(or, how to escape digital envy.)
The environment of social networking and 24 hour showcasing of our lives online can breed new insecurities for a lot of people by making the aesthetics of our life seem austere to the plain observer. Even to our friends and family, we are able to show beautiful Instagrammed photos of our child, but those same people don’t see a picture of your kid screaming like a banshee with snot running down his/her face. We essentially “airbrush” our lives to those around us by creating an aesthetic that displays the perfection in our lives and ignores the ugliness. I think a lot of this comes from the more commercialistic aspects of our society which are saturated with pristine, manicured images.
I personally try not to do this but it’s hard not to put your best image out there. Nobody want to be made to feel like an outsider. I’m scruffy and not of any athletic build, so my Facebook photos look like a pudgy dwarf. I’m usually doing something silly with my kids, smiling so you don’t see my double-chin or posting funny pics of things that have nothing to do with me. Then I see on my newsfeed, one of my other twentysomething Facebook friends’ shows a smiling photo of him hiking in the Rocky Mountains or something. I’ve made life choices that made me a dad and they made life choices that made them be able to be Grizzly Adams for a weekend. One isn’t better than the other.
It’s important that I remain comfortable in my own skin and stop worrying about what other people are doing, because if not, digital envy can creep up on me. What is the main problem with the sin of envy? I believe it’s forgetting. We start to forget all the good things God has given us, losing that tenuous grip on the things he made us to love and be thankful for, like, our spouses, or children or any other significant figure that has seen you in a t-shirt, sweatpants and messy hair or no make-up.
I know I’m far from perfect. I am overweight, prone to selfishness and I usually have to ask my wife to remind me if I’m doing anything that night. The friends I accumulate on Facebook and Twitter -they don’t see much of that because those aren’t really things I want to show to just anybody and I doubt anyone wants to see a picture of my beer belly. But you know what? None of that has to matter because half of those people know me but they don’t know me in the most intimate ways. They can’t. It would be virtually impossible for over 400 people to know the intimate details of my life and holy crap that would be exhausting!
Some people like to tell you “Just worry about what God thinks about you” as if that’s easy for the insecure ones of us. They mean well, but the problem is I already know that God loves me no matter what. That isn’t so plain when I see the polished lives of others online. No, I think it’s more productive for me to think about what God is calling all of us to be.
When I feel that I can’t move forward or like I’m an utter failure, I remember Paul’s words that I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me. It’s not my messy house that matters to Him, but my messy existence. Now, I can begin to see beyond any dark points in my life which are a result of comparing the mannequins in every virtual window to the utter bliss of when I am finally united to God in complete communion. The micro-level anxiety of my average life is suddenly filled with meaning, because I am in Christ. I am connected to the God of the universe. All of His love, grace and joy is right in front of me. Every day I have such a hard time seeing that, but it’s actually more tangible to me than my Internet social network is. It’s also a more interesting story.
So, I guess my point is that anybody (but especially Christians) shouldn’t have to worry about other’s perfect lives. Our perfection lies within our imperfection, because the imperfections make up our reality. I think it’s much more boring for someone’s perfect Facebook life to match up with their real life. It’s more exciting to have coffee with someone and find out the personal details that make up their imperfect, created selves. Real connections will show us the tangible work of God in our own lives and the lives of others. Take time to have coffee with a Facebook friend you’ve never had the chance to get more acquainted with before. Open your life up to someone and let them open up to you. Your digital envy may then be replaced with divine friendship.