My summer is not, and probably never will be, Instagram ready.
You know what I mean. You scroll through your feed on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and see all those beautifully filtered pictures of people having the most perfect of times. Families are smiling together and going on an impossible number of days out, all impeccably and stylishly dressed with not a hair out of place, even in this melting heat. They go on holiday together and they don’t argue. Healthy mums take healthy kids to the park and capture the moment they are swung high in the air, giddy with delight.
It’s a perfect moment, and so they share it with the world.
And why not? Good things are good to share. I share moments too. When I was on holiday in Majorca earlier this year, I shared a couple of beach and pool photos. The one above is my hotel balcony, framed against a glorious sky. But the only thing is that these images may have made it seem like every moment of that holiday was spent in smiling perfection. There I was, stood barefoot on a beach with the azure-blue sea sparkling behind me.
But it didn’t show the times in between.
The times I lay on the bed in the hotel for half of the afternoon, or stayed inside because the people on the similarly perfect balcony next door were smoking and it made me wheeze, or argued with my family, or any other of the things which made it, actually, much less than perfect.
That’s the thing with social media, isn’t it. It showcases the good and sweeps the less good under the carpet, and so we’re so often left looking at the airbrushed remains of a life and then comparing ourselves and finding ourselves wanting. And when we struggle with life, in whatever way, we can find ourselves comparing more and more, which can leave us in a darker place – a place where we cannot see any good in what we have around us.
This can especially be the case for those who are chronically ill. Summer can be such a painful time, and even more so when this kind of heat keeps us in a tighter cage than usual. I know… I know. I moan about the freezing cold in the winter, and now I’m griping about a bit of sunshine – but this heat sucks the life out of me more than usual. It oppresses me and draws my lungs into a tightness I can’t fight my way out of. When I feel like this, an Instagram-ready day out with my children seems next to impossible. So I scroll through my social media feeds and waves of bitterness begin to lap over my toes, and then my feet, and then begin to rise, swirling around me until they’ve taken hold of me. Why can’t my life be like that? Why have my kids never had a mum who took them on countless sepia-toned adventures?
But I wonder if allowing the comparison to become larger in our minds means that we become even more caged in. If we’re already struggling, then letting ourselves become bitter and discontented about other people’s lives being better than ours can weave a heavy web of oppression around us. What if, instead, there is a way to be free – even when caged in by illness? What if letting go of all these comparisons, expectations and regrets can lead to liberation from bondage – and what if looking to God brings a freedom which is so glorious and so rich that even in our chains we are free?
We know in our hearts, by now, that those perfect social media moments are just that: moments. They do not mean that other people’s lives are better or richer (and even if they do, it doesn’t actually help to reflect on that – or matter at all, in fact). If we are able to come to a place where, instead of sighing and wishing that we could be the same, we are delighted for those in the picture and thank God for that blessing, then this can change our outlook in remarkable ways. Instead of comparing ourselves and feeling we are not enough, we are wanting the best for someone else. It takes our eyes away from us and focuses on something good. We become full of joy for the pictures we see and prayers for the lives we don’t. Scrolling a Facebook feed can become a prayer, an action full of purpose and freedom, instead of a navel-gazing exercise in futility and inadequacy.
I know how to be Instagram-ready for summer. I can look through the feed and thank God for each person, pray for their flourishing and laugh with happiness at those giggling children and sun-filled days on the beach. I can offer up an imaginary glass of ice-cold Pimms to clink with their very beautifully photographed one, and be at peace with where I am in this world right now.
I love the whole of Philippians 2, but there’s one verse I want to pick out for us all today as we contemplate our own summers, Insta-ready or not:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (v3-4)
Whenever I get caught in comparison, I realise that I am descending into selfish ambition and vain conceit. Instead of looking for the good for others, I’m worrying too much about my own difficulties and pain. When I make an active choice to value others above myself and look to the interest of others, the bitterness is lifted and peace flows more easily. My pain may not be lessened and my four walls look no less prison-like, but my spirit is lifted into perfect freedom as I let those other things go.
So I’d encourage us all, next time we find ourselves scrolling down our feed and hankering after the perfection we perceive, let’s take our eyes off us and pray for the good of those in the picture. Let’s thank God for his blessing and hurl our bitterness away over the sun-hazed horizon.
What about you? What are your tips for an Insta-ready summer?What if your summer isn't Instagram ready? What if you are caged in, scrolling through your feed and wishing it was you? What if there is another way? #SocialMedia #CatchingContentment Click To Tweet
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