In one of our high school youth group lessons, we were talking about the struggles of being a Christian teenager in a world dominated by smartphones and social media. One of our former high school students, who has now graduated, shared an insight that remains with me to this day. She said, “I think it is hard being a Christian when you are scrolling through all of the pictures of your friends smiling and having a great time in front of their new things and nice houses. It is hard because it makes me want what they have and it makes me want to only share the best parts of my own life.” If you ask me, she is on to something.
The value of social media has been in the public consciousness recently, especially after photo sharing service Instagram star Essena O’Neill announced that she was abruptly going to stop using social media, because it isn’t “real life.” In a heartbreaking video, she shared about how social media radically changed her own self-identity, how she became trapped in the never ending cycle of comparing herself with others, and trying to earn their approval through their smartphones; so much so that she felt like she felt trapped from truly living her life. While foreign to some, the prevalence of social media in our society demands that we stop and take time to consider, what is its impact on our identities? Is Facebook, Twitter, and all of the other social media networks authentic medium for human relationship, or does it push us into an endless trap of comparing ourselves to others?
“No lusting after your neighbor’s house—or wife or servant or maid or ox or donkey. Don’t set your heart on anything that is your neighbor’s.”
Exodus 20:17 (The Message)
The Biblical command to not “lust” or “covet” after your neighbor’s things diagnoses one of the deepest human temptations. Wherever there has been people, there has been the temptation to “keep up with the Joneses” but generations of faithful Christians can attest to the fact that coveting another’s possessions is a cheap counterfeit for living a fulfilling life. There will always be new things to catch our attention but none of them will have the power to arrest our souls.
Social media makes it unbelievably easy to find new and better things to add to your “wishlist.” Our former student was right, our newsfeeds and timelines are full of our friends and family smiling, enjoying their latest convenience, and serve as a tiny reminder of the fun you think you should be having or the stuff that would make life better. Gratefulness, true gratefulness, is the only true antidote to covetousness. For in a spirit of gratefulness, we are reminded that life itself has been given to us as a gift. Grateful Christians recognize that God is the creator, redeemer, and sustainer and we are merely his children. Practicing the art of gratefulness also reminds us that for every picture with a smile there could be five others showing the pain, frustration, and grief of life. Gratefulness reminds us that regardless of life or death, good times or bad, God has promised to never leave us or forsake us.
So how should Christians demonstrate this kind of gratefulness amidst their social media lives? There are no simple answers but we would all do well to consider, does your late night Facebook surfing encourage you to be grateful for God’s many gifts, or would that time be better spent in scripture and prayer for others? Or alternatively, could you turn your Twitter timeline into a prayer book, a reminder to bless and thank those around you? Let us remember the one who gives us every good gift, resist the temptation to covet things, and engage in the “real life” relationships we were designed to enjoy.