Observing us having just returned from a delightful vacation, a friend humorously commented yesterday that the Instagram version of our trip looked awesome. This sparked a memory of a second comment about Instagram that one of our kids made to me during the trip; it was about how Instagram and other social media can create enormous pressure in people’s lives. More on that in a moment.

[Full disclosure: I do not have an Instagram account. I do have a Facebook account that I never use. I won’t try to validate my social media credentials by noting that some of my best friends use social media or that I can spell Twitter or anything like that.]

The Instagram Version

We really did have an awesome vacation. As far as I know, the Instagram posts (I’m the only one in the family without an account) show that Lesley and I had the joy of getting together with our kids at a family home in Laguna Beach, CA. It was the first time we’ve all been together in five years and it was sweet to take walks, do puzzles, win Tuesday Night Trivia at a local restaurant [important family trivia: our family team Trivia night name was the Green Vine Snakes, after one of the soccer teams I coached with two of our sons as players that hardly ever won anything until Trivia night – huge victory], explore tide pools, have meaningful conversations, and end with a time of prayer for one another. Idyllic, no? That’s the Instagram version of our vacation.

What You Didn’t See on Instagram

We really did have an awesome vacation, but it wasn’t a utopian, heaven-on-earth experience. You probably didn’t see pictures of us with morning hair, or during the small-scale family skirmish that broke out during Trivia night, or the piles of dirty dishes, or the cloudy and rainy weather (because it never rains in Southern California, right? There are probably laws against posting such pictures.). Social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook let us edit and curate and select what we want to put out there and what we want to keep to ourselves. Therefore Instagram has no way to convey other realities of family vacation: realities like bad breath or envy or stress or tears or worried parents, yet these things were just as present as the smiling faces and beautiful scenes you see in the edited pictures.

Which brings us to the limits of social media. Instagram comment number two, the one from my son, came with the explanation that it is all too easy to stake your identity and find your significance in your online self, which is a dangerous proposition. If I put my edited, curated, carefully selected self out there, how many followers will I attract? How many likes will I get? What if I’m bullied? What if other people’s edited, curated lives seem much more beautiful and interesting than mine? We’ve moved into the realm of identity here. Who am I, really? Social media proves to be thin ice upon which to build one’s identity, but the gospel is granite.

Social media proves to be thin ice upon which to build one’s identity, but the gospel is granite.

God knows not just my edited, online self: he knows my every action, word, thought, desire, and intention. He knows the ones I’m willing to go public with, and the ones I’m not. And he loves me! In Christ I am a forgiven sinner, loved by God, and called to be a saint (Romans 1:6). What a stable, hopeful identity that is!

Knowing that God loves me, forgives me, and is remodeling me into the image of Christ, frees me to be able to be honest and open with others about my joys and my fears, what I’m thankful for and what I’m ashamed of. The gospel frees me to disclose the edited, not-so-pretty parts of who I really am. When we open up this part of our lives with other saints, we have this miracle called fellowship.

Our new identity in Christ frees us to go beyond the Instagram version of our lives with one another by loving one another, bearing one another’s burdens, and speaking soul-strengthening truth to one another. Glory to God. Vacation was great, but I’m glad to be home and glad to be going to community group tonight to have fellowship with the saints. Having said that, let’s keep brushing our teeth since, when it comes to morning breath, we’d all prefer the “Instagram version” over the authentic one!


Mark Mullery