Our family just returned from a trip to visit family in Florida. We got to spend a few days with my sister, and while we were there, she was able to take our family photos. She is an incredibly gifted photographer, and she knows how to wield Photoshop in a way that enhances photos while keeping them realistic looking.
One of my favorite portraits is this one, which she took in front of a gorgeous reflecting pool at Alfred B. Maclay Gardens in Tallahassee.
(photo credit: Crystal Basford/White Rhino Photography, 2014)
It is a beautiful spot where we were able to get several really great photos, two family portraits in particular. In each photo, either the boys looked wonderful, or I did. Unfortunately, both didn’t occur in the same photo. My sister took my face from the better photo of me and put it over the better photo of the boys. She also had to add the eyes from my older son to the photo because he was squinting in this photo. Then she did a little nip tuck to make me look skinnier (at my request, of course), and she helped me to make my growing out haircut look better (growing out a pixie cut is hard).
The end result is a stunningly beautiful family portrait. Sadly, though, it’s not really real. The reality is that my older son was squinting because he was whining about wanting to eat something and wanting to play in the water. I looked worse in the picture because I’d just been fussing at my son (yes, I yell sometimes, and I’m not really sorry) to stop whining, so we could get one good picture before the light was gone. My younger son kept looking a different direction, and my husband just kept smiling and squeezing my older son’s arm to try to make him behave.
We live in a fake world. Reality TV is highly edited to get the desired effect they want. Photographs, even personal snapshots, are often highly edited to show us in our best light. Reality is simply not reality.
I wish it stopped there, but it doesn’t. We live in the social media era. We filter our Instagram photos, we only share the parts of ourselves that we want known on Facebook or Twitter, and e mail has no hints of the social cues that are necessary to know exactly what the reader is thinking of the material that the author has included. We carefully guard our image, and we carefully protect ourselves from scrutiny of any hint of imperfection. We see others best moments and compare them to our worst moments. It’s part of the reason that a University of Michigan study showed evidence that Facebook makes us sadder and more unsatisfied with life.
Am I against social media? No. Absolutely not. I love my Facebook account and blog. I enjoy turning all my pictures into hipsteriffic filtered snapshots on Instagram. I tweet occasionally. I re-post memes. I love it because so many of my old friends have scattered across the globe, and this makes them feel closer.
The problem arises when I over-edit and over-sell my own life into a life I think others will envy. Here’s the truth. I’m pretty screwed up. Our family isn’t perfect. We argue. We spend money we don’t have. We make excuses and bail on social engagements because we are wiped out from work or feeling introverted. My house usually looks like an episode of Hoarders. Sometimes I pick up a piece of clothing, sniff it, and wear it because it looked and smelled okay. I sometimes don’t reply to texts, phone calls, or e mails because my brain gets tired. My kids eat fast food. I make a LOT of canned vegetable meals because I’m lazy. You get the point.
Truth is, most of us are fake. We are big fat Fakey McFakersons. Every one of us. I’m terrible about it. I realize that, to some degree, it’s necesary. I didn’t want to wear my personal issues on my sleeve at work, and I don’t always want my kids to know if I’m having a bad day for a grown-up reason that they can’t handle yet. Those situations are not what I’m talking about.
In other ways, this is crippling to my ability to share the intimate parts of my heart and mind with others. God calls us to fellowship with each other as believers, and we need it.
In the second chapter of Acts, arguably one of the most powerful chapters in the New Testament, we see believers who received power from the Holy Spirit. We see people coming to know Christ. We see signs and wonders. We also see one of the biggest reasons for the momentum that these people found spiritually in verse 42, “All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.”
It appears that not only were these believers in communion with God, they were in constant communion with each other. You don’t share meals and pray in a devoted manner without things having to get real. Eventually any pretense is going to have to fade or else the whole thing will fizzle because it’s not genuine. It will fade out because of our pride.
Several months ago I shared a blog post about my struggle with intense postpartum depression and chronic depression. I was overcome with fear about sharing something so personal with the world. I am very prideful about being able to do it all without help, and admitting that I am weak was terrifying. Some people told me that I was brave. In all honesty, what I did may have required some guts, but it wasn’t bravery that made me do it; I was desperate. I wanted to stop pretending to be okay. I wanted other not-okay people to know that they could stop pretending as well. It opened up so many conversations, both public and private, and I found myself surrounded with love, support, and people who just got it. I wanted to stop caring so much about perception and just admit reality. I’m screwed up, and it’s okay if you’re screwed up, too. We are all screwed up. We are supposed to be. Blame Adam, I guess.
Since that time, I’ve had good days and bad, but what I’ve also had is a support network I never imagined was possible. I have people who check in on me. I have people I check in on as well. I found my people. We found each other. That all came from deleting the layers upon layers of Photoshop and just being real.
My challenge to anyone who reads this post is this:
1. Identify your Photoshop layers (whatever you are hiding or prettying up for the world).
2. Find someone who is trustworthy and who loves you, and share this with them. Make sure that he or she is a person who will pray for you and not use the information to hurt you.
3. Work on ways to stop editing your reality into oblivion to the outside world. It will be painful, and you may lose some people along the way, but you will retain those who love the real you and gain those who need someone to hurt with.
4. Make this your prayer for the process-
Eternal God, in whom we live and move and have our being, whose face is hidden from us by our sins, and whose mercy we forget in the blindness of our hearts: cleanse us from all our offenses, and deliver us from proud thoughts and vain desires, that with reverent and humble hearts we may draw near to you, confessing our faults, confiding in your grace, and finding in you our refuge and strength; through Jesus Christ your Son.
Book of Common Worship,
Louisville: Westminster/John Know Press, 1993
Now, let’s get real.