It's hard to be far away from all the people I love. I grew up three hours away from here, the people who are most like family to me outside my natural family live eight hours away, my natural family lives all over the east coast. My group of friends from college lives all over the US. The people who have been my church family for the past six years are in Texas and the baby relationships I'd just begun to tend in Denver feel like another life ago. Nate and I have met a few people in the DC area, but we're going slowly in relationship building, trying to work on our own marriage in ways we weren't able to for the past year. I feel like a spider trapped in a web of my own making—threads of my life stretching out in every direction, too thin to be maintained well. Sometimes it can feel like the only contact I have with friends all over the country is through social media. They read Sayable, comment or like or retweet images and quotes I post. I do the same through the channels they give me. It is limited, though, and can feel like an itch that never quite gets scratched. It can be easy to create narratives our heads about the details surrounding a snippet.
In the past few days a few friends have called me with some concerns. "We heard this, and didn't think it was true, but wanted to make sure." Or, "We heard this, but were pretty sure there was more to the story." And, well, there was. Assumptions had been made about our lives, our home, our marriage, our puppy, our finances, and our friendships. Some of it meant I needed to make some follow-up calls with far away friends and clarify words I'd said, or didn't say. The story isn't finished yet, but the loose ends, to the best of my ability, are being reconciled as we try to be faithful to be at peace with all men.
Some of the assumptions above, though, came not from my own mouth, but the thin snapshots on social media and this blog. Russell Moore has a fabulous post up on Moore to the Point about how happy, clappy images and quips can send the message to others that we're all happy and clappy, ruining an opportunity to show the whole picture. Much has been said before about the perils of social media. I've written before on why I think it's important to show beauty in our lives, but it is true we are accustomed to only showing and seeing a thin veneer of what is below the surface.
In another era people were born, grew up, and died in the same place. Every bit of their lives was someone else's business, but now we've made privacy a business in its own right. Social media gives the illusion that everyone is transparent and honest, but we're all spin doctors, making the best things and the worst things better or worse, depending on the response we want to elicit.
King Solomon has some wisdom for us here in Ecclesiastes 12:
Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth.
I love that the Preacher "arranged many proverbs with great care." He was attentive to the beauty of how a thing sounded, what it looked like on the page, how it rolled off the tongue: he wanted to delight with the truth. He was a spin doctor in his own right. We emulate our Creator and Maker when we take truth and take care for how it displays beauty and goodness. There is nothing wrong with those thin veneers and snapshots we display on social media. Social media is a limited tool, but a tool used properly does its job well.
What a tool does not do well, though, is communicate the whole truth. For instance: when I post an image of our garden in its full June array, what it does not show is the labor we put into making it such. It doesn't show sweat dripping down our backs, dirt under our fingernails, and weeding. It also doesn't show the days and weeks leading up to its beauty today where it was merely seeds and then sprouts we wondered if would ever grow up. It doesn't show the whole story of how a garden came to be. Each of those stages, though, are both true and beautiful in their own right—as ugly as they might seem in the moment.
King Solomon goes on:
The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
King Solomon is saying: beware of making truth of what you do not see, what the Shepherd has not given. Our imaginations are endless, we can write books, blogs, tweets, and posts on something beautiful every day for as long as we live, and none of them are true and dear as the Shepherd's own words. Even the words He gives us to say only show a limited amount because we cannot know the wholeness of all truth here on earth.
Friends, I hope if you use social media you use it as a tool, both as a viewer and a user. It can be a beautiful way to reach across the miles and be comforted that our friends and family think of us. But use that tool to create something more beautiful: depth and longevity. The next time you're tempted to build your own narrative on a snapshot, pick up the phone, dial a number (I know...), and ask your friend how they really are, what's really going on in their hearts and lives. Ask how God is blessing and disciplining them. How He is teaching and loving them. How you can be praying for them and thinking of them.
You might never get a like or a comment or an adrenaline hit from it, but I promise you won't be disappointed.
This past week I've gotten to have a few hard conversations, but they were all better than I could have imagined with my limited perspective and laptop.