Friday, December 6, 2013

Great Expectations

We all have expectations for how our lives should look.

Goals are great. Living aimlessly can be dangerous and lead to being unsatisfied with life, not to mention doing absolutely nothing for the Kingdom. God didn't call us or create us to sit on our rumps and wait for Heaven. He called and created us to do, to be.

But living in the 21st Century presents a unique enemy to doing and being what God called us to and being content with that. The enemy's name is Social Media.

Life is full of twists and turns and seasons. One year we're busting our butts in high school and single and finding our way and pimply and wondering when life will, you know, begin. And the next year we're working and juggling and striving and paying bills and feeling like we're faking being adults. It changes. But God has called each of us to do something and He has placed us in circumstances to hone us and make us better vessels for His grace and holiness.

The problem is that while we're going through the messy battle of every day life, we log on to Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or what ever. And then we start realizing that we haven't made it. Our lives seem messier. Why aren't we always that funny? Gosh, I wish I looked that good in clothes. Look at her! Why am I not blessed with breakfast in bed and the best husband everrrr?

The questions creep in. The fear. The anxiety. The worry. Everybody's getting married but me. Everyone's getting a great job/house/car but me. Everybody's ministry is taking off. Everybody's kicking butt at life. But when we look at our lives, we see the messy and the broken and the struggle. What's going on?

Well one thing that's going on is what I call the Highlight Effect. (Patent Pending) (Just kidding you can totally use that).

The Highlight Effect is what happens in social media (and incidentally, dating and "real life" relationships as well). What we see in a person's social media profile is only the highlights. The good stuff. The stuff they want you to see. It's either the worst/most dramatic or the very best.

But we often forget that their profile and tweets and pins and status updates are just a teensy little polished window into their lives. It's stylized. It's created for the purpose to give the world at large people's public face, the best of who they are.

It's the guided tour that steers us clear of the closed closets and dusty corners.

This is particularly hard, I think, for singles. Because whether it's gloating or a genuine sharing of happiness, it's hard not to notice all of the extravagant engagement stories, the mountain-top proposals, the individually designed ring, the almost daily glowing wedding planning statuses and pictures of a Pinterest-worthy wedding. It's hard not to always see the posts of the married friends who talk about the just-because bouquet that takes our breath away with the flawless, lush colors; or the romantic breakfasts in bed complete with a note and flowers. And our single hearts ache because it's just like what we saw in the movies, only this is happening in real life and we want that, we want those expressions of love with every fiber of our hearts as we scarf down Honey Nut Cheerios we fixed ourselves.

But we don't see the whole story. We don't see the fight the night before or the silence between the sheets. We don't see bickering and worrying over finances. We don't see the days where they question the relationship. We don't see the body image issues of the perfect selfies or the anxiety behind the successful businessman. The hard times. The mundane.

We don't see the mess of people's lives. The day-to-day boring-ness. We don't see the plodding along and the questions and the wrestling.

It's the same phenomenon in movies and books. Stories tell a specific narrative so they often skip over the lines like "Then John walked up the steps. He sat in his office chair and stared at his screen and wondered if he'd finally beat his record in Solitaire today." No, everything in a story is there to serve the purpose of that specific narrative.

So in a way, social media has sort of turned our lives into mini-movies - we only share the good stuff. We are creating our own narrative and sharing it for the world to see. 

But just like works of fiction, what is shown in social media is what the person or author wants everyone to see and not always an accurate reflection of the whole truth.

We forget that Real Life is filled with mundane moments that we have to make the best of. It's filled with paying bills and brushing teeth and bringing boring PB and Js to work. Yes, life has highlights. Yes, we can seize the day and do all things for Christ.

But we forget that the doing big things is a process, a climb, a journey that is made up of lots of not-so-spectacular things and putting one foot in front of the other. It's filled with falls and getting up and dusting off our pants and mending the holes stitch by stitch.

As I mentioned before, this phenomenon seems to be the worst in regards to relationships. As a married woman, let me speak some honest truth to all you who are still single.

I know it's hard to be single, especially in an age where all you see in your Facebook feed is pictures of engagement rings and romantic boyfriends and husbands who surprise their wives with the perfect gift. I get it. I've been there. My heart's been broken.

But then I found this awesome man. Our relationship is deep and rich and full of love. He's the other half to my soul. We can basically read each other's minds.

But the truth is, there's also a lot of boring. In between the laughter and rich conversations, there exists the boring grout of daily life. It looks dull, but it's what keeps us together. Most days, I don't get surprise flowers. His proposal was simple on a rainy day in a field where we had laughed and loved and watched the sunset. No pictures or extravagant overtures. I don't always pour love on him the way I should.

Our love life consists of helping each other do the dishes. Sometimes we fight and bicker over stupid, inconsequential things. But we still somehow love each other through the mundane. Much of our time is spent quietly reading. Driving to the grocery store. Making a budget. Changing diapers. Nothing to write a sweeping romance novel about - or even a drool-worthy Facebook status.

But see, the true beauty in a relationship comes when you can choose to love each other despite the emotional ups and downs of life. When you can love each other while paying bills and doing dishes and changing diapers and just being together.

But that is a skill you've got to learn. And if you don't practice contentment and loving people and their real messes and finding joy in the mundane right now when you're single, real marriage will be a huge disappointment.

What you want to look for when you're out there looking for a mate isn't necessarily someone who is going to always offer you extravagant gestures of love and romance. You don't want a Nicholas Sparks novel.

What you want is someone who will love you for who you are - even your morning breath, even your grumpy days, and your weird habits (we all have them). That's where the real love is. It's when we put Christ at the center of our relationship, when we put that other person first, that we find depth.

A lot of relationships are like a fountain - pretty, fun to watch, but ultimately rather shallow. You want a deep, strong river of love - one that might look boring on the surface, but will take a hell of a dam to ever stop.

Those other things? Yeah, they're nice. And I'm not saying you should have no expectations of romantic treats and demonstrations of love. But ask yourself when the flowers wilt and the flashing proposal fades away through years gone by, do you still love each other just as much if not more? Do you still look over the breakfast table at the not fashionably mussed hair the groggy eyes and the newly debuted wrinkles and still know you love that person with every fiber of your being?

That love is what will get you through.

And the same goes for moms and dads. You see other parents and how they look or act put together. The adorable photos and videos of their kids. And then you look at your crying toddler who dressed herself and the baby that seems to time diaper explosions with your best outfit minutes before you have to leave and you haven't slept in forever - you're not alone. The parents who always look together are just giving you their public face.

I'll bet you deep down, if you both stripped all the pretense away and scrubbed off the make up and sat down over a cup of tea, you'd realize that they're scared too. That their toddler also hates wearing clothes in public - at all. Ever. And that they are also insecure and scared and wish parenthood came with a manual. And that both of you have very real messes every single day. But you still love those kids more than anything and that the messy is a part of the beauty in parenthood.

It's a part of the take your breath away moments when you watch that tender face nuzzle sleepily into your shoulder like they were made for that spot and everything in you just stops. You're not alone in the mess or the mystery or the beauty. We just don't always share it with other people.

Wherever you are in life, keep this in mind: don't compare your real, messy life to someone else's scrubbed up, finished snapshot they present in social media. You're comparing totally different things.

Keep your eyes on your life and whatever it is God has called you to. Know that He can work even in the mundane, and everybody's life has got some mundane in it - they just aren't always honest about it.

Be happy where you are. Savor the subtle graces in life.

If you look hard enough and have the right perspective, joy might just surprise you between the dishes and laundry and the messing up.

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