Identity and Summer Selfies: A Reminder

May your Instagram posts be extremely boring.

Eric Dorman / 6.26.17

It’s that time of year again, when all of us at some level look at our bodies and realize that we’ve been more, let’s say, “relaxed” about our health during the colder months. We also see — well, some of us do, anyway — our offensively pale skin or winter-weight and dread the first day of shorts, or sun dresses, or swimsuits. It’s difficult because when everything is green and bright, there is much work to do. That is, those social media photos aren’t going to take themselves.

There’s tremendous pressure, isn’t there, to have a good time when times are good? When the sun’s out and the food trucks pull up and the band starts playing and your friends start dancing and the day gets longer. Those are all good things, certainly, and gifts for our enjoyment. But as is often explained on this site by different writers, anxiety sets in at the strangest of times. Even when things are light and fun, we start to wonder how we’re going to make sure that everyone knows how alright we are.

In fact, millennials spend an average of a whole hour every week on selfies alone. Based on the average number of selfies, each one takes about seven minutes. Taking it, studying it, retaking it, editing it, sharing it. And that all leaves out (increasingly high-resolution) photos of dessert, pets, scenery, “bae,” and so on. One can only imagine that those take about as long (hopefully not in each case).

That’s a lot of time staring into the black mirror; a lot of time pausing life’s moments to capture life’s moments. None of these are new observations, or really even condemnations of social media. Social media is a catalyst for an awful lot of good, too. Rather, these are meant as a reminder of our present situation, and that human beings will transform any mechanism or outlet — even good or at least amoral ones — into a binding law on their behavior against which they can never measure up.

At its core, social media forces us to ask questions about identity. Who am I? Who do I want everyone else to think I am? How does my life compare to hers or his? How does this photo make my face look? My body look? My life look?

There’s an interesting passage in Galatians where Paul writes:

My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, I wish I were present with you now and could change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.

Paul is lamenting, here, that the Galatians have moved away from the gospel Paul preached to them on his last visit. For a moment, they believed him, even zealously (Paul says that they would have gouged out their eyes if he’d needed them). Since he’d left, though, false teachers had entered in with another gospel to peddle: one of self-justification and behavior modification. And Paul is perplexed.

That’s the context, but the interesting part is when Paul writes, “…until Christ is formed in you.” It’s an echo of his words to the Corinthians:

And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

“Until Christ is formed.”

“You were washed.”

“You were sanctified.”

“You were justified.”

These are things that happen to you, not things you do for yourself. You are the passive agent and God is the active agent. Children don’t bathe themselves, and Christians don’t save or sanctify themselves. God does the work from start to finish.

What does this mean? It means that you don’t make Christ your identity. Christ is your identity already. You can rest in the knowledge that it is Christ who lives in you, making you free. Free, even, to take selfies without reviling yourself. Free to acknowledge that your life isn’t as adventurous as hers or as beautiful as his. Free to shrink into the background with no need to justify yourself to anyone else because you’ve been justified before God himself on account of Christ. There is no more perfect freedom or affirmation of worth.

Admittedly, that was a rather long-winded way of stating a fundamental truth. Take comfort: Christ is for you and the Spirit is at work. No amount of white-knuckled behavior modification will add or subtract from the faithfulness of God in accomplishing his purposes in you.

In the words of Dr. Anthony Bradley to a group of college students recently: May your Instagram posts be extremely boring. Adding to his benediction: may you remember in these summer months that you belong to Christ and have his favor, that you did nothing to gain it, and that you can do nothing to lose it.

So put the phone down for a while. Just relax. Everything is going to be okay.