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.
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.
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?