It’s Not Really About Facebook

A lot of my daily attention and energy is directed toward various forms of social media, and I could write a novel about how much of a time waster those tools can be. Thankfully, other people have already tackled that subject, and it’s not my intent to guilt anyone about how much time you spend on the internet (at least not in this blog post.) However, I have spent a lot of time lately pondering how to be genuine and encouraging in my use of Facebook and Instagram, specifically. I’m an editor by trade, so I naturally limit my posts to the aspects of my day that I feel are worthy of being widely and permanently shared. There’s an ongoing discussion about how social media does not tell the whole story of a person’s life and to judge your success against someone else’s newsfeed is not only damaging, it’s also ridiculous. As a young mom, my days literally contain a lot of human waste. And diaper changes don’t get posted to my Instagram account. Neither do the arguments with my hyper-verbal four-year-old. It doesn’t usually occur to me in the middle of cleaning up yet another cup of spilled milk to snap an artistically framed picture of the mess.

And I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. As followers of Christ, we are called to love one another and to do life with each other, whether that’s rejoicing or mourning (Romans 12:15). We’re called to not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:25) and Jesus tells us that other people will know that we are His by the way we love each other (John 13:35). However, in my desire to translate my genuine faith into how I can be authentic online, I struggle with how much and what to share. I don’t want to paint a perfect picture of my life that glosses over the real (however minor or major depending on the day) struggles that happen between photogenic moments. But I also don’t want to disparage people I love or create a permanent record online of my every disagreement or hurt feeling.

So, how should we engage people on social media? First, I recommend editing yourself. Is your brilliant diatribe going to encourage anyone? Will your political post (yes, I’m going there) be admonishing and filled with grace and truth? The internet is not a good arena for nuance. Could your sarcasm be misconstrued? Yes. Do you need to engage in that debate about a particularly heated topic on Facebook and rob yourself of the benefit of facial expressions and tone of voice? Probably not. Ephesians 4 has a lot to say about how we live and engage each other. Verse 29 says “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Let me encourage you to view what you type and broadcast into the online sphere as speech. True, it is speech without the benefit of immediate response, but that makes it that much more important that you are sharing what will be helpful, beneficial, and true. I’m not advocating that you never post anything online that makes you look real. Yes, my cute pictures of my kids often have a mess of toys and dirty dishes in the background. Maybe that will encourage another mom that her pile of laundry doesn’t diminish the holy, sanctifying work of parenting she’s focusing on today. Or maybe I’m overthinking it.

Second, I’d like to postulate that Jesus wasn’t anti-privacy; he was pro-community. He spent a lot of time in prayer alone, and the book of Mark particularly shows how Jesus told people to keep quiet about his miracles until the right time had come. Jesus understood the balance of public and private life perfectly because he was perfect. So, while I don’t think the Bible speaks directly about how we engage with social media (anachronistic, much?) I do believe that Jesus intends for us to live in community, and that means carving out time to be with people face-to-face, not through a screen. Social media can be a wonderful way to keep up with old friends or share a meaningful message, but it is not a substitute for genuine relationship with real people. No matter how “authentic” I strive to be on Instagram, there’s no real conversation involved. And my Creator knit together my introverted soul to crave real engagement with other people. My genuine belief is that the longing for real relationship is something we all share, since we’re all made in His image.

To conclude, one thing I know is that unless my social media presence is encouraging to others and seasoned with love, it’s not serving Jesus, and I want to repent of it. And then make plans to spend time with other believers in person to do the real work of living in community and encouraging each other to abide in the grace of Jesus Christ.

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