Of Reality and Social Media, a Re-visit

In Monday’s post, Honor One Another, I mentioned the effect of social media on the psyche of our culture — how comparing our own lives to curated perfection can leaving us feeling less-than. While that post was a challenge for us to recognize the inherent value in one another despite accomplishment or status, this post is a friendly reminder that social media does not reflect a complete picture of anyone’s lived reality but a collection of snapshots from our highlight reels.

’tis the season of social media celebration, is it not?

If you’ve scrolled through Facebook or Instagram in the last few weeks you’ve seen photos of families posed in their Easter best, grads celebrating in caps and gowns, and smiling moms lauded as nothing short of perfection.

How you doin’?

I’m feeling kind of shitty, if I’m going to be honest.

I mean, yes, I love seeing all these photos, I really do.

I am happy for ya’all.

I am.

But am I the only one who is tempted to compare my life’s reality with the curated perfection often portrayed on social media?

Am I the only one who needs to talk myself back into the world of reality rehearsing words like, “What a lovely photo. How great that they were able to capture it! Surely their lives are full of all kinds of ups and downs, and they managed to capture an up.”

I have to remind myself that I, too, recently posted a smiling family photo that reflects just a moment, not the totality of our reality. We take a photo and post it on a day where we all managed to get dressed, comb our hair, and gather ourselves in the same location. We don’t post one on all the other days when we are in yoga pants lying on our couches watching Netflix and trying to find the motivation to be productive.

We post the miraculous moments when things are as they should be — when family is together, when babies are well, when friends reunite, and when we are celebrating life.

We don’t post ourselves trudging through the grocery store at 11pm trying to find an “item to share” for the work party the next day. We don’t share our stories of hair loss and psoriasis. We don’t post when our families experience brokenness, or betrayal, or heartbreak. Nobody wants to see all that.

But when I’m scrolling, I forget that, and I start to imagine that the photos reflect the full lived experience of the people in them:

The mother holding her newborn spends 24 hours a day gazing lovingly at a blissful bundle swaddled sweetly in her arms.

The capped and gowned graduate is always photo-ready — hair coiffed, make-up air-brushed, and outfit fresh and pressed.

The family hugged up and smiling never experiences conflict — rather they live in bliss and harmony seven days a week.

And when I’m looking at images in that way, I begin to compare my life to their lives, and I start feeling shitty.

Why do these people look so polished? How do they have such happy lives? Why don’t they struggle like we do? Where is their hurt? Where is their brokenness?

I don’t imagine the same mother, pajama-clad, hair flying, as she runs to the crying baby in the middle of the night. Or the college student, sleep-deprived and underfed, stumbling into the final exam, barely earning enough points to pass. Or the members of that family shouting at each other, ignoring one another, or crying, each alone in separate rooms.

Because we don’t post that stuff.

We post images like this:

Me with my dad and my godmother on Mother’s Day

Not this:

Me, blogging right now.

We want to show the beautiful, the picture-perfect, not the raw, unfiltered, reality of our flawed humanity.

But, let me assure you, behind every curated photo — every moment of celebration, every coiffed ‘do, and stylish dress — is struggle, conflict, challenge, and disappointment. We are all broken. Even those who appear near-perfect.

Perhaps that’s the reason we love social media so much — we love to show the world that, “see it’s not so bad after all!” We might be a walking hot mess six days of the week, but on the seventh we managed to pull it together, so we post photographic proof that it happened.

When I scroll through social media with that mindset — acknowledging that my feed reflects exceptional moments — I am able to smile and celebrate with the people in the photos. Good for you, Miss Winston for getting your Master’s degree! Congratulations, Emily on running a 5K with your family! Way to go, Tiger, for shooting that turkey! You did it! Hooray!

You’re all doing a great job. I know things aren’t always as great as they are in your photos, but I’m glad you occasionally get moments that are good enough to commemorate with a photo shared on social media.

For those of you who haven’t had a photo-worthy moment in a while — and I know you are out there — it’s ok to take a vacation from social media for a while. If you just can’t see one more perfectly posed image, walk away — delete the app for a while, be kind to yourself. It’s ok to sit on the couch with your hair uncombed and your teeth unbrushed, especially if the brokenness is too palpable, too fresh, too tender. Watch some Great British Baking Show, read Ann Voskamp or David Sedaris, listen to Lauren Daigle or Stevie Wonder, lean in, cry, write some words, take a bath, get some rest.

The season of shittiness will shift and you will have another day of celebration, and we’ll be watching for it. We’ll laugh with you, we’ll cry tears of joy and celebration, we’ll click ‘like’ or ‘love’, and we’ll clap our hands.

In the mean time, if you want somebody to come sit on your couch with you–eating potato chips and flicking the crumbs off your chest — reach out. Plenty of us are willing to come into the swamp with you. And, who knows, maybe we’ll take a moment to post a picture.

a time to weep, a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;”

Ecclesiasties 3:4

Juxtaposition, re-visit

This post, written in October 2015, gets dusted off in October 2019 — I needed a reminder of my role.

The other day I was trying to explain the term ‘juxtaposition’ to a student. I think I said something like, “when we juxtapose two items, we set them side by side in an attempt to highlight their differences.”

I’m sitting here examining the glaring differences when I juxtapose my life with the life of Christ. It’s embarrassing, really. Especially when I consider myself to be not only a Christian, but a leader in the church. It’s humbling, and sobering, to think that others look to my husband and I as examples of what Christians should be.  In a perfect world, we would be mirrors that merely reflect the love and grace of God to all those around us. In reality, this mirror is warped, cracked, and positioned in such a way that the reflection is sometimes unrecognizable.

For example, yesterday, I pridefully posted on Facebook that I had used inappropriate language to deal with a medical insurance agent regarding some services for one of our children. “I showed her who was boss, yes I did.” As people liked that post throughout the day, I had a mixture of feelings — the satisfaction that others had experienced the same emotions that I had in similar experiences, the pride that I had written a post that others ‘liked’ (yes, I am that shallow), and, a hint of shame. “Really, Kristin, you are celebrating the fact that you resorted to low means to achieve your goal? Would you have had the same outcome if you had remained calm and gracious? Was it really necessary to get so charged up?”

Now, to be fair, the situation I was confronted with was a bit ridiculous.  A change in policy was, in my opinion, unjustified, irresponsible, and unnecessary.  However, did my response also need to be ridiculous?  And, after I had apologized to the innocent agent I was dealing with, did I really have to haughtily post my poor reflection of Christ for all the world to see?

Yeah, I’m often a poor reflection. Let’s juxtapose my behavior with an imagination of Christ’s reaction in a similar situation. He would be sitting in his office on the phone, calmly listening to the agent, asking questions, probably speaking directly into her life, picking up on nuances of her tone and reaching out to her need. He might ask who He could talk to about this recent policy change, but would He raise his voice? utter a vulgarity? or celebrate His breech of character on social media?

I doubt it.

When we juxtapose ourselves with perfection we find ourselves looking like a hot mess, because indeed we are hot messes. And that is why, my friends, God is the covenant keeper. (See my recent post “Didn’t He do it?”) We can’t keep the covenant. We can’t keep our commitment to be image bearers for Christ because we are a bunch of warped, cracked, misshapen mirrors. We reflect His image poorly. All the time. Even when we think we are getting it right.

And yet, every once in a while, He uses these imperfect mirrors, tips them at just such an angle so that others get a glimpse of His fabulousness.  And in those moments, we don’t haughtily post on Facebook, but we drop to our knees in humble gratitude for having a front row seat.  Because when we juxtapose ourselves with Christ, and take our eyes off of our own imperfection, we see what true perfection looks like. And we are amazed.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

I Corinthians 13:12