I ate lunch with my pastor a few weeks ago. He asked me how things were going. “Stupid busy,” I said. I used those exact words. I used them because they’re true. My life is stupid busy. My kids have reached the exploratory stage of life. You know, that stage where every sport and activity opens up to them and they want to try to them all. As a parent, you want your kids to try different sports and activities. But your resources are finite. Mine are, at least. So, you pick and choose, but investing in even one sport in my town feels like a full-time job. My kids play two. So, in essence, I have three full-time jobs, which is not conducive for one’s mental, emotional or physical health.
I told my pastor all this. He thought about it for a moment. “You’re in the busiest season of your life,” he said. “I remember when my kids were the age yours are now. We teetered on exhaustion. We didn’t know from day-to-day how we would find the time or energy or money to do all the things that needed to be done. Hang in there. Enjoy this season. It will get better.”
I would like to say this made me feel better, and maybe it did. But I wanted a magic bullet or a quick fix. I wanted him to open a line of communication with God and come back with a five step plan to make my life easier. I would settle for an extra hour or two. But I preferred a step-by-step plan, ordained by the Big Man Upstairs, and guaranteed to resurrect my energy and free time from the ashes of my over-saturated schedule.
What I really wanted to communicate, though, but didn’t have the courage, was that I’m stressed. No, that’s inaccurate. I’m drowning. If I scan the different arenas of life – social, spiritual, financial – I’m behind in all of them. I come home exhausted. I wake up exhausted. “I’m tired” is the tagline for my life.
I wanted a magic bullet because I know they exist. I know families with kids who did what I do but aren’t drowning in fatigue. I see them all the time on social media. You see them, too.
If you separated my tired self from true self, I would tell you those pictures aren’t real. I know they’re a mirage. But my tired self is the one scrolling my timeline. And my tired self doesn’t see things clearly. He sees reality through the lens of comparison and discontentment.
THE DANGER OF SOCIAL MEDIA
Social media is dangerous in all seasons of life. It’s particularly dangerous, though, in seasons where stress is high. High stress is fertile ground for a legion of unhealthy, toxic behaviors.
You’re tired, exhausted, running on physical, emotional, spiritual fumes. The house is a wreck. You forgot that today was show-and-tell at your third grader’s school. You open the mail and find a bill from the orthodontist. You open your e-mail and find a link to pay for your son’s select soccer season. Your car needs new tires. You just clocked out on another 50+ hour work week.
In the madness of this, you plop down on the couch, open Facebook or Instagram or Tik Tok or whatever, and what do you see? Picture after picture of beautiful families who have it together. The Welborns with their white tees on the sand, all three kids smiling. Man, do they have it together. How do they have it together? What am I missing? Why is my life a wreck?
You keep scrolling. Oh, would you look at that? The Fowlers are on another vacation. Are they on vacation every week? Oh, and would you look at the Simmons. They’re at Disney. Again. Oh, and they all have matching shirts that say #BROKE, except the “O” is replaced with a Mickey logo. The Simmons have it together, and they’re funny. How do they do it? I mean, seriously, how much money do they make? God, I want to go to Disney. Or the beach. I need a break. Why can’t I have that life? Why am I failure?
We do this, don’t we? Or is it just me? We assume we’re the only ones crawling through life. Every other family has it together. They have access to the magic bullet.
THE TRUTH ABOUT THE PERFECT LIFE
Here’s the truth: no one has it together. The photos you see on social media aren’t real. Every single human in the history of the world struggles through life just like you and me. Maybe the Simmons do travel to the beach every week. Maybe you do know someone whose house is so clean you can lick the floors.
But, here’s what I know about humans. Something is array in another arena of life. Maybe Mrs. Simmons wrestles with mental illness. Maybe her marriage is on the rocks. Maybe her relationship with her children is shallow, superficial. Maybe Mr. Simmons is a workaholic. Maybe he cares more about the state of his golf game than the well-being of his family. I don’t know what is array in this family’s life. But something is array.
I don’t say isn’t an indictment on the families you see as you scroll through social media. I say this because I know the reality of being human. To be human is to struggle, to wrestle with finitude, with limitations, with weaknesses. We fight and scratch and claw through our days, and this doesn’t dismiss the beauty and joy of life because there’s plenty of that. Plenty of smile-worthy moments.
It just means that life isn’t Instagram photos. It’s not. No family is picture perfect. No family has it together. Let me say that again, louder this time, for the folks in the back: no one has it together.
So, one of the most important things we can do for our mental, emotional, spiritual and even physical health is divorce the pictures we see on social media from this idealized image of having it together, as if such a thing exists.
WHAT IT MEANS TO LIVE A GOOD LIFE
Social media also deceives us about what it means to live a good life, a meaningful life. Social media says if you could just have his job or her Type A personality, you would be happy. If you had the freedom to frequent the Floridian shores or the resources to hire a maid or a yard guy or a personal masseuse, you would instantly find happiness. Social media wants you to believe that happiness is so close. It’s just beyond your grasp. The only thing you need is one more thing.
And we know this is a lie. We know acquiring more is a bad recipe for peace and joy. The things of God grow in the incubator of contentment. Write that down.
Jesus himself warned us against the temptation to acquire more in an attempt to find Life. “Watch out,” Jesus says in Luke 12:15, “Be on guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
Well, then, what does life consist of? What is the good life?
The good life is a life lived with honesty and integrity, where we value telling the truth and making the right decisions more than we value our personal comfort.
The good life is one where we value our self-care. Where we have the courage to look at our spouse and say I’m tired and need a break. I don’t need to go to Florida, but I do need a few hours alone tonight. I need you to take care of the kids. Very few adults have the courage to prioritize their self-care. But the ones who do know something about capital l-Life. Jesus says this life is available to us right now. Most days, I don’t think that’s true. People who value self-care know Jesus is telling the truth.
The good life is one where we care more about who our kids become than than the awards they receive. My kids can win Mr. or Miss Name Of Your High School. They can be the star quarterback or cheerleader or whatever. But if they’re not good humans who love God and treat people with respect and tell the truth, I’ve failed as a parent.
The good life is one where we’re content in this very moment right now. We don’t long for another thing, not another vacation or a higher paying job or a larger house. Contentment is an EpiPen for anyone overwhelmed with stress. Take a shot and your systems return to normal, almost overnight.
The good life is one where we love ourselves and our neighbor and our community. We give time and money to those in need, rather than hoard it all for ourselves.
This is what matters. And this is what so few parents pursue, starting with yours truly. I don’t pursue these things nearly as often as I should. I get caught up in the rat race, hung up on riding the hamster wheel, climbing ladders that lead to nowhere.
When my kids are grown and gone, what do I want them to remember about me? That I spent my most of my hours working so I could keep up with the Joneses? That I spent all my time in the yard, making sure my lawn and flowerbeds were Instagram worthy? #Blessed. That my house and car were flawless? That we went to Disney every other weekend?
Or do I want them to remember that I was present in their day-to-day lives, that I played silly board games or had tea parties or whatever, that I taught them how to find joy in this moment, and that you don’t need a mansion or a vacation to have a good life?
Of course the answer is the latter. If it is, why don’t we stop this silly social media comparison game? Let’s stop pretending that just because the Simmons post a new photo every weekend from a different location, that they have a better life than you. They don’t. They just have a different one.
Life is hard. You don’t have it together. You can’t do it all. So, prioritize the things that matter. Let’s be okay with good enough. Let’s be content with the blessings in front of us.
Grace and peace, friends.