Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Envy on Social Media

"Look at what we had for supper!  Don't you wish you were me? YUM," my husband sent with this photo of rutabaga, grilled fish and homemade hush puppies. If that doesn't seem enviable to you, it's cause you haven't eaten my rutabaga wink

"I expect some when we get there you big old chump face!" my father-in-law happily replied. 

Although it was just a joke, text messages, Instagram, Facebook and the like make it easier than ever to grind our successes and pleasures into the faces of others.  It's the "Neener-neener" syndrome.  Otherwise known as provoking our brother to envy/covet.

You haven't ever suffered from it have you? 

Lots of times it's just a joke - a way to connect and make a far away family member smile.  But sometimes, we post a picture with no other purpose than to show off. We rack up bonus points for people who comment that they wish they had one.  

And don't think its just the Jones with their ski-do, new SUV, and fresh from the Caribbean winter tans.  It could be you, posting the 50th engagement picture for all your single friends to see, or slyly checking and rechecking to see which of your friends notice that super cute selfie of you and your husband on the beach.  What about texting a picture of the baby to a friend that you know wishes she were pregnant?  Not you?  Good!

But is even really a problem?  Aren't we supposed to rejoice with those who rejoice?! 

We are, but the context matters.  Take a closer look. 
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.   Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.   Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.  Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men (Romans 12:14-18).  
Paul seems to be describing a kind of Christian thoughtfulness.  Unity based on love.  Each Christian empathetically in-tune.  No haughtiness, no boasting, no thinking we're "all that." This verse, that perhaps we have used to excuse ourselves, condemns us if we are purposefully provoking the people around of us.

It's a lot like girls in immodest dress.  Although they might argue (as I have heard repeatedly this summer in a rash of articles defending girls' rights to dress anyway they please) that all the responsibility lies in a boy's self-control, it's not hard for us to recognize that if we are dressing in a bid for inappropriate sexual attention, we have sinned against the men around us.  In the same way, when we throw our successes or possessions in front of others provoking envy in them, we too have sinned against them. 

But what about those girls who are simply following fashion, who are thoughtless rather than deliberately provocative?  Or more to the point, those of us (me) who have thoughtlessly shared things that brought pain to people we love?

We need a love and empathy that helps us think not only about our joy but also about others' pain.  Don't send a text message about your pregnancy to a friend who just lost a baby; find a private time to talk because although she'll share your joy, you should also share her sorrow.  Don't highlight how awesome your husband is to the friend whose marriage is struggling.  She doesn't need to hear it right now.  Weep with her and when the time is right maybe you can share somethings that made your marriage strong. 

I try not to brag.  I bet you do too. I recognize easily that the "Neener-Neener syndrome" is unloving and not Christ-like.  But I have been guilty many times, of being thoughtless in the first flush of joy, simply not considering the feelings, thoughts and situations of those around me.

So to be very practical, how does this apply to things that are mass read, like twitter or facebook?  Should we never praise our husband on facebook in case one of our 200 friends is struggling with her marriage? Should we never share our meals in case someone can't cook a good rutabaga? Of course not, but we should pay attention even to our wide social media use (as opposed to texting or private messaging) that we are gentle to the people we know may be hurt and that our motives are never in hopes of provoking envy in others. We can't live second-guessing ourselves but we can empathize with our sisters and brothers.  In fact, we must.


Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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