Although I did not mention it here, I gave up Facebook for Lent this year (I know, I know. More than fashionably late in bringing this up – as usual). At any rate, I gave it up for two reasons. And, as is often the case with these things, I learned significantly more than I had anticipated.
I gave it up because it’s often a waste of time. And while I’m learning to embrace the necessity of rest and taking breaks more than I ever have before – let’s face it, mindless scrolling is just not helpful. And it’s also really not even a break. Because as I scroll, my brain is bombarded with images, and with words that I read and engage with and think about and respond to. So it’s not a break. And then I get sucked in, and it’s bye-bye break.
So there’s that. But also, Facebook makes me envious. I know this about myself, and wanted to give myself a break from the temptation. The temptation of comparing my life to everyone else’s. My pictures to theirs, my Sunday afternoons, my anniversary dinner, my spring break trip. Facebook makes me forget what I have and it makes me want what it looks like everyone else has. So I thought a break would do me some good.
I missed it much less than I thought I would. I have a community of mom friends on there – and I missed them and their advice, commiseration, wisdom, and humor – and I know I missed some birthdays and other events. But I was just fine without it in my life. I remembered what it was like to appreciate the things I have and the life I have instead of the things and life I want – or the things and life that Facebook makes me think everyone else has.
And that’s the question, isn’t it? How much does Facebook really reflect reality? How airbrushed and filtered are the pictures? Was it the ONLY time all year that your wonderful husband cooked dinner, or does it happen every Friday night? Does your living room always look like that, or had your best-friend-interior-designer just been over for a demo photo shoot? Your status update about your perfect day? Was today so good because last week was horrible?
I read this article as I’m sure many of you have, and it resonated in a myriad of complicated ways. But mostly it made me think about our EXPECTATIONS of all the social media platforms we engage with. Do we expect them to reflect reality? Or do we expect something else?
A few years ago, a friend commented to me privately that often my posts were either too cryptic or too negative. She said that I should keep my “downers” to myself (or something along those lines). At the time, I was using Facebook as a way to reach out, to tug out on the heartstrings of cyberspace when I was feeling bad or sad or lonely and needed to share the burden and feel a little less alone (even if my sharing was a poetry quotation or unexplained song lyric). I was not expecting (or even, hoping) a status update to elicit phone calls or meals or a batch of fresh brownies. I just needed to share. Sharing those quotes or song lyrics or “cryptic” phrases was my way of saying this is what I’m feeling like today, and it sucks, and I just want someone else to know. It was not a dramatic “cry for help” and nor was it a seeking-after pity or empathy. I was just sharing.
Since her comment, I’ve stopped posting such things. But I have continued to think about why. My expectation had been that Facebook was a reflection of life. I was learning then – and continue to learn now – that it’s actually a reflection of a tiny sliver of life. It’s not a place to be vulnerable or authentic. It’s a place to be happy and airbrushed. It’s a great way to stay in touch – superficially – with an enormous amount of people, and also a great way to advertise your upcoming concert/book/play/article/website/art show/tennis match. It’s super helpful in remembering birthdays and even learning about current events. It’s a place for superficial relationships, ones based on pictures and witty phrases and sharing the day’s funniest youtube video or buzzfeed article.
And these are not bad things. It’s nice to get back in touch with pals from high school or reconnect with long-lost college roommates and discover all the things they are doing these days. It’s good to come together in solidarity when something terrible and traumatic happens in the world and everyone is trying to make sense of it. It’s wonderful to get recommendations on anything from dishwashers to Oaxaca itineraries. Facebook is not bad and the kinds of relationships it breeds are not bad.
But it’s not reality. Reality isn’t always – or even usually – perfect.
And we need relationships that are more than what Facebook offers. We need the constancy, transparency, and self-sacrifice of deep and true friendship (credit: Timothy Keller. His amazing talk on friendship is here for anyone who wants to listen!). Like David’s friendship with Jonathan, we need friendships that are covenantal (isn’t it interesting how instinctive this is as kids? we form best friends and exchange jewelry, blood, contracts, locks of hair…anything to “seal” the friendship in a covenantal way!). Even in the Garden of Eden, in Paradise — Adam needed a friend. It was not good for him to be alone. We need friends who are constant in the hard times — constant because they also treat friendship as something more than a whim undertaking — they treat it as a promise, a contract, a covenant.
Friendship also needs to be transparent — you have to be able to invite people into your heart and into your real life. Your close friends should see everything — the beautiful and the ugly, the celebrations and the sadnesses, the perfect dinner and the messy house. And inviting people into your life in this way takes TIME. Time to meet, time to talk, time to listen. But the time that we put into developing transparent friendships is never wasted time. It is these friendships that will challenge us and change us, that will grow us in goodness and support and buoy us in the hardest of times.
And friendship needs to be sacrificial. Like Jonathan, who gave up his life for David — or Jesus, who gave up his life for us — we need to be willing to sacrifice in huge ways and give ourselves extremely for our friends. Jonathan’s sacrificial friendship saved David’s life. It’s easy for us to be selfish with our resources, and not to give sacrificially. Our true friends are the people we should be the most generous with, in every way.
These are the kinds of friendships we NEED in life — friendships that are constant, transparent, and self-sacrificial.
I really value my mom community that’s on Facebook. And I am so, SO grateful for such an easy platform for sharing photos and tidbits of life with so many family members and friends who are far away. But I know I need to be careful about my expectations of social media. I need to make sure that I don’t conflate reality with something that’s been airbrushed and filtered to perfection. Facebook friends are great, but we all need more. We need the real thing, and we need people who are active in our lives.
So let’s get our expectations straight. Facebook isn’t real life. Real life is messy and imperfect. Real life involves mistakes and grace. Real life means there are good days and bad days (and sometimes, really bad days). “Facebook friends” can certainly be meaningful — but we need more. We need friends who are able to take a magnifying glass to our lives and hold us accountable when we make bad decisions. We need friends who will listen to the sound of our tears. We need friends who have seen all the parts of our lives and vice versa — not just the things that look good and get posted online.
Facebook is a great way to share life. But it’s not all of life.