I scrolled for a long time. The more I scrolled, the more I shrank into myself. If only I had her house then I’d be content. If only I had that kitchen then I’d be motivated to cook healthily. If only I could lose a few more pounds, then I’d be happy. If only I had more money then I’d be able to x, y, z.
Living in the realm of “if only” is an exhausting place to live. Trust me, I know. I’ve been there. Too many times … I’ve lived in and operated out of that place. It’s a place where discontentment breeds contempt. Looking around at what *everyone else* seemingly has and what I seemingly lack is incredibly dangerous, because if I look hard enough I will see what I want to see. I will see the things that I will then use to validate my frustrations and disappointments. If I can find any way to justify my reasoning then I can allow myself to wallow in my self-imposed pity party. If only this one thing could change, then I’d be …
Social media and society both feed into this “if only” lie. We are bombarded with messages telling us that in order to find happiness and contentment we need more - and if not more, then we need to buy better or be better. But more of what? Better than who? And I feel it as a mum. I’m responsible for curating and sustaining the life I want for my family, yet so often I feel the tension of “if only” in my head and on my heart. If only I didn’t lose my temper. If only I managed my time better. If only I was more organised then I’d be a better mum. Then I’d be a better wife. Then I’d feel worthy. I say this with a heavy heart because I know exactly where my worth comes from and it is not in my ability to perform my duty as a wife or as a mum. My worth is found in Christ. Yet even still, time and time again I find myself tangled up in the “if only” game; even though I know it is a game I will never win. So why do I play?
Sometimes playing seems like the easier option. Sometimes it’s much harder to face up to the reality of life than continue to live in a virtual world. But in the long term, the longer I play the game, the more I start to believe the lies I’m being fed. It doesn’t take long for disappointment and dissatisfaction (which are inevitable in life) to turn into indifference and resentment. There was a situation recently where I failed to communicate something important to a close friend. The easier option was to stay quiet - it was so much more difficult to have the hard conversation. So what did I do? I remained silent and let my frustrations fester. What started out as a small frustration turned into me resenting the cause of my frustration and eventually … resenting my friend. If only they would do this. If only they would say that, then we wouldn’t have this problem. I convinced myself that it was their fault and unfairly validated my argument using social media. I searched for what I wanted to see and of course I found it in abundance. In reality, without the lens of the screen, the problem was actually with me. But instead of dealing with it, I chose to avoid it and used instagram to substantiate my woes. Inevitably, it was never going to end well. The more I scrolled, the more I saw what I was lacking and the more I harboured wrong feelings towards my friend. It’s a vicious cycle.
Communicating and having hard conversations in real life are becoming more and more difficult to do the more that we continue to choose to live in our virtual realities. Instagram becomes an escape from our everyday problems. We scroll endlessly thinking it’s fairly harmless, when it is doing us more harm than good. It steals our time. It steals our attention. It steals relationships. And it’s hard to stop. Like an addiction, it feeds us what we are craving and always leaves us wanting more. If only I could create a flat lay like she can. If only I had more followers then …
I’ve found myself gravitating towards the idea of a digital detox over the last few months but wondered how it could work with content creation jobs lined up. I’ve caught myself thinking thoughts like, “if only I could take a break from instagram” and “if only I could find more of a balance”. These are good goals to have but my reality is that social media is part of my job and more importantly, my ministry. I need to take positive steps to actually achieve these goals, replacing my “if only” with “I will”. Instead of uttering, “if only they’d do this” under my breath to my friend, I find a way to carefully and considerately communicate how I feel. I stop and think about how I can support them, not chastise them. Rather than avoiding my problems and escaping into the online world, I have to consciously choose to live in the real world, even if it is more difficult to do so.
It frightens me to think how much social media can have a hold on us – if we let it. It’s just too damn accessible. It’s too easy to switch off from our own lives and responsibilities and live through someone else’s life. I’ll admit, it’s usually someone whose life looks a lot better than mine - someone who supposedly has it all together. Someone who feeds their kids organic-only food, never loses their temper and keeps a sparkly clean home. I choose to live my life through them and in doing so my own measly existence simply pales into comparison. And the result? I come away feeling deflated and dissatisfied. Please note, I don’t actually think I live a measly existence, I’m eternally grateful for the life I’ve been blessed to live - but there have been moments when I let the enemy use social media to convince me otherwise! Please forgive me – I’m only human. How often have I wasted precious time living through the lives of others and failed to give my own life, my family, my home and relationships the time and dedication they needed to grow and flourish. It’s no wonder I started to believe the lies that my own life doesn’t measure up. I’m measuring using the wrong ruler. It’s not '“one size fits all”.
If I look for it, I’m always going to find someone who looks like a better mum than me. I’m going to come across a family who seemingly have it all. It’s how social media works. It’s why we are obsessed with it. More often than not, we post the things that we love: our passions and our successes. It’s our highlight reel and that’s ok. What’s not ok is when we start to believe that our own life, our families or careers aren’t measuring up to what we see. The danger is that using social media at all leaves us susceptible. It’s incredibly hard to use social media at a distance, to not allow ourselves to get sucked in, to resist the pull of the scroll. Sometimes I’m not strong enough to refuse and it is in these moments that, for the sake of my own mental health and my family, I lay it all at the foot of the cross and cry out for Jesus to take every last bit. Because if I’m left to my own devices, more often than not I’m back where I started, repeating the same behaviour and believing the “if only” lie.
I’d love to share four practical tips I’ve implemented in my own life that are having a positive effect on how I use and view social media.
1. Start each day with gratitude
For me this looks like writing a prayer in my journal, thanking God for his faithfulness and goodness (even when things are tough – there is always something to be thankful for.) Every new morning is a new opportunity. Take a deep breath then take on the day!
2. Cultivate kindness
This season for my family looks a lot like me at home and my husband at work or church. There are sacrifices being made every single day to allow me the opportunity to work from home. I am learning how to be kinder to us both.
3. Set boundaries
I’m setting a limit to my time on social media. Give yourself a few boundaries too if you are finding the temptation too much to resist.
I’m aiming to drastically reduce what I’m exposing myself to on social media in the coming months – it is time to de-clutter and get rid of anything that’s negative!
Nurturing my home and family - indeed, looking after myself - has to begin by facing up to the reality that social media can be a destructive and divisive place. A place that so often encourages me to fix my eyes on what I lack, to be concerned about how I don’t measure up and eventually forcing me down the lonely road of “if only.” What is crucial is the recognition that I am in control of how I use and consume social media. Social media does not consume or control me.
My challenge going forward is to responsibly consume and create life-affirming, real content. Content that showcases the every day: those mundane motherhood moments, the raw and unplugged aspects of my life as well as the highlight reel. I want my daughter to look back in 20 years time and be proud of her mama’s online contribution. And I want to stand proudly and say that I chose wisely the content I consumed. That I was a good role model. That I carefully curated content that constantly pointed me towards living a life full of grace, love and hope. Content that encouraged me to become better … not in a shaming way, no judgement or forcing of my hand. But better in the most humble of ways. Better, not best. Social media forces our hand to continually show our ‘best’ version of ourselves, our families, our lives … and I’m done. I owe it to myself and my family to travel the road less taken and give my “if only” baggage to someone else to carry.