This is a guest post by Vita. Scroll to the end of the post to meet the author & learn more about her blog "Navigating Newlywed Life."
In recent years, social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and SnapChat have permeated our culture and become a way of life for many, especially those in their teens, twenties, and thirties. Although these can be a great way to share updates with friends and keep in touch with old ones, there are downsides that people don't talk about or are simply unaware of.
Last year, I didn't have a Facebook account, primarily because I was quite busy and often too lazy to post things. I did, however, have an Instagram account for a time but soon realized that it wasn't for me. So, I deleted it. Friends and others were rather surprised and didn't understand why I did so because everyone has one. So, what were the primary reasons that I chose to unplug?
Comparing myself to others led to discontent within my marriage.
This might sound a bit dramatic, but when I had Instagram, I found that it made me feel depressed at times. More than any other form of social media, Instagram seems specifically focused on comparison - an endless competition of whose life is better. How can one ever be truly satisfied when, right there in your phone, lies an endless stream of photographic "evidence" that hundreds of people are having more fun, are more successful, better dressed, more artsy, skinnier, and seemingly more in love than you are? You are comparing yourself to the perception of someone else's glossy, Instagrammed existence.
A few months after creating my Instagram account, I found that I was constantly comparing my marriage to others' marriages. Although Jeremy was (and still is) a great husband, seeing the sweet things other husbands did for their wives was a perpetual insecurity inducer. In time, I developed new (irrational) expectations and desires for my husband. Suddenly, I was irritated that he didn't buy me enough flowers (I don't even like flowers!) and that we didn't travel as much as other young couples without children. This was unfair to Jeremy because I wasn't grateful for all the wonderful things that he did do.
One of the funny things (and downsides) about comparison is that it makes us feel bad a lot more often than it makes us feel good. Looking at a photo of a model can make me feel ugly, but finding flaws in a beautiful woman who I find intimidating or a seemingly perfect marriage certainly doesn't make me feel any better. So why do we do it? Because of our sinful nature.
Women, especially, are prone to comparison. They will subconsciously put themselves in a hierarchy. In a recent sermon (A Beautiful Design Part 8, 2014), Pastor Matt Chandler explained that the first bucket where we'll find most of the sins of women is the bucket of comparison. The second bucket we will find most of the sins of women would be perfectionism. He went on to say:
What is the worst thing you could do with people who struggle with comparison? Give every one of them a phone with a camera in it. No woman takes a picture of herself at 6:00am in the morning with Clearasil dried on that zit on her face. Click... Nobody does that. All dolled up, features like they want them, whatever could be a strength or even made to look like a strength. Click. What is that? It's a veneer... Here's the problem with a veneer. An untrue image of oneself will always lead to discontentment and insecurity.
It was feeding my idolatry.
For years, I was completely unaware of the fact that my identity wasn't rooted in who I am in Christ but, rather, was based on how others perceived me and my life. Fortunately, one day the Holy Spirit illuminated the fact that I had been worshiping the approval and acceptance of all the people in my life for far too long. I had inadvertently allowed the "fear of man" to become an idol in my life, and my Instagram posts were feeding this beast.
In "Counterfeit Gods," Tim Keller (2010), Tim Keller lists the following characteristics of an idol:
- Anything more important to you than God
- Anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God
- Anything you seek to give you what only God can give
- Anything that becomes more fundamental than God to your happiness, meaning in life, and identity.
I was convicted of the fact that I was constantly posting pictures so that people would know that I was happily married. It wasn’t enough to have a great relationship — other people had to know or else they might think we were unhappy and that my husband wasn’t sweet, affectionate, etc. I was basing my identity on others perceptions of me and it was exhausting trying to keep their opinions positive. I knew there was a problem when I couldn’t truly enjoy or appreciate an amazing or romantic experience with my husband until it was shared via Instagram. I was so afraid of and enslaved by what other people thought about me and my marriage that I let my Instagram account control my mood and how I felt about myself.
Once I became aware of this idolatry, I knew that I had to rip this idol out by the roots and ensure that I was building only on the foundation of Christ and His Word. I chose to desire God and His approval more than any human’s approval. Daily, I must face every fear and combat it with God’s truth, discarding all the lies. I have to study God’s bigness and sovereignty, as well as my own smallness and insignificance. He must become MORE and I must become less.
I was seeking praise and glory.
I believe that the reason so many of us get hooked onto Instagram (or other forms of social media) is that we're validation addicts. We're all trying hard to get noticed. We want so badly for others to compliment us on how pretty, awesome, smart, funny, fashionable we are or how "perfect" our marriage and family is. What's the big deal with wanting a few compliments, you might ask? Well, what many people are unaware of is the fact that the desire for others' praise and admiration (in other words, glory) are manifestations of pride - a sin that makes God very unhappy (James 4:6, Proverbs 16:5, Romans 12:16).
One day, I came upon the realization that I would sometimes post photos of myself or my "perfect marriage" when I was sad in order to make myself feel better. And it worked. Whenever I sough validation through something I posted and that little red flag popped up to notify me of each person giving me attention, it became an addictive reward. I'd feel better, so I kept coming back for more. Unfortunately, my desires for both "likes" (attention) and admiration were insatiable. My prideful heart would eventually, always, want more.
Boasting is yet another way that we inadvertently seek glory. Initially, I thought I was bragging on Instagram to make my husband feel special, but that was only part of it. Deep down, I knew that i was also trying to show off a little bit. Whenever I did boast, it'd feel good for a little while. But shortly thereafter, I'd get this awful feeling in my gut - the unmistakable feeling of conviction that I wasn't loving others well. I knew very well that many of my Instagram followers were single and desperately desiring marriage, or unhappily married and struggling. I felt deep down that I was likely causing them to be discontent or jealous with my constant posting. I felt so terrible inside that I knew it was time for me to deactivate.
3 Helpful Questions to Ask Before Posting to Social Media
With the absence of guidelines for healthy and polite social media etiquette, we are left to determine our own boundaries for navigating how to appropriately utilize and manage our accounts.
Before we snap one more picture of our latte or post a status update, perhaps we might benefit from a brief pause - and ask three questions. The answers to these questions might suggest it's time to deactivate, or at least reconsider when and how we use social media:
1. Does social media help me to be content?
"...godliness with contentment is great gain." - 1 Timothy 6:6
Social media can add fuel to the fire of covetousness and insecurity because of the temptation to compare ourselves to others and their relationships, possessions, and lifestyle. It can be especially tempting to compare your marriage when your friends are bragging about their amazing husbands, but it is possible to remain content without comparing. Have you ever thought that your friend, always posting pictures of her possessions, might not be content?
A discontented heart leads to temptation and sinful thoughts. If not recognized in time, discontentment will inevitably lead to death - death in your love and death in your marriage. If you are comparing your marriage to someone else's marriage, the best thing that you can do is to start concentrating more on your relationship with God and your spouse. Any time wasted comparing your marriage to your family member or best friend's marriage is time that you could be putting into your own relationship. Every single marriage is sanctifying and has its challenges. No marriage is perfect and we never know what truly goes on behind closed doors. Comparison is futile!
If you struggle with discontentment in your marriage, lean on God, pray daily, and repent daily. Ask Him to strengthen you and to help you conquer it. Paul delighted in his weaknesses because h knew that when he was at his weakest, God could be at His strongest in Paul's life. The secret to contentment is not having everything you want, but being thankful for what you do have. May we learn to be like Paul, who learned to be content in every situation (Philippians 4:11-13).
2. Am I seeking the approval or acceptance of others?
"For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?" - Mark 8:36
"For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ." - Galatians 1:10
We can believe the lie that we only have value if people follow us or like our posts. However, popularity does not equal value. We are inherently valuable because we are loved deeply by God and are His image-bearers. If your mood depends on the number of "likes" or "retweets" your post receives, you care too much about gaining the approval of man, and the fear of man may be an idol in your heart, as it was in mine (See Welch, 1997).
If your interaction with the internet is driven by a fear of what other people think and/or a need for approval, consider healthier ways to address this issue and choose to stop reinforcing the unhealthy ones. Fitting in might seem safe, but truly belonging feels so much better. Rejoice in the fact that the Gospel says that you have been accepted into God’s family, as an heir with Christ, because of Christ’s sacrifice. Wherever you go in life —online, offline— show up as the real you with your messy, beautiful life. That’s how you find your people, the ones who belong to you and love you for who you truly are.
As children of God, we must derive our worth and joy from Christ alone, rather than from the temporal, insatiable things of this world. Yet, try as we may, we cannot just will ourselves to be fully satisfied in Jesus. It is impossible to see Jesus as the bread of life except by the Spirit (Romans 8:13; 2 Cor. 3:18). When we put our hope and trust in Christ and fear God above all else, we are able to truly love other people—not to fear them or people-please them (Welch, 1997). We are then able to love our enemies and pray for them, think about the needs of our spouse before our own needs, walk into a room and not worry about others’ perceptions of us, and say no to others without fear or judgment.
3. Am I seeking self-glory and/or boasting?
"Therefore as it is written: 'Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.'" - 1 Corinthians 1:31
We were created to glorify God (Isaiah 43:7). 1 Corinthians 10:31 says,
"So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."
Sadly, we humans are glory thieves, wanting to draw attention to our own beauty rather than beholding and reflecting the beauty and splendor of the God of the Universe. We are infamous for worshiping creation rather than the Creator, and we frequently rob God of the glory that He so rightfully deserves to receive from our lips, minds, and hearts. This is a human plight. Yet, God, in His great mercy and love, reconciles us to Himself and gives us new hearts and minds, indeed whole new lives through faith in Jesus.
God never told us to impress people; only to love them. Someone once said: "humility is not thinking less of yourself; but thinking of yourself less."
On social media, there is sharing excitement where we want others to rejoice with us — like when we graduate or a child is just so stinkin’ cute — and then there’s just plain ole’ bragging. When the Apostle Paul described what it meant to love others, he specifically mentioned that love does not boast. That post isn’t “just a picture” or “just a tweet,” it’s an opportunity to love others in a way that reflects Jesus or an opportunity to show them something that looks nothing like Christ.
Unlike us, Jesus never boasted. On the contrary, Jesus wanted to be ignored so the attention would go elsewhere. Jesus performed many attention and praise worthy miracles. Afterward, He often provided specific instructions to those He healed. In one instance, Jesus gave two blind men sight and then said,
"See that no one knows about it" - Matthew 9:30
Let us be more like Jesus, the greatest example of humility, who did His best to make sure He became known for having an intimate touch on the lives of people that He encountered.
Are you able to enjoy a pleasurable, precious moment or experience without boasting? If not, I urge you to examine your motivations for posting and to walk away before using social media as the adult version of show-and-tell. When Christ is our security, we can be happy with our lives being better in reality than everyone needs to hear about on social media. Let us learn the lost art of understatement. As it is written in Proverbs 27: 2,
“Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; an outsider, and not your own lips."
Since I deactivated my Instagram account last year, I have found that I have more joy and less discontentment in my day-to-day life. I am not saying that everyone should follow suit and delete their social media account. Shutting down my account was a personal decision made because I didn’t like the person that I was becoming, and the negative impact it was having on my marriage. However, if you find that your account causes you (or others) to sin, it is worth shutting it down. Even deactivating your account for a couple months may be helpful to gain perspective and clarity.
Deleting Instagram has greatly benefited my marriage to Jeremy because it has removed the ever-present temptation to compare our relationship and lifestyle to others. In addition, I know I am not addicted to the “high” of receiving likes and compliments anymore because I no longer feel the compulsive need to share every precious, romantic, or enjoyable moment my husband and I share with hundreds of “followers." When he buys me jewelry or flowers, I can enjoy the precious moment with him and our intimate moments can stay protected and well… intimate.
Now, when I have exciting news to share, I contact those in my life who truly love and care about me, so that they may rejoice with me. Likewise, when I am suffering and in need of prayer, I run to the same people. This is true community and companionship, and I am so grateful to have found it. It is my prayer that all of God’s children would surround themselves with a community of others who love, accept, and cherish their imperfect, genuine selves.
Nevertheless, I’ve seen countless others who image Christ very well and are able to remain humble. For those of us with social media accounts, let us seek to glorify God in all we do (Isaiah 43:7) and to be like Jesus, who made a deep impact in the lives of those He encountered, rather than seeking attention and praise. I pray that God would bring a soothing to the souls of women who are stuck in comparison and perfectionism, the disordered desire for righteousness on their own, where anxiety and fear rule their lives for being found out that they are not all they are showing themselves to be. Thank God that He is our perfection.
Welch, E. T. (1997). When people are big and God is small: Overcoming peer pressure, codependency, and the fear of man. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub.