It used to be a Hollywood thing.
Cameras flashing on a red carpet filled with amazing looking couples smiling together…magazine covers of perfect bodies….weddings that looked like they were straight out of Disney. When I was growing up the average American was infatuated with pictures and images of people with incredible lives and relationships.
THEN A HARVARD DROP OUT CHANGED THE INTERNET FOREVER…
Then social media became a thing. And while no one that I know is Jennifer Aniston famous, websites like Instagram and Facebook can give the illusion that we are similar. We now have 400 or 900 or 2500 people at our disposal, who can see every picture we take relaxing on a perfect vacation at the beach, every professionally done engagement and wedding picture, every picture of our well dressed and smiling children. It doesn’t even matter that for many, a lot of their friends or followers are not really close friends at all. I wonder if that contributes to the celebrity illusion.
As always when I write on topics like this I give this disclaimer: I think it’s great that people have a way to share pictures and life events. And let me be equally clear that I do not think it is wise to air dirty laundry on social media. We need encouragement on social media especially when cultural wars dominate our feeds. However, I cannot help but wonder if the ability to put only the best parts of our lives out there to hundreds or thousands of people, especially in pictures, can create an environment of wanting our lives to look picture perfect. And I also wonder if that, in turn, can become somewhat of an idol.
AND I’M OVER HERE IN MY SWEATPANTS AND POTATO CHIP CRUMBS ON MY SHIRT
I say this because I know my thoughts when I am on social media. As much as I want to pretend I am happy for others, I am tempted to be jealous at times. My wife and I are not even trying to have kids, yet when I see others making baby announcements I wish it was us getting all the congrats. When I see other men getting kudos on Facebook for doing something special for their wife, I sometimes feel badly if I didn’t do anything similar for Kayla that day. And the list goes on and on. It happens because when I’m seeing these picture perfect things on the internet, I’m often at home in some everyday, menial, mundane part of life. I’m certain I’m not alone. More than once I have heard people complain that Pinterest turns wedding planning into a competition to see whose big day can be the cutest, the most extravagant, the most picture perfect. The stress level this creates can be unhealthy. But if image is an idol then you will sacrifice for it, as we all do for whatever we worship.
The truth is in the American church when we list off potential idols that compare to Baal in the Bible we nearly always talk about money or sex. And while they are potent idols in our culture, I personally do not know many rich people or even a ton of upper middle class individuals. I don’t know too many marriages that end due to affairs and while I’m sure I know more porn addicts than I am aware of, at least that is something that is done in shameful secret. The idol of the picture perfect life seems to be for more public and far less shameful. I dare say social media celebrates it. I’m not even sure it is just the American Dream I am referring to even though that could be a part. I’m referring more to the desire for people to think we have picture perfect relationships, picture perfect experiences, picture perfect lives.
YOU CAN BE REAL ON SOCIAL MEDIA WITHOUT AIRING DIRTY LAUNDRY
Every now and then I’ll read a post on social media that combats this. I’ve read adoptive parents speak to the struggle of acclimating a child to a new family. I’ve read people share how having a miscarriage tore their world apart. Here at Rambling Ever On, we have articles from our writers who have struggled with Anger, who’ve written about the temptation of marital discontentment, who have spoken plainly about how horrific their first year on a job was and who’ve written about how waiting on God can mess with your mind in disturbing ways. I’m not saying everyone needs to do this, but these kinds of things are good to read, to talk about, to share. They wage war against the idol of the picture perfect life.
When Paul wrote 2 Corinthians, he discussed his thorn in the flesh when speaking to his need to not brag about anything other than the grace of God in his life. At one point in chapter 12 he says, “though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me.” We all need to ask ourselves if what we are sharing is to make people think more of us than they should.
But I know there are many ways we want people to think we have a picture perfect life, be it professionally or spiritually or relationally. So I close with some verses I think can help us combat these things if they are a temptation. The Bible is countercultural even within its own cultures, especially the life and teachings of Jesus. It is what we need more than anything else in order to destroy these potential idols.
For the idol of a picture perfect social life, meditate on this:
Isaiah 53:3: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with grief.” If your goal is to have everyone like you and accept you, you will not understand Jesus. At one point he warned “Woe unto you when all men speak well of you.”
For the idol of the picture perfect professional life, meditate on this:
Jeremiah 45:5: “Do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them.” Jobs exist to glorify God through our purpose and influence people for him, not to make us increase.
For the idol of the picture perfect family life, meditate on this: John 7:4: “For not even Jesus’ own brothers were believing in Him.” Jesus definitely did not have an ideal family life even though he himself did no wrong.
For the idol of the picture perfect goal-oriented life, meditate on this: Genesis 39:20: “And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison.” People, and God, have a way of messing up our picture perfect plans. God being with Joseph in chapter 39 is really all that mattered.
For the idol of the picture perfect reputation, focus on this: James 5:16: “Confess your sins to each other.” Social media may not be the place, but some person or some small group needs to know the worst about you. Somebody needs to know how imperfect your life is.
For a picture perfect ministry, focus on this: John 6:66: “From this time many of Jesus’s followers turned back and didn’t follow him” People are difficult and relationships are messy. Big numbers are a fruit of ministry, not the goal.
There are others, but you get the point. Pictures are great opportunities to capture perfect moments in time. But they can become our identity and we can become too focused on others as a result. Social media is very much like fire (to borrow from James in the Bible) in that it can be used for good or for destruction. Let us encourage each other with our words, our stories and our pictures without them becoming our idols. And let us also not be afraid to, however appropriately, let people know how imperfect our lives are.