"You should change your profile picture on Instagram so people can see who you are," a friend said to me last week after we wrapped up our Bible study. "I didn't know what you looked like because that scarf is covering your face." It's true. My tiny circular photo is one half the upper parts of my face and one half my scarf. It's intentional, however, because I don't always know how much of me I want known on that little app. I'm confused by Instagram. Why do we post to it? Why do we feel compelled to snap photos of the recent clothing purchase, cafe stop, or - even more mind-boggling to me - a private moment with a significant other or our children? Let's take it one step further and wonder if people would ever dare to utter their captions to a stranger on the street, because that is arguably the equivalent of posting a life moment for any number of strangers to view.
"My child smeared poop on the wall today. #momlife #haaaalp."
I, admittedly, smirk thinking of someone yelling such a private moment while walking down the street, because it wouldn't happen. You don't reveal private parts of your life to strangers in your neighborhood, so I worry when I hear of the false sense of community and security people claim Instagram provides them. What is community besides digging in deep with those alongside of us? How are we to honestly engage in the good, the bad, and the ugly with those we only know superficially and online? If the online connection doesn't translate into real life interactions of the un-Instagramable kind of moments; is there a point? Or do we post for ourselves? Because with the exception of business use - both sharing of work and gaining inspiration from others' work - perhaps all of this posting is really just an acceptable form of self-advertisement. Look at me. Approve of me. Encourage me. Double tap for me.
Please don't think I sit upon a high and mighty social media-less seat; you'd be wrong. I endlessly form theories about Instagram users' intentions and find myself embarrassingly attracted by comments and likes on my own images. The lure of double taps has not passed over me. In fact, there have been times where I've removed myself from Instagram, because I found my affirmation and worth in online feedback from strangers. Somehow my attention-seeking ego is easily puffed up by people who don't know me at all. I've also been on the flip side of the social media equation doubting my life's goodness and personal achievements when compared to the false scale of perfection in the form of someone else's feed of highlights.
Almost two years ago, we moved to this city. For the two years before that, we hopped around just often enough that - for me, at least - it was difficult to feel as though we were moving forward in life, together. During that season of pain and new people and basement bedrooms, I turned inward. Instead of digging in and clinging to the things I know to be True, I pitied myself and offered up half-hearted, murmured prayers of "This is not what I had in mind,"s and "I know You're sovereign but..."s. There is no room for buts when commenting on the unchangeable character of God. I knew this, and yet -
I spent time scrolling Instagram, coveting that which was not mine: pretty apartments, grand adventures, sappy captions about perfect loves, and other such things never promised to me - to you, to us - in the Bible. My discontentment was spurred on by tiny squares showcasing others' lives. Are the snippets of others' lives to blame for my own heart issue? Certainly not. But it caused an ache to ache a little more, if you will. So, I covered my heart's sense of entitlement and deep love for my idols with phrases about free spiritedness and dream chasing, about wild hearts and growing businesses. I rebelled against God in socially acceptable ways, which is the most dangerous manifestation of sin. Or at least I think so, because it's quiet and easily overlooked in our yolo, fomo, you-do-you, find-yourself-chase-your-heart-do-all-the-things society.
But should we even be surprised?
Think about it. It's in our nature to want to be the center of our universes. We love to worship ourselves. And others. Our desire to mimic others is why everyone has the same backpacks, eucalyptus bouquets, strollers, subway tile, wooden brooms, and so on. We're easily distracted by what we see as the current "ideal" as we scroll past the same items on twenty-five accounts. When Jesus walked upon the earth, telling people of the Light they ought to follow, the people rejected Him because they preferred the glory of man over the glory of God. Rather, they wanted the camaraderie, praise, and the approval of fellow humans more than they desired to please and submit to God. Not a lot about human nature has changed since that moment. And here we are, with a new tool in which to seek the glory of man. Look at me. Approve of me. Encourage me. Double tap for me.
Do I think every post on Instagram is a cry for attention? No. There are a great many people sharing the gospel or educating others about real needs in the world. There are small businesses sharing skills and talents with those looking to support them. There are family members sharing photos of shenanigans for those far away. There are updates on sicknesses and requests for aid. But if you ask me if I think the majority of lifestyle content creators, mommy bloggers, and creative explorer-types are sharing what they're doing with a bent towards affirmation-seeking, I'll answer, "Yes." I'm not surprised by the sinful, self-glory-seeking human nature. Not in others, and especially not in myself. And I'm most certainly in that creative explorer-type cohort.
But there's good news for all of us: there is no need to prove ourselves worthy, important, or lovely to anyone. Our value has been placed on us, and it cannot be taken, diminished, or forgotten forevermore. There is only One who has ever been and will ever be worthy of glory and all praise. He loves and sustains us, so we need not to attempt to earn, prove, or search for worth here on Earth. We'll never find it in forsaking privacy and proper vulnerability in exchange for a quick like or a comment about how great we are from someone who cannot speak to our character. We won't know our value after we meticulously comb our accounts ensuring that every photo adds to the image management of ourselves. We certainly won't find peace as we compare ourselves to someone with a better job, apartment, child, spouse, adventure, outfit, etcetera etcetera.
The glory of God far outweighs the glory of man. Our satisfaction exists within our obedience and submission to His good ways. Our contentment comes from the knowledge of the good work being carried on to completion at the day of Jesus' return. Our hope lies in the belief that our good is not an earthly measure of comfortability and trendiness but instead is our conformity to Christ, fruit for the kingdom, deeper fellowship with God, and ultimate glorification. It will never be the double tap that soothes our soul.
I think knowing this offers us freedom to enjoy sharing our lives with one another. But I'd like to add a qualifier: sharing our lives with those whom we actually know. In a real community sense. I'm still wading through this, and I certainly haven't figure it out. I post things, remove them, ask myself why I'm posting something, and work myself into a confused mess. And I'm still on Instagram. My work is image-based, and Instagram brings me about 55% of my current business. Recently, however, I've started to unfollow the accounts of people I don't know in real life. I'm uncomfortable knowing what a stranger is packing for their vacation to this particular location with these particular people. I'm not sure I want to see your husband sleeping soundly in your Instagram story, because I'm not in the habit of watching people sleep - that's creepy. When it comes to the accounts of the people I do know, I'm grateful for the little looks into their lives. Yes, I want to see your kid's hilarious case of the hiccups, because I know and love your family. Yes, I want to watch you galavant a new country, because I know how alive you must feel and that makes me so excited for you. Yes, I love seeing your business thrive, because I know your heart to serve people well.
And that's the difference. The knowing. The loving. The relationship.