Insta-Envy

It’s 2:33 in the afternoon and I’m sitting in the doctor’s office, waiting on an appointment. I automatically pull out my phone, enter my passcode, and open the Instagram app—the brown polaroid-looking one that I’ve purposely placed within one-touch access. No new followers. Darn. My thumb slides upward across the smooth screen. Images flash across my eyes, sinking somewhere inside my visual cortex where my brain processes an opinion before my thumb breaks contact with the phone.

I know people say it’s a long way between your head and your heart, but in this case my thoughts have sprinted there and back in less than an instant, and my brain is immediately inundated with cheap assessments and critical perspectives.

“Did he really just post another picture of his breakfast?”

or

“She didn’t ‘like’ my sunset photo last week so I am not ‘liking’ hers.”

or

“That picture is too perfect, they must have spent hours editing it. What a waste of time.”

These thoughts are actually occurring inside my head, reverberating against my skull while I sit placidly in the quiet waiting room. And though I’d never dream of vocalizing them, they’re still happening, aren’t they? So on some level my heart must think they’re true—that people like so-and-so better than me because they have more followers, or that I’m better than so-and-so because my artistic coffee cup picture with the creamy swirls has more “likes”. 

Seriously? Let’s take a moment to call out how trivial this is. This reckless comparing, this insta-envy, based solely on our own interpretations of how we want our lives to be perceived—because let’s be real, I’m not the only one who thinks like this. And what’s crazy is this is nothing new. Humanity has been doing the comparison deal for thousands of years, way before the first after-workout selfie ever graced the insta-world. 

I know I talk a lot about the Bible, but it’s because it has a lot of good things to say that I believe to be true. Anyway in it there’s an old proverb that says, “a tranquil heart gives life, but envy makes the bones rot.” Another version describes it as cancer spreading through our bodies.

This is how Instagram makes me feel, like there’s something rotten inside, envious thoughts multiplying through my body like cancer, poisoning my heart with quiet little lies about how I should be, about how others should be, about how life should be.

So I deleted my Instagram.

Now before you go all, “Well that’s a bit drastic”, hear me out. Ideally Instagram is a good thing. It’s a creative hub for people to express their personality and share their experiences, whether that be through cute puppy photos, throwback Thursdays, or pixilated sunrise shots. It’s a tool that’s meant to encourage laughter, beauty, and community—feelings of goodwill and happiness for our fellowman.

But I don’t think it does that for most people, for me anyway. I think it leads a lot of its users to discontent, gossip, and envy. So I’m choosing not to have it in my life for the time being. I’m not trying to guilt-trip the world into getting rid of Instagram, I would be naive in assuming that deleting an app could cure mankind of it’s comparison problems. But I do think this provides an opportunity for you to examine you’re own insta-intentions, because like a mirror these intentions reflect the state of our hearts. Are you okay with posting a less than perfect picture? Do you feel inferior when your photo has less “likes” than someone else’s? And let’s not limit envy to an Instagram only issue. Who in your life are you comparing yourself to, and are your expectations realistic?

We’re all just people. Imperfect people. But we have the capacity to love each other well, to believe in and encourage the best in each other. I don’t need an app on my phone to tell you that.

New Year Angst

Call me cynical, but I’ve got a hard heart when it comes to New Years resolutions. Of course I’d never say that out loud, but I don’t think I can take another exercise check list or personal goal chart. I can’t help rolling my eyes—I’m so over it.

I realize I’ve got a bad attitude, but let’s be honest for a second. As much as I’d like to be, I’m not an achiever. Somehow I missed that self-discipline gene. But, being the dreamer that I am, I’m great at convincing myself that I actually am one.

Every year when January rolls around, I come up with a fantastical improvement plan covering all areas of my life. Am I going to read my Bible more? Well yes of course, I’m going to read the whole thing twice. Exercise twice a week you say? Bump that—I’m going to run every single day. And do Crossfit. And eat three incredibly healthy meals per day. I’m caught up on this unrealistic achiever high for about week, until inevitably—as they do every year—my resolutions fail. I make excuses. I’ll do better tomorrow. I get discouraged. I feel guilty. And then I just give up. 

You see why I’m cynical? Why bother even starting the cycle, when I know I’m only going to be disappointed in myself.

When I react like this, I know it reveals something very important about where my heart is. I’ve thrown up a well-constructed self-protective wall to shield a real and nasty danger. Call it pride, self-reliance, works-based righteousness—however you choose to define it—a part of my heart desperately wants to be defined by what I do. 

Don’t get me wrong, I think were were meant to do things well. The alternative would be everyone being terrible at stuff, and well that would just lead to anarchy, chaos and one huge suck fest. We can and should take pride in our accomplishments. But ultimately I don’t think we are meant to find meaning in them.

So quick Bible moment, I think this is what’s going on in the book of Galatians. Paul, the author, is frustrated at the church at Galatia because they’ve been preaching that in order to be a true Christian, you have to be circumcised, essentially submitting themselves back under the law, saying salvation is contingent on what one does. Worth defined by works. 

Paul’s pretty adamant about how dangerous this belief is. Take a quick look at what he says:

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision (works), Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” Galatians 5:1-4 (ESV)

Grace! So sweet in its acceptance and so easily rejected in a moment. And yet I think it’s the key to my resolution issue. I get it, my goals tend to be unrealistic, I know it’d help to trim them down to attainable levels. But really what I need is grace, because grace gives me the freedom and joy to keep going in a moment of failure. Instead of throwing in the towel when I’ve failed, when I’m tempted to tie my worth to what I’m doing—I can preach grace into my heart.

So back to that whole resolution thing. I’m going to try out a few, and this year I hope they work out. But more importantly I hope I remember my worth isn’t based on whether I accomplish them or not. I have been saved by faith. I have a Father who desperately loves me and who has infinitely answered for my shortcomings. And it really is true, his mercies are new every morning. 

La Bonne Aventure || Part One

I’ve spent the last ten days tramping through Oxford, London, Paris, and Hamburg with my dear sister, Nat. We’ve had quite a few adventures, from desperate train journeys to retrieve absolutely necessary travel documents, to running out of money to pay our hotel bill in Paris. I’m a little surprised we’ve made it back to Durham in one piece.  

During my travels, I’d hoped to discover God in a new way. Sometimes I struggle to connect with the massiveness of divinity. In the midst of routine it’s difficult not to get stuck in the duty of religion. So whether it be in the art of Paris, a cathedral in Durham, or the German countryside—my heart sought beauty like a secret. I would discover it, and I would be awed to tears. 

I cried the first time I saw the Seine. Nat and I had been wandering the avenues of Paris, weaving our way through a myriad of buildings and busy streets. We turned a corner and voila! there she was flowing sweetly past the Louvre, like she’d been doing it for a millions years. A sharp intake of breath and my eyes got blurry. The fleeting sunset accentuated the ancient buildings with a painting of pinks, an original never to be seen again. I could have stood there forever. In that moment I knew there must be a God, and he must be beautiful. I felt very small in comparison.

I knew there must be a God, and he must be beautiful

The next day we went to Notre Dame. One thing I’ve discovered about cathedrals is that they’re a bit ridiculous in presentation. Not in a bad way, it’s just there’s so much sacred that it’s almost frightening. You walk in and feel like you have to appreciate every detail—the high archways, the intricate stain glass, the archaic paintings of saints, it’s a lot too take in. It’s holy, overwhelmingly so. 

I was pondering this while walking around the cathedral when Natalie pointed out a wooden panel that had several important biblical scenes carved into the wood. We tried to identify each one, and when we got to the middle section, we found a depiction of Jesus washing his disciple’s feet. For some reason, I couldn’t stop looking at it. 

I am very aware of my inadequacies, especially in contrast to the beauty and holiness encountered over the past few days. I couldn’t shake that feeling of smallness, of weakness, of an inability to love the way I wanted to. Even in simple interactions—I wanted to be kind to Natalie, but when frustrated my remarks were short and harsh. I thought perhaps I just needed to try harder. Excuses are such sweet temptation.

If we allow this grace to sink into our core, I think it can be revolutionary

The wooden block of Jesus brought me back to reality. If God is Notre Dame, he is holy, beautiful, too sacred to touch, too above to be known. God of Notre Dame exposes my weakness. I cannot be like him, be near him, no matter how hard I try. But if God is Jesus, he is humble, accessible, loving. He takes my weakness upon himself, he washes my feet. I think that’s why I was so moved. God is both. Big and beautiful as the magnificent towers of the cathedral, as intricate as the stain glass, and as powerful as the beams and archways. And yet, he is humble, on his knees, washing the dirt off my feet so I can experience and partake in this overwhelming holiness. 

It’s deeply mysterious is it not? But if we grasp it, if we allow this grace to sink into our core, I think it can be revolutionary. That, my friends, is a good adventure.