I can’t tell you how many times during the past six weeks of summer school I’ve had to remind my students, “That’s a tool, not a toy.” (Props to @karenmcbrien for teaching me this phrase.) Some of those little friends can’t help but turn pipettes into water cannons, latex gloves into boxing bags, and pipe cleaners into light sabers. Now I’m all for creativity, but when we choose to use tools the wrong way, people can get hurt. And they do. I’ve seen the tears and irritated eyes to prove it.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about social media. It’s awesome, but I think it’s often misused. It should be a way for us to connect with those who are far away or share pictures of the experiences and people we love. Instead, it often becomes a way for us to prove our “with-it-ness” and a ruler against which we measure our worth. And that’s not safe. Let me tell you what I mean. Get ready, this is real talk.
I feel good about myself most of the time. Sure, I have days when my hair is frizzy and I begrudge the fact that I forgot to bring a sweater, but I can deal with it. I see people with whom I can share my heart, I learn new things, and I discover how to gracefully navigate new situations (again, thanks @karenmcbrien and @brendanmcbrien for being great models). I tend to be a busy bee. When I find myself with a few moments of downtime between classes or chapters or as I wait for my smoothie to be ready, I sometimes decide to check Instagram.
I see the Eiffel Tower and jungles of Thailand and Spanish beaches. I see cones of gelato held over cobblestone streets and beautiful views from hotel rooms. I see perfect pouts and ballet workouts and rain clouds in Boston and Maine. I see trips to movie studios and cups of lemonade and friends smiling between brides and grooms.
I see sun-kissed girls in bikinis with thigh gaps. I see engagement pictures and aesthetically-pleasing trips to coffee shops. I see blurry gazes after loud nights and tiny desserts on dazzling plates. I see concerts and updos and splurges and puppies and new apartments that could grace a magazine.
In those few tiny moments as I scroll, I look into the lives of others and often find myself no longer satisfied with my own.
I feel ordinary. My skin is too light and my wardrobe too plain and my bank account far too small to travel. My ring finger feels empty and my profession seems predictable and my palette too dull and my body not beautiful.
And so I sometimes feel the need to put the very best parts of my life forward to show others that I, too, “have it together.”
This. Is. Wrong. How could something that is meant to bring joy instead empty me of my hope and confidence? Is it just me?
I see this starting early in children. These young eyes see into what the world deems valuable and meaningful and these little hearts feel a deep desire to look and act in ways that make them worthy, too. This is why kids want to see movies that are far too mature for them. This is why middle schoolers look like they’re twenty instead of thirteen. This is why kids spend hours on YouTube learning video game hacks and makeup tricks.
God made each of us to be unique, truly He did. He loves each of those kids in my class so much and I plan to remind them each school day how special and valuable they are. I struggle with that truth for myself but I know that the Gospel is so much more beautiful and powerful than anything I see on a screen.
My life is not picture-perfect. I sometimes buy microwave meals and wear the same outfit two days in a row. My desk can get messy. I sometimes feel embarrassed and sad and get impatient while I drive. But I also like to paint pretty things and I have a boyfriend who loves me in the sweetest ways. I hike to beautiful places and often have coffee in cute corners with lovely friends. I hammock quietly and worship deeply and read novels that move me to tears. Life– REAL life– is full of easy things and hard things. It is made of beautiful things and ordinary things. It is a series of triumphs and mistakes, a cycle of sin and grace.
So let’s remember to use social media in ways that are honest and right. Let’s remember that Jesus paid a great sacrifice for us and that our worth is found in Him, not in what we have done or have yet to do. Let’s remember that pictures are only tiny pieces of a greater story– a seemingly-perfect life still has its hiccups and insecurities. Let’s remember how much deeper and richer experiences are than the photos that show them. Let’s remember that we don’t need to prove ourselves or measure ourselves, especially with something as fleeting as light on a screen.
A screen is just glass, and you are worth so much more than that.
Let’s cultivate relationships that are healthy and lasting. Let’s detox from things that trick us into thinking that what we see is all there is. Let’s take breaks from social media to remember the sweet blessings we have growing in our gardens. We don’t have to prove these experiences to anyone and we don’t have to measure them against anyone else’s. Each of us is so special and so wonderful and so important. May we never lose sight of who God fearfully and wonderfully made us to be!
Here’s a sweet quote from Little Women, a sweet book about a poor family with four growing daughters. Jo, the second daughter, listens to her sisters quietly bemoan their poverty when considering the luxurious and easy lives of their friends. The author uses her response to speak a sweet and and honest truth:
“‘I don’t believe fine young ladies enjoy themselves a bit more than we do, in spite of our burnt hair, old gowns, one glove apiece, and tight slippers, that sprain our ankles when we are silly enough to wear them.’ And I think Jo was quite right.”
Your story is wonderful and worth telling in the right way. Let’s talk about these hard things and encourage one another in love. Stay cool, wherever you are!