I have slowly watched my Instagram feed change from arty experiences of life to mostly photos of my kids.
I remember one day prior to having kids thinking, “Don’t they”—meaning people exactly like myself now, parents—“have anything better to post?!”
I now think the answer is yes and no. The truth is my phone’s photo library has hundreds of photos of my kids doing day-to-day mundane things, and life seems a blur of eat-play-sleep. I would struggle to find an arty shot on my phone these days—but children make a poor idol, and if as Christians all we have to share is how great or memorable parenthood or our children are then it’s not helpful for us or others.
The real question to ask as we look at our online timelines is: “How do I serve others and share my life in a way that builds others up?”
It will look different for everyone but here is a bit of my thought process.
We must be shaped by God’s word first. I think a key Scripture is:
“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. (1 Cor 10:23)
I have decided that Facebook is where people want to stay in touch and see news, so I choose not to share my photos of my kids on Facebook as it might not be helpful for singles or people struggling with infertility or child-loss to see hundreds of happy family snaps or cute babies. However, I share a lot of photos of my kids on Instagram because I feel that is an opt-in to see them (and some people really do enjoy seeing them!), and I’m not offended if people follow or unfollow my Instagram.
Choosing to use one social media platform for sharing photos of kids but not another could be helpful in light of the community God has put you in.
Thinking more about printing photos has also helped me control my online sharing. I have found great phone apps like Touchnote, a worldwide service that turns phone photos into postcards and posts them directly as physical mail. I often send them to our interstate and overseas relatives. Doing this has been a good mental speedbump because if I can’t be bothered to turn a shot into a postcard to send to those who love receiving them, then am I genuinely sharing it online for the sake of updating those close to us about our kids? I also print photos for our pinboard and make photo books so pictures aren’t just lost forever online. After all, don’t we take photos to record memories for future generations and our future selves to look back on with joy? They weren’t invented for getting likes!
I’ve really been encouraged by author Tony Reinke’s books 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You and Competing Spectacles. He works hard and does a good job of linking the Bible and reality to social media and phones. Get ready for soul surgery; they are great! You’ll also find Gospel Speech Online by Lionel Windsor really helpful, especially if you’re time-pressed.
The most helpful thing I have found is to check in with those around you about your social media use. I said to a friend only two weeks ago: “I posted a shot of Hudson at 10 months old, but afterwards it felt wrong knowing how you’re struggling and in the thick of IVF. Please know it wasn’t an intentional in-your-face, and if you want me not to post this sort of thing or if you want to unfollow me for a season then either is okay.”
How amazingly gracious God has made others! She said she delighted in seeing my joy in my kids and that she knew I didn’t take having them for granted. But feeling otherwise would have been valid, and I think being willing to change your ways for the sake of your holiness and others is where we all want to land. After all, we are told: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15). Social media can be used for the joyful and tearful sharing of life in the service of God and others.
And if you have read this far, then well done! It’s hard to find the time and discipline to think of how to love and serve God first and foremost and then others.
Ultimately, there is no rulebook, but there is godly wisdom.
Please feel free to comment with how this translates for you in action, and what you’ve found helpful, both as a sharer or as a receiver (I know I haven’t touched on privacy issues). I am still in the student-phase of this journey and I’d love to learn from others!