God will not change.

Editor’s Note: Next Week, Daniel will offer practical tips on what to do before you go viral.

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  • christmas
  • social media
Daniel Pandolph

Daniel Pandolph is the CEO of Ministry Assistant Services, a virtual assistant company helping churches and non-profits, a podcaster on The Deck the Hallmark podcast and a high school Bible teacher. When he isn't watching Hallmark movies, Daniel enjoys reading theology, hanging out with his wife, Hayley and his daughter, Lily, and eating lots of good food in Greenville, SC.

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