“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes to someone else’s highlight reel.”
Steven Furtick, lead pastor of Elevation Church, was credited for saying this a few years ago at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit about the way we engage each other, particularly through technology. When his quote hit social media, I thought it was brilliant. I’ve used it numerous times in the counseling room and, each time, garnered a response of, “That’s so true!”
Pastor Steven started a much-needed conversation about social media and its downfalls. He warned of the comparison trap, taught how to escape it, and encouraged emotional resilience in combination with God reliance. Other leaders joined the conversation, and we’ve reached a consensus about using wisdom when it comes to the mindless scroll.
Since then, there seems to be a movement of Facebookers, Tweeters, and Gramers who are willing to go rogue and go real. They are eager to shed the safety of the narcissistic cover-up. They are content to forfeit the distraction of the ventriloquist doll in order to just be the ventriloquist. They are ready, even if still hesitant, to allow attention on their true selves and their true lives, albeit uncomfortable and extrememly vulnerable.
As a result, my feeds on various social media outlets have been filled with disasterous tornado-hit rooms, mismatched clothes, children with Crayola tattoos, botched recipes, Pinterest flops, portraits au naturel, and family photos that somewhat resemble a scene from a horror movie. More consistently, I see hashtags like #momfail, #keepingitreal, #nomakeup, #nofilter, and #truthteller, all of which frame the realistic and crop out the idealistic.
Needless to say, I appreciate the warning flares from Pastor Steven about comparisons. I believe there is unending freedom in consistently being oneself rather than constantly striving to be someone else. Furthermore, I highly value authenticity, sometimes to a fault, and so I’m all for resisting the urge to post only the highlights and unveil the still-appropriate-for-social-media behind-the-scenes.
Even so, I have an issue with this line of thinking…
When we tell people to stop comparing their behind-the-scenes to someone else’s highlight reel, we are relying on the giant canvas-sized presupposition that what we are actually seeing is the highlight reel. We are assigning value and bias from a judgmental stance, although unintentionally. We are assuming that people are posting the best, the rare, the success, and the perfect, rather than the real, the ugly, the failure, and the frequent, and we’re resting on our ability to tell the difference. Furthermore, we’re accepting the idea that a difference actually exists and that behind-the-scenes and highlights are mutually exclusive. And we’re putting ourselves and others in an equation of relativity, one that includes a distinction between this or that, mine or yours.
But what if we’re not actually seeing the highlight reel? In order words, what if these pictures and posts on social media aren’t standard-making moments? What if they are actually survival-mode moments?
Take moms, for example.
What if the mom that frequently takes her kids to fun places, like COSI, the zoo, and World of Bounce just desperately needs to get out of the house? Her life and the lives of her children depend on it.
And the mom who’s always freshly showered? What if that’s her way of getting at least ten minutes of alone time everyday, even if her children are only a few inches away on the other side of the curtain?
What about the mom that is always posting about the latest burp cloth, baby blanket, or tee-shirt she just effortlessly whipped up on her sewing machine? What if that’s her way of contributing to the family finances? She uses her creativity so that she can stay home with her kids every day.
How about the mom that just so happens to know everyone in the community? Maybe building relationships is her only way of fighting the loneliness that comes with SAHM status.
And the mom that looks like she just stepped out of a J Crew catalogue posed with her family at church on Sundays? Well, perhaps that’s the one day of the week she gets to dress up. Yoga pants need a recovery day too, you know.
Don’t forget about the mom that gets up before her kids to have her coffee, read, or workout. How does she do it? Maybe she is motivated by knowing it’s the only time she’ll get to her introverted-self all day long or maybe she knows that trying to accomplish those things with multiple little people running around is just completely maddening.
And the mom who posts the vacation-at-the-beach photo? What if that’s the only week of the entire year that she gets to connect with her husband and kids without distraction?
That soon-to-be mom with the weekly baby bump updates…surely her posts encapsulate her joy and excitement, but what if they also help her to fight off any perinatal anxiety. Weekly posts serve as hard evidence, reassuring her that everything’s okay in there.
Finally, maybe the mom who posts a never ending stream of #mostbeautifulbabyever pictures is just trying to white-knuckle her way through the workday. Looking at those pictures and having hundreds readily available is the only thing that prevents her from irresponsibly quitting her job.
And those are just the moms…
My point is that I think we’re doing ourselves a disservice to assume that what we are seeing is beautiful because it’s the best. What if it’s beautiful because it’s the truth? What if it’s the messy, totally awful yet totally abundantly amazing, overwhelmed with both love and pain, freedom and responsibility, God-I-don’t-want-to-mess-up-this-life, I’m-doing-the-best-I-can truth? And what if truth is most revealed when we are just trying to survive?
I’ll admit I’m not really a fan of my own conclusion. I’ve pretty much been in survival-mode since I became a mom, and it feels awful, where Exhausted, Sloppy, Tattered, Overwhelmed, Exposed, and Out of Control are my long-suffering and loyal companions. For me, survival-mode is the constant nagging of something else that needs tended to; it’s the reminder that I no longer feel like I’m doing a good job at anything I put my hand to. It’s the frazzled sense that everything on my plate should have been consumed five minutes ago. But, oh my goodness, there is so much beauty to be found in survival-mode, if only I allow it. It holds me in a place of vulnerability, allows just enough gentle tension to keep me humble and dependent, and guides me towards what’s right. It releases the pressure of [should be] and makes my aim [just be.]
Is sounds like just the sort of beauty that could be mistaken for the highlight reel, doesn’t it?
I’m with Pastor Steven; I do think we need to stop comparing ourselves to others, and I agree that we typically compare our worst to another’s best. But I also think we need to stop labeling what it is we think we see, remembering that we live in an upside down kingdom, where things aren’t always as they seem, where our values and biases aren’t necessarily accurate, where life doesn’t always take place in the either-or, and where beauty and brokenness often stand side by side.