If you scrolled through my Twitter feed, my Facebook profile, or my Instagram, you’d conclude the following:
- I have cute kids
- I read the Bible and think it’s true
- I love my wife a lot
- I like to preach and teach and eat and the Saint Louis Cardinals
- I run a nonprofit that helps the disadvantaged all over the world
All of that is true, it’s just not the whole truth.
Here’s the whole truth. Well, not the whole truth, but more of it:
- I yell at my kids sometimes, and if I hear one more little useless fact about Minecraft, I might just rip my ears off.
- I have a love/hate relationship with the Bible. I don’t always read it every day. I struggle to believe some of it is true. I have more questions than answers.
- I love my wife a lot, but we don’t always stand side by side, smiling and posing for photos. We fight. We figure it out. We fake it until we make it. We’re fifteen years in and plumbing the depths of human relationship, and that’s not always a safe, comfortable place.
- I like to preach and teach and eat and the Saint Louis Cardinals, but sometimes I wish I lived in the woods and never had to interact with people. I’ve never tweeted that, but #ThatsTheTruth.
- I love our nonprofit work, but I’m insecure about leading it and don’t feel like I know what I’m doing.
There are a lot of other things you don’t see online that are more like the “real” me. As you can imagine, these aren’t super winsome qualities or things I share when introducing myself to someone at a party.
- My hair is starting to thin out to the point of me feeling a little insecure about it. That’s dumb, but it’s true.
- I’m in counseling, dealing with past pain and trying to dig deeper into who I am and why I do what I do and feel what I feel. Turns out I don’t have it all together, something that my social media profiles seem to theorize.
- Since leaving local church ministry, I’ve stumbled around a bit with my identity. Turns out, too much of it was wrapped up in being a pastor.
- More often than I’m proud to admit, I trust myself more than I trust Jesus.
- When I’m under stress I have problems with authority.
That’s obviously not it, and there are lots of things I won’t tell you even when I’m being all honest and vulnerable like this. Surely, it’s not healthy to share everything with everyone. But I wonder if sometimes we aren’t honest enough. I think I know why.
Honest is messy. We are a people (especially in the church) that has vilified messy.
Vulnerable is risky. Vulnerability can get you hurt.
Pretending is easier. Safer.
So we all walk around in our armor, protecting our true selves from one another and acting like we’ve got it together when in fact, at least sometimes, we’re dying inside. Barely holding it together. We’ve learned this, in some ways, from the generation before us. They did a good job of keeping things locked up inside. Post World War II American sort of perfected the act of hiding. They retreated to the suburbs and kept their secrets and built taller privacy fences.
Mind your own business, thank you very much.
But our generation must own up to our own escape routines. We are more connected than ever, we say. Yet the connection seems so weak, so fleeting, so empty. It’s a connection that seems so much more like bondage to a device than a relationship with a real-life person with skin and feelings and doubts and deep hurt. We share more content than ever, but the content is tightly controlled. Like the privacy fences of our parents and grandparents, people only see what we allow them to see.
The irony is not lost on me. I’m sharing these thoughts on a blog that really is just some zeroes and ones on a server somewhere. My words are coming to you via social media. They are edited, too, so you’ll only read what I want you to read. And here you are reading them, some of you having never even met me in “real” life.
And perhaps that’s the problem — we haven’t quite figured out what “real” means. What is “real” life? Who is the “real” you? How do we answer those questions among fellow pilgrims who spend so much of their time playing pretend?
I’m not sure I have all the answers, but I’m going to start here:
I am not my social media self. I’m much more complicated than that. But as I go about my business of being who I “really” am, I’m not going to continue to be hesitant to share that with others.
One of the things I love about the Bible is that its central characters are incredibly flawed. Indeed, we’ve made “heroes” of those to whom the Scripture never attributes such titles. The word “hero” doesn’t even appear in the New Testament. As it turns out, they all struggled like we do — with doubt and depression and fatigue and flaws. None of them ever figured it out.
And there are the tales of their trepidation, on the pages of Scripture alongside their stories of faithfulness and victory. What if that’s because the true success of it all is not that we’re all put together, but rather that we are wading through the messiness and messed-up-ness of this world with our eyes on Jesus instead of on our carefully-crafted social media selves.
Let’s stop playing pretend. Let’s be more real, whatever that means, so that Jesus can take where we’re at and take us where He wants us to be.
Titus Benton is the founder and Executive Director of The 25 Group, a non profit making “less least of these” all over the world.