My friend Ashley and I sat outside Starbucks the other night, sipping our “low calorie” drinks. (Humor us and let’s not get into specifics like calorie counts or nutritional values, mmm-kay?) While we sipped we discussed something that’s bothering me lately, but we didn’t solve anything.

And then the following day my friend Paul and I had a repeat of the same conversation.

Which is a version of what Eric and I had already been discussing all week long. And now I bring the conversation to you, my beloved reader, to get your input.

The topic? Authenticity on the internet. 

Specifically, how can we represent our lives in an honest, but uplifting, way on social media? Because let’s be frank– things are going a little sideways here in Interweb Perfect World, and I think the consequences are far more dangerous than we anticipate.

The conversation started last Friday night, as Eric and I drove alone to Taco-Tuesday-on-a-Friday (don’t ask– it involves a pontoon boat and bacon and we call it what we want) with friends. Eric casually asked if I’d heard that one of my favorite women’s ministry leaders had decided to divorce her husband.

I gasped out loud and my mouth hung open and I probably looked like one of those fish who breathes her last on the sand.

Basically this face…

I dove for my phone to look up the blog post he referenced, and he was completely accurate. While I only have her side of the story, it appears from the outside that the grounds for divorce are biblical and she tried everything to reconcile.

For two years she’s lived this private nightmare. I mentally reviewed her posts– I remember beautiful photos from her daughters’ weddings, adorable grandbabies, and even a bad health scare.

I don’t remember anything about a broken heart or relationship. I didn’t see any puffy red eyes or angry rants, but I did see a carefully curated assortment of beautiful and inspirational photos.

I firmly believe that part of this is due to her maturity. It’s tacky and awful to air your husband’s failures to the entire world, especially if you have any desire to restore that marriage to health.

Of course we want to discern carefully when we post. We think of others, we think of privacy, and we think about how an embarrassing post might be irrevocable. Mature people think before they communicate. Thank goodness and hallelujah for that.

But this whole event made me wonder how many other public marriages are quietly failing. What about other favorite authors? The ministers at our churches? The leaders of national ministries? The need to uphold a public image plus the desire to encourage others’ faith is probably leading too many people to hide their personal pain, messes, and failure.

church split

Is it any different for the rest of us?

I doubt it. Even if we don’t have ministries or book sales at stake, I think we’re all curating our images on social media. Again, some of that is due to maturity. Nobody likes a whiney baby with constant bad news. I have been known to quietly unfollow acquaintances who publicly air their never-ending pity party.

Some of our posts, however, have little to do with maturity and a lot to do with ego. When we’re looking especially cute and our family is acting in a way that reflects well upon us, then we bust out the camera and make sure it makes it online. This is perfectly natural behavior, but I think we all know “perfectly natural behavior” is often little more than dressed up sin.

Pride is a sneaky stinker. It silently slides in between us and our loved ones, causing divisions and bad feelings. Even when we don’t mean for our post to make others feel bad, we’re certainly enjoying how good it makes us feel, so we often don’t think too deeply about whether those words are puffing up our ego instead of communicating honestly about our life.

Before we get depressed and delete all our social media accounts, I do have two suggestions for how we can dig ourselves out of this social media image game and begin to show an encouraging peek into our lives.

Stop fearing the mess of real life.

Our friends are each slogging through their own mess. Why can’t we join each other there, where we really live? My friend Brenda Yoder posted something perfect on Instagram last week. It was her kitchen sink, piled high with dishes. I loved it. And she offered encouragement and grace from her very real kitchen situation. It’s been several days and I can only hope she’s dug her way to the bottom of the sink.

My friend Christina often shows the hilarious messes her kids make– she sees no need to convince us that her children are shiny angels with golden halos. And she does it in a way that endears those children to us, without embarrassing anyone. Also, anytime Christina kills off another kitchen appliance she posts it. I think she’s up to her tenth crock pot, which only makes me love her more.

There’s a way to share real life without being a weirdo who depresses everyone. Maybe we should get Brenda and Christina to teach classes on the art.

Start to make face-to-face quality time a priority.

You know where my best relationships thrive? Face to face.

Our small group meets on Monday nights, and because of the dynamics of the group (eighteen adults and approximately one hundred toddlers/infants) we share real, gritty life together. There’s no pretending in a group that always includes poopy pants. We’ve been in deep discussion about the Bible and turned our heads to find a completely naked child in the room. Noodles have been thrown. I have locked horns with my child who thinks that two grapes and five brownies constitute a real meal– right in front of these friends.

All I’m saying is that you can’t pretend life is perfect when your kid has poop climbing up his back or your tween decides to engage in a battle of wills in the church kitchen. The truth betrays our efforts to convince people we have our acts together.

Two hours after small group I see my friends’ new posts of their adorable children. I’m not fooled– I know these perfect photos are part of the truth, but the poopy pants are also part of the deal. But I wouldn’t know that if I didn’t make en effort to get close enough to smell those kids.

What do you think?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Could we make an effort to allow our friends into our real lives, instead of curating masks that keep them at a distance? What would that look like for you?

This week, let’s make that effort. Amen?

Amen.

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6 Comments on When social media misses the important half of the story

  1. Beth Sowles
    June 26, 2017 at 12:22 pm (3 months ago)

    eeek. I think this is why I have been hesitating to post very much lately. I feel like I’m being whiny, pity partyish and even I get tired of myself. But to be honest, there just isn’t much ‘pretty’ about my life right now. Cancer – and treatments – suck wads. But like you pointed out, the people who KNOW me, know about my stinky life right now. So I get caught in that space of what do I want to post, if anything?

    But I also have friends, just like you pointed out, if I didn’t know them better, and just knew what they posted, I’d believe their lives are a fairy tale in real life.

    I don’t have an answer either :/

  2. Jessica Morgan Clemence
    June 26, 2017 at 12:35 pm (3 months ago)

    It’s so tricky! And I’m sorry about the sucky cancer. I wish I had a simple answer for you, but obviously neither of us have any good answers. Maybe just by opening up the discussion we’ll get some clarity.

  3. Abbie Kurti
    June 26, 2017 at 1:50 pm (3 months ago)

    I don’t think we live much differently now than before social media, social media has just made us see what we didn’t have access to look at before. I’m not familiar with the story about the woman you mentioned, and don’t have the time to hit the link right now, but chances are this would have all happened even if you didn’t know about all the great stuff that was going on in her life either. And great things continue to happen in life even when some parts are horrible. When my dad was dieing of cancer I still went to the Valentine Dance. The good and bad of life usually happen simultaniously, social media has allowed people to easily advertise the good.

    I have been blessed with many good friends in my life, but I share certain things with just a few. Some relationships just go deeper than others. Marital struggles tend to be deeper issues than celebrating a wedding. Only a few know about the former, it’s not as important who knows about the latter. This woman didn’t open up the marital struggle to the world of social media, just the devastating result that would probably be shared publicly at some point, she chose to control that point in time.

    Just the other day on a hiking page I’m a member of a young woman posted a short video. The gist was: her marriage is falling apart, her body hurts (from the hiking) and she was all alone on the trail. She said all of this through tears. Most of the responses were something like, “You’re doing great, just keep going.” One gal mentioned she met Jesus during her divorce and that helped a lot. But I don’t want this girl to get divorced. I don’t know if she knows Jesus yet or not, but I felt I needed to say something, and it needed to be real. So I told her that in the past 21 years my marriage has fallen apart many times, and thankfully been put back together just as many. I said it, to a perfect stranger, on a page with 8,000 other women, I don’t have a perfect marriage.

    But who does? Well, most of my friends probably think I do have a good marriage (and these days it is pretty great) but in the past 21 years it hasn’t always been. But most of my friends, before and since social media, wouldn’t know any of the struggles we’ve endured. Most humans just don’t live at that deep a level with one another. I don’t think they did before social media, and I don’t think social media is going to encourage people to do so now. It has to be a conscious, meaningful effort on our own parts to get real with people, and we’re only going to do that through actual, physical connections. Face-to-face, phones off and put away, you have all of my attention kind of interaction.

  4. Jessica Morgan Clemence
    June 26, 2017 at 5:03 pm (3 months ago)

    I totally agree that not much has changed, but how we have access to others has changed a lot! I also agree that we share certain things with certain people, for a variety of reasons.

    This ministry leader I mention– I have a feeling that a professional marketer runs that page we all see, and she has a real-life page she only shares with friends and family. She’s putting an inspirational image out there, which is fine. But I just don’t want people to unconsciously assume that what we see is her every day reality, then try to emulate it.

    Thanks for the great thoughts!

  5. lardavbern
    June 26, 2017 at 9:45 pm (3 months ago)

    NOthing like face to face – that’s for sure.
    You are right social media is a bit of a game. We put out the image we want seen.
    It’s also true of us bloggers. I’ve had people tell me something like we haven’t spoken much lately but I know what’s going on with you – I read your blog.
    And it’s true.. to some extent. However, a mature person does consider what they put out there. Just as you wouldn’t share everything with everyone, you think twice about what you put on your blog. Well, I know I do.

  6. Jessica Morgan Clemence
    June 26, 2017 at 9:57 pm (3 months ago)

    I do try. I find it especially hard to balance as the kids get older. I don’t want to put up a front like we have a perfect family and rainbows shoot out our ears, but they’re old enough now to read my blog. And sometimes their friends do too! I often choose silence over embarrassment.