I love using emojis in text messages. Most of us do these days; they serve as a quick and fun way to respond. The added whimsy, humor, or emotion can help us feel a little more connected to the person on the other side. But emoticons can conceal just as much as they reveal, just like beautiful Instagram and Snapchat accounts don’t always tell the whole story.
Fun emojis and perfect social media presences have a way of convincing us everyone else is doing great and fully succeeding in life, love, and happiness. Of course, this is rarely the case. But when we compare our actual reality to others’ online reality, we feel worse about ourselves, and we strive all the harder to keep up.
Idol of Social Media Perfection
Discontentment, fueled by comparison and striving for perfection, is relentless. In our culture it’s not enough to be successful in one realm. Perfection requires being the best in every realm. This means you always have to look the best (skinniest, prettiest, most muscular, best dressed), maintain the most exciting social life (with pictures to prove it), and be in a relationship with someone equally spectacular.
We often think an idol is something like the love of money or material goods, but it can easily be our appearance, acceptance, performance, perfectionism, status, or success. We make something an idol when we turn from God toward it to give us identity and worth. But those things can’t give us identity and worth—or at least, not for long. Capturing a moment of social media glory might fulfill for a little while, but eventually we need something more.
That’s why the highest number of likes or retweets you received on a post last year—or even last week—is probably not enough now. That’s why you have to keep working to get an even better picture with a wittier caption. There’s no staying power. When you tie your worth to human praise, you’ll always need more. Instead of attaining a beautiful, perfect life, we end up isolated and depressed as we perpetually miss the mark. And the more we try stuffing the emptiness in our souls with something other than God, the more expansive the emptiness becomes—and the more intense our drive to fill it.
Resting in Jesus’s Perfection
But Jesus gives a better way—the only way—to find life and satisfaction:
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. (Mark 8:34–35)
Jesus isn’t demanding we give up all worldly things or trying to motivate us through guilt. He’s teaching us what it means to truly follow him. To be his disciple means to find life in him, to find your identity wrapped up in his.
Trying to manufacture an identity in anything else will lead to constant disappointment. The happiness, success, and security we chase in counterfeit gods will always elude us. Jesus calls us away from seeking an identity in unreliable things because he loves us—and he knows true life is only available in him.
We need to know who Jesus is for us. It was his work—in life, death, and resurrection—that secured our right standing before God; it is his perfect performance that matters, not ours. Because he measured up to God’s standard of a sinless life, those who are united to him through faith have been given his spotless record. God now sees us as he sees his Son—perfect, beautiful, and righteous.
This means you can stop trying to be perfect (or pretending to be) as a means of validation and worth. In Christ, you are filled. In Christ, you are enough. In Christ, you have “made it.” May you stand secure, filled with the joy and peace found only in him. And for that, there’s no emoticon.