Friday, January 22, 2016

Social Media

One of the greatest challenges we face in our spiritual journey is giving people in our lives the opportunity to get beyond our fa├žade and know who we are. We all want to be perceived as great or successful. In the last decade, social media has made this more difficult.


“There are 80 million photos posted in Instagram a day. Facebook has 1.49 billion active users per month. Twitter has 316 million active accounts; Tumblr 230 million. Pinterest has 47.66 million unique visitors from the US alone and is the fastest-growing independent site in history.”[1]


What we post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat may be evaluated to see if we are right or bad, rich or poor, successful or unsuccessful, happy or sad, etc. Many are fudging on the facts and doctoring photos to look good on the stage of social media.


“‘You can literally airbrush your pictures online for free,’ Chloe Miller, 16, told NPR. ‘I know; I’ve done this. You upload your picture, and you can take out all your little pimples and stuff to make it look like your skin is perfect, your hair is perfect.’”[2]



The desire to be great, liked, or in charge of your image is not new. In Jesus’ ministry, James and John wanted to be esteemed and admired by others.


Mark 10:35-45 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”


James and John had the audacity to ask for what the other ten disciples wanted secretly. They wanted to be SEEN at the right and left hand of Jesus. When you walk into the throne room of Jesus, they wanted the most visible VIP seats in the Kingdom. James and John, like the Roman rulers of their day, wanted to look and feel important.


Jesus clarified that the greatest in his Kingdom are the servants, the slaves of all. Those who give away their lives are the greatest. This runs counter to our society today where people long to be acknowledged, affirmed, and accepted. I find it provocative that Jesus Christ provides all of these things society desires. In Jesus, we find acceptance, peace, and joy.


Nevertheless, ordinary men, women, and children log-in to find acceptance and fulfillment from other people. Family, neighbors, former and current coworkers, friends, and others have become a group that we broadcast our worth to and we evaluate our worth by.


We post pictures of ourselves and our families hoping that they will like what we upload. We check-in at restaurants online to let people know what we’ve had for dinner. We cast judgment on people or situations, hoping others will see how morally superior we are. We like or share certain causes because we feel like that will help others see how compassionate or generous we are. We project an image of ourselves that says, “Look at me. I’m happy. I am doing very well. I am a good person.”


A few months ago, The New York Post published an article about some things that happened on Facebook titled “Our Double Lives: Dark Realities Behind 'Perfect' Online Profiles.[3] I was intrigued by some of the revelations from this article:


“Increasingly, most of us are living two lives: one online, one off. And studies show that this makes us more vulnerable to depression, loneliness, and low self-worth. In 2013, scientists at two German universities monitored 584 Facebook users and found one out of three would feel worse after checking what their friends were up to — especially if those friends had just posted vacation photos. Even smaller details had the same effect. ‘Overall,’ wrote the study’s authors, ‘shared content does not have to be ‘explicitly boastful’ for feelings of envy to emerge. In fact, a lonely user might envy numerous birthday wishes his more sociable peer receives on his Facebook wall. Equally, a friend’s change in the relationship status from ‘single’ to ‘in a relationship’ might cause emotional havoc for someone undergoing a breakup.’ A 2014 survey conducted by the Manhattan-based marketing agency Current found 61 percent of millennial moms were rattled by the pressures of social media.  ‘There is an anti-social media movement on the horizon,’ Current executive Amy Colton told Adweek. ‘Moms, especially young moms, are feeling pressured to present a perfect life . . . and starting to feel overwhelmed and annoyed.’”[4]



Mai-Ly Nguyen Steers, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Houston, has spearheaded a similar study. ‘The idea came to me when my little sister, who was 16, wasn’t invited to a school dance,’  Steers, 38, tells The Post. ‘She told me about logging on to Facebook the very next day and seeing all these pictures of her friends at the dance, and that actually made her feel worse than not being invited.’”[5]


The studies are demonstrating that even the most accomplished, high-achieving young people are feeling this pressure from social media. I was rattled when I read about a successful young person who looked great online but faded into depression. Madison’s story broke my heart:


“Madison Holleran, a beautiful Ivy League student, star athlete and all-around popular girl. Her Instagram account only underscored this image: parties, friends, track meets, her dad cheering her on. But Madison was keenly aware of the difference between her online life and her real one. She once corrected her mother, who told ESPN The Magazine that after looking at Madison’s photos, she turned to her daughter and said, ‘Madison, you look like you’re so happy at this party.’ ‘Mom,’ Madison said. ‘It’s just a picture.’ On Jan. 14, 2014, Madison posted a photo of trees strung with lights, bulbs glowing against the twilight. An hour later, she leaped to her death from the ninth floor of a parking garage.”[6]

Now, before you get the wrong idea, I am not necessarily asking you to log out of your Facebook and Instagram pages. I have a social media presence; the church has one too. However, I am asking you to think about the correct path to identity and greatness and not be distracted by social media.

Care more about what Jesus thinks about you than what your Facebook friends think.

Prefer to be silent, unknown or uninvolved than to be fake, boastful or—God forbid—mean to others online.

Over a year ago, I logged out of Facebook. God convicted me of it. I needed every minute I could gather to complete my degree. At times, social media was a distraction for me. I did find myself looking at my friends from high school and college and evaluating them. From time to time, I would read things that would bother me, and I let that ruin my attitude.

So I logged out. I found myself more focused and productive. I got back to some hobbies and things I had been missing. I found that after a week of logging out, I was happier. After almost fourteen months, I logged back into Facebook a few weeks ago to let my friends and family know that I’m still alive. I haven’t scrolled through the feed. I have decided that I am not going to do that for a while.

Jesus talked about a path to true greatness, and we are so caught up in presenting the right image, we have missed it. Greatness is not something that we can develop and present in an online profile or news feed. Greatness comes to those who are connected to Jesus Christ and serve him.

Mother Teresa said something that made an impression on me. I have this quote hanging in my office.

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Mother Teresa

Jesus said that to become great we are to become slaves of all. Slaves aren’t concerned about image. Slaves were the lowest class of servant in Jesus day. Not every servant was a slave, but every slave was a servant. Jesus came to us as a slave, not as a beautiful celebrity. He came to give his life; therefore, we should give our lives in service to him and others.

One of the jobs of a slave was to wash feet. They were to grab a towel and basin and meet a person at the door to scrub the dirt and garbage off of their feet. If you want to get the most likes or shares from Jesus, you have to get dirty. Let people see you with dirt under your nails. We have too many celebrities and not enough servants!

“The key to greatness is not in position or power, but in character. We get a throne by paying with our lives, not by praying with our lips. We must identify with Jesus Christ in his service and suffering, for even he could not reach the throne except by way of the cross.”[7] 

The more time we spend loving Jesus Christ and helping others, the happier we are.

[1], (Retrieved on January 11, 2016).
[3], (Retrieved on January 11, 2016).
[7]Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol. 1, (Colorado Springs, CO: Victor Publishing, 2001), 75.