I have a confession. Deep down, I want to be a social media influencer. If you go even deeper, what I really want is to be a saint. It’s just that I’d also like to be recognized as a living saint through my Instagram and Twitter accounts.
It is difficult to even type those words. I am worried that it might ruin my image as a young woman who is effortlessly striving for holiness and bringing others along for the ride. But friends, striving for holiness involves a whole lot of effort.
Striving for holiness involves facing our demons head-on. It involves sometimes feeling like we can’t pray or wrestling with doubt. Seeking heaven means that we grapple with our tendency to want to establish a lasting life on this earth when we know it is only temporary.
I am not a perfect Christian. And quite frankly, neither are you. So why do we act like we are on social media?
There is something that I have termed “Instagram Christianity.” I call it that not because it only exists online but because it best describes this current trend in Christian witness. It is this idea that in order to glorify God, everything needs to look good from the outside. And if it doesn’t, if it’s a little bit messy, we can place a filter over it and put a witty caption and we can make it look good.
Here’s the problem: Things don’t always “look good” from our perspective where God is most present. Jesus was born in a stable and slept in a manger. Mary and Joseph lost Jesus in the temple. Jesus was called a blasphemer. Good Friday, when the work of our salvation was accomplished, was incredibly violent and bloody.
And yet, God is good. He’s not “picture perfect.” He’s just plain perfect.
God’s goodness does not exist in spite of pain and suffering in our world, but right in the midst of it. From the very beginning of the Church, Christian witness was not effective because it made everyone’s lives perfect. Christianity was attractive because even as people were preparing to die for the love of the Lord, they were singing his praises.
The stories of the martyrs are not simply romantic stories. They are stories of real pain and suffering, of fear and doubt. They are also stories of the ultimate triumph of God’s grace.
Somewhere along the line, Christians started thinking that in order for God’s love to be attractive, it needed to look good by human standards. We started hiding our own weaknesses and imperfections and waiting to share the reality of pain and struggle until we were clearly on the other side of it. Only then could we properly witness to God’s goodness, or so we thought.
In a world where people are experiencing the pain of weakness and sin, alongside the reality of a Church that is made up of imperfect members, “Instagram Christianity” is inauthentic. Worse than that, it does not actually witness to God’s love and grace. Instead of proclaiming God’s glory, it proclaims our own personal fidelity and perseverance.
Inside of the Church, an inauthentic Christian witness breeds loneliness in precisely the areas where we should be most connected. When we are unwilling to be genuinely vulnerable with one another, anything that is a part of our lives that does not seem to match up to the “Instagram” vision of Christianity creates shame. This shame closes us in on ourselves as we think that we are the only ones in the Church who struggle with this sin or that mental illness, with doubt or questions.
St. Paul, one of the greatest evangelizers, has some words of advice for us. He says, “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me” (2 Cor 12:9). When we acknowledge our weakness, not only privately but as a part of our public witness, the power of Christ shines through. This is the power that dispels sin and shame, the power that heals and makes whole.
Yes, our lives are better because we know God’s love. Praise him for that! And sometimes, we find ourselves whispering words of praise while grinding our teeth and clenching our fists. That’s not only okay, that’s the reality of God’s grace at work in our lives.