Are You Jealous of My (Filtered) Life?

This past week, a good friend of mine and ministry leader wrote an outstanding post on the implications of social media for teenage girls. It hit close to home, for her post is a response to an observation that occurred at our church. She is poignant, convicting, and witty in how she recounts the events. In fact, as soon as I read it, I thought, "I need to share this with my readers." It is a brilliant reflection on 'filtered' culture. 

Rachel is a seminary student at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary and serves on my high school AND middle school leadership teams. She is a called leader with years of experience working with adolescent-aged girls. I commend this post to you. Give her your support and read her other posts on her personal blog at BIG CITY small world. As you chew on its hearty content, think about this question, "How can you - a parent, ministry leader, or caring adult - faithfully respond to the girls under your care in such a way that encourages self-worth and vulnerability, not value through the lens of a filter?

I give you, "Are You Jealous of My Filtered Life?" unedited and uncut:

It’s nearly midnight and I have to be up at 6am. So what better time to write a blog post? It may just be the caffeine I had too late in the afternoon {3pm needs to be my cut-off!} but for now I’ll assume it’s due to such profound thoughts late at night. Having said that, feel free to read further or move along to some other social news while scrolling through your smart phone.

There’s somethin’ bout that Junior High age…

Lately I’ve been working with our junior highers at church. Let me just say, it’s been an experience! They are wild, energized, awkward, immature, endearing, loud, and a whole host of other adjectives. But, it doesn’t take long interacting with a junior high student to see that they are dealing with some tough issues. Trying to fit in, discovering who they are, caring about how they are perceived, what they look like, and who their friends are…to name a few.  And you know, it’s actually been quite refreshing to be around such vulnerable people. All of their struggles are on the table, in plain sight. There is no hiding it- unlike us poised, settled, mature adults. One of the biggest lessons I’ve come to realize is that just because I’m better at hiding my insecurities and difficulties in life doesn’t mean that they are not present. In fact, working with this age group has put a big fat magnifying glass on my own heart to reveal what I too have going on in my life.

Social Media.

A couple weeks back, we played a fun, harmless Instagram game with the kids. The idea was to take and post several photos with certain prompts for what to do {while spreading the word about our group}. I didn’t expect any difficulties.  And then I had a group of pre-teen girls who were asked to take photos of themselves and post them for the world to see. I was stunned at what this meant for them.  It was not just one take. It was four, ten, fifteen, twenty takes to get the perfect one. And even that wasn’t good enough. One girl showed me her phone of a previous Instagram of herself on the beach with letters and filters and said, “You think I just took this and posted it? This took at least an hour to make sure it looked perfect.”  Another girl said, “I already put up an Instagram today and it received over 100 likes. If I post another one too soon after, I won’t get very many likes on it and will have to delete it.” I then watched in shock as the girls begrudgingly decided that they would each post just one photo of the night. Then, they divvied up the photos by texting them to each other.

I had to take a second and digest what had just happened. How did a simple photo scavenger hunt become a filtering, self-analyzing, obsession-with-perfection photoshoot? What did this mean? Well, in essence they were demonstrating {on a more obvious and honest level than most of us would confess ourselves} the impact of a filtered world. Social media is the perceived control over a distorted reality to those around us.  And the consequence often times is a jealous comparison of our own lives.  No longer are we just flipping through magazines and desiring the lives and bodies of unknown models. We are now met with this at a more personal level – through our social circles. Oh, how I am guilty of this…{Let me just say there has been some unsightly introspection going on}. And this doesn’t end with photos.  It encompasses status updates, blog posts, Youtubes, etc.  Everything is an edited version of our lives. 

What’s the big deal?

Let me just name a few of the “consequences” I have faced in being consumed with social media reality: 1. I see a photo of flowers a friend received from her husband with the hashtag #helovesmesomuch. And the spiral of thoughts is as follows: “Aw, what a sweet thing! Wow, her marriage must be so wonderful all the time. Wait a minute, why didn’t my husband buy me flowers today? Her marriage must be better than mine. Her life is better than mine. My life is not what I wish it to be.” Perhaps that example may seem too shallow for you guys. Let’s try another. 2. Someone has just finished reading their Bible in the early morning on their porch and it demanded a status update quoting the uplifting passage they came across. My thoughts, “Wow, this person reads their Bible at sunrise?!  I didn’t read my Bible at 5am. In fact, I haven’t read mine in a while. And when I did read it, I didn’t get such a close encounter with God as they did. My spiritual life must not be what this person’s is.”

There are several other examples I could go into. But, you get the point.  My guess is that I’m not the only one who has had these kinds of thoughts. {Or, I could just be really weak in this whole comparison, jealousy gig}. So, what do I do with this? Do I write about the evils of Facebook, Instagram, smart phones, all of social media and say, “Let’s cleanse ourselves of all of it!” Perhaps. But does that really solve the core issues at hand? So I wanted to make some practical changes with this truth laying before us. First, I must consistently recognize and remind myself that social media is not reality. It is an edited, distorted, controlled reality. It is not a complete picture of anyone’s life and I must not compare it to my own – lest it be used as a foothold. And when I do fall into comparison leading to discontentment, I must confess it before the Lord and repent of it! Second, check my motives and be mindful of the “consequences” for my activities on social media. Am I desiring others to be jealous of my life? For instance, why am I inclined to post an Instagram of myself reading the Bible? Am I trying {as a Pharisee would} to obtain recognition for my so-called holiness and thus receive my “reward in full?” Better yet, when I post a lovey-dovey status about how wonderful my husband is, am I doing it to portray a perfect relationship to others that may provoke a heightened awareness of loneliness or singleness in others? {I am not saying we are responsible for others’ jealousy or comparison. But we do play a part in it!}  The ultimate question we have to ask is: Are we placing as much preoccupation and care into who we are at the core in person as to who we portray on social media? Christians, let’s live in the reality of who we are in Christ – and not who we strive to be on the internet in order that the true light will bring about holy admiration of the One who is in us.

Gah, conviction much? At least for me. That was a lot thrown out there. And, if you happen to still be reading, I’m a little surprised. Love to you all! {Obvious Disclaimer: This blog is also a heavily edited part of my life. Please remember this. :)}