Like all of my human family, my perception of what is true, good, and beautiful has been tainted by sin. In fact, only recently am I realizing how far I have to go to rid myself of all the twists that have shaped my view of even just the concept of beauty. When I gave up on the world’s version of beauty all those many years ago, I didn’t realize that I hadn’t given up some ideal of the “perfect image” in my head. And I’m not only talking about a perfect body, although I held loosely to the idea that such a thing is possible too. I’m talking about wanting to in some way, be perceived as perfect. To put it another way, I’ve always wanted others to think I’m getting it right. This is, I believe, a form of perfectionism. It’s a foolish concept, really, but one I’ve struggled with my whole life, especially with regard to the way I’m perceived. It is ironic, (and quite shameful) that I often care more about whether other people think I’m good, than actually being good. There are countless examples of how this plays out in my life. How many of my littlest decisions are motivated simply by wanting to be perceived in the best possible light. The tape in my head is often shouting, “but what will people think?!”
Please tell me you can relate.
I bring all this up, because at this moment in history, with the widespread use of social media, we’ve each been afforded a unique opportunity to showcase in a public way the images we want to portray about our lives, and indeed, about who we are. We have the ability to project whatever kind of image we want to project, regardless of whether it’s authentic, and to become “known” to strangers we may never even meet. That is, if we have enough filters...and passwords.
As social media has made its way into my life, I have tried hard to portray an authentic and accurate picture of my own life. I’ve also sought to temper my use of social media with ‘real life’, in-person, flesh and blood relationships that reveal my most authentic self. But even so, I’ve also noticed a definite temptation to an over-analysis of other people’s online lives. On the one hand I’m grateful to be invited into people’s personal daily lives. In countless ways my life has been positively impacted because of profound and even vulnerable things people have shared on spaces like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. But at other times, it has also felt like a sort of voyeuristic peek into friends lives -- sometimes they are total strangers even. There have been times when I have managed to get caught up in the fantasy of ‘what their life must be like’, and it can leave me feeling ashamed and lacking.
These feelings have opened up questions in my heart, and have me struggling to decipher if there’s a best (agh...more perfectionism) way to incorporate social media into not only my own life, but even our ministry. I feel like I have a thousand questions, but so far I’m working with these:
Is it possible that by using the lens of what I am willing to share on social media, I’ve been guilty of depicting a fantasy-like image? Could our public sharing of some of the most beautiful, attractive, and well-curated snippets of our lives, actually have the unintended effect of leading another to believe that the gifts God has given them are somehow inferior to the ones He’s given us? And does the responsibility for this fallacy fall more on the person projecting the image, or the person taking the image in? Is my life actually enriched by participation in social media platforms to which I subscribe? Does my use of social media enrich other people’s lives? What even counts as social media?
I don’t have many answers, but even the pondering of these has led me to significantly cut back on my own personal social media engagement, and to focus on the here and now, and love even more freely those people with whom I am currently sharing oxygen.
For now, I do know this much: if our private lives don’t match our ‘public face’ we have room to grow in the proper use of social media. Similarly, if our interior life doesn’t match our exterior social media life, we aren’t on the right path either. The rest is murky, at best, and I’m probably going to have to resign myself to the fact that there’s probably not a way to get it right.