They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but then pictures don’t always tell the whole story, which is something I have learned on social media.
We say we’re keeping it real when we post our “nailed it” photos of the three-tiered cake we tried to bake for Grandma’s birthday, or when we go Facebook Live with our toddler throwing a colossal fit in the middle of Walmart, but that’s not even the half of it.
There is an underbelly to everyone’s lot in life, and we probably wouldn’t trade our current struggles for some of the things our friends have had to live through.
I know it’s hard not to be a little envious of our friend standing with their feet planted in an endless stretch of exotic sand while we are struggling through endless piles of paper in our colorless, climate-controlled cubicles. It’s hard to look at our oh-so-lucky friend smiling at sunrises and believe they could possibly have any struggles. They must have received some kind of fast-pass that propelled them to the head of the line while the rest of us were left standing in the tedium of Daily Life.
Or what about that friend whose house always looks like it’s ready for a magazine photo shoot, even though her kids were up all night puking and her dog is being treated for fleas? Oh, wait. Her kids would never lose last night’s dinner all over her freshly shampooed carpet, and her pets would never be afflicted by the pests that torment the rest of us, right?
Flus and fleas do not play favorites.
Yet we still get smitten by the snippets. Wooed by the wows. Dazed by the dazzling.
We know full well our own lives aren’t always picture-perfect, but we somehow believe everyone else’s lives consist only of those highlights popping up in our newsfeeds.
Lost weight? Got engaged? Ran a marathon? Traveled Europe? Had a baby?
These are the things we want to celebrate. This is the stuff we want to share with the world, and the stuff the world wants to share with us.
And only this stuff.
I know I don’t put all my nitty-gritty out there for everyone to see. The world’s not ready for the ins ands outs of life inside my skin. No one wants to see all that, not even the Russians.
I don’t run to fetch my camera when my teenager brings home a detention slip. I don’t lean in for a selfie with my husband when he’s already gotten on my last nerve and I’ve just finished pushing all his buttons.
We carefully select the parts of ourselves we put out there.
For every vacation photo that shows our happy, carefree family having the time of their lives, there are at least a few minutes of bickering over where to eat lunch, who forgot the sunscreen, or why we didn’t just go to Disneyland instead.
For every selfie I manage to take that turns out halfway decent, there are a dozen that go directly to my trash. In fact, if you ever looked through my trash folder, you probably wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. Believe me, I’ve seen them.
The point is, it’s not all unicorns and rainbows. (Unless we’re talking about those tiny rainbows that show up once in a while in an oily puddle of sludge under my car. Those are more commonplace than I’d like.)
There is a hidden reality behind every highlight, and we shouldn’t think for a minute that anyone draws a get-out-of-jail-free card.
But we will never see our Facebook friends dropping to their knees to pray for their child steeped in a heap of trouble.
We won’t see the fear gnawing at their insides, buried so deeply they can barely see it themselves, that unseen fear that controls their lives as sure as the sun by day and the moon by night.
We will never hear the wind being sucked out of their lungs while they’re sitting in a doctor’s office getting a diagnosis that until then had always been reserved for “other” people. We won’t be right there with them as they figure out “what next.”
We will never feel the weight of judgment and misunderstanding that presses in from every side as they watch their loved one struggle with mental illness. We will never, ever know that the heaviest judgment is the one they cast on themselves.
We can’t possibly know how long they’ve prayed to have a child, or have a better relationship with their child, or get married, or get their spouse to notice them, or find a better job, or find any job at all, or to just wake up feeling good all over, just this once.
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but one picture can still hide a powerful lot of truth.
I think most of us would be wowed by our own lives, if all we ever saw were the highlights. But we get to see it all, stripped bare and broken before our very eyes, and what we should never forget, what we should tell ourselves every single day when we wake up and have another chance to live in this world, is that our brokenness is where our true beauty lies.
After all, it is in our brokenness that we are real and human and beautifully . . . redeemable.