Earlier this year, an op-ed from The Washington Post entitled, “My daughter asked me to stop writing about motherhood. Here’s why I can’t do that,” opened our eyes again to the effects of this living in the digital age.
It was not the first, and it certainly won’t be the last, to jolt our consciences to the conversation about internet privacy. As our worlds become more easily connected with total strangers, the sharing of otherwise hidden stories is inevitable.
Whether it’s a conversation on an airplane with a stranger, an exchange with an elderly neighbor, or an anecdote of a child, our feeds are filled with stories. Often they sober us, make us laugh, or remind us of something important.
Does this level of sharing blur the lines of privacy? Where is the line between using stories to encourage and using them simply for internet follows and likes?
SHARING CALLS FOR WISDOM
The internet may feel so far removed from our reality, but the truth is, it isn’t.
The stories we share are about real people, oftentimes real pain, and even real embarrassment. Surely some of the greatest content on our Twitter and Facebook feeds comes from antics of our friends’ toddlers or the humorous encounter someone had at the hardware store.
But as we seek to navigate this as Christians, I think we must approach these decisions with a few questions that will guide us in wisdom.
ARE WE REMEMBERING THAT PEOPLE ARE MADE IN THE IMAGE OF GOD?
One of the first questions we must ask is: Are we remembering that the person we are sharing about is made in the image of God? This question helps us set the tone for how we will treat them, because it humbles us back to the base of our reality.
No matter the economic status, race, age, or personality between us, we are ultimately the same. We are creatures, created from the dust of the ground by our Maker (Gen. 2:7). We are all dependent for everything in our existence, and equally tarnished with hearts that are desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9).
But we are also all made in the image of our Maker. We are his wonderful creation—meant to display his glory. This should cause a shift in how we view everyone we speak of. Instead of being tempted by the illusion that social media is far removed from our physical world, we can start by remembering whatever we post is about a real person and that our words, jokes, and comments have real effects. If applicable, honor them enough to ask permission, and if this isn’t possible, treat them respectfully, as fellow image bearers of the Almighty God.
ARE YOU USING THIS STORY FOR SELFISH GAIN?
We are in a polarized society that seems itching to score political points and gain the upper hand on a debate. We can easily see on social media the evidence of what it looks like when we use people for our own agenda. Stories are often shared to prove a point. But when we as Christians, follow suit and hastily attribute our latest interaction as confirmation of our own pre-determined opinions, it can show a lack of wisdom.
Before we share a story from the office, the grocery store, or from our family, we might want to ask ourselves if we are making unfair assumptions about the motives of those involved. Perhaps the grumpy clerk at the store is not a representative of an entire generation, but instead she received some terrible news that day. Maybe the co-worker who shared a story about the military did not mean to attribute himself as evidence for why your political opinions are correct.
Of course, all of life is often about receiving information and making sense of it through our own framework, but as we approach this question, we should look at our own intentions as well.
Do we share with the most gracious assumptions? Do we share from humility? Our God is ever-patient with us, his children (Ex. 34:6), and we ought to show the same gracious patience instead of jumping to accuse or assume.
ARE YOU ONLY INCLUDING THE WORST PART OF THE STORY?
Another checkpoint is to examine whether we have included the whole story. As we type on our blogs, Facebook, or even speak in real life about the antics of family and friends, are we routinely sharing the worst of it? Are our jokes about our husbands or children exclusively shining a light on their missteps and failures?
Just as Judah was told only that Tamar was “pregnant by immorality”(Gen. 38:24) and not of her violent rape, we want to be sure we don’t manipulate truth to highlight the negative.
Unfortunately, we can often be tempted to zero in on the worst part of a situation. We’ve all read angry Facebook posts with paragraphs detailing terrible service someone had, which may or may not include a few sentences at the end trying to rationalize the bad encounter. Our world eats up this skewed perspective. We are far more prone to dwell on the bad than we are to extend grace.
May we approach these situations differently, as a people who understand the grace we have been given by Christ that we in turn give to others.
ARE YOU MAKING YOURSELF LOOK LIKE THE HERO?
Just as we might use our stories to put others in a bad light, we also may be tempted to use the stories of others to make ourselves look even better. Paul warns us against this and prods us to the complete opposite in Philippians. He tells us to do nothing out of vain conceit but instead to put others above ourselves (Phil. 2:3).
How can we do this? Because we have the model of Christ, who made himself nothing for the sake of us. This should color everything we do, including how we tell stories. Are we twisting and exaggerating so we sound greater, funnier, or more put together?
We don’t want to share in order to exalt ourselves but to teach, encourage, and serve others.
ALL ABOUT THE HEART
As with much of our life, these situations are not always cut and dry. Sometimes it may be okay to share and sometimes it might be best to hold off. We must not depend on our own ability to follow hard and fast rules, but instead, on the wisdom Christ alone gives. As his children we are united to him, and his Spirit will give us his wisdom as he sanctifies us each day by his Word.
And while we try to navigate these difficult realities, we can be humbled and encouraged that our God knows our hearts. Our heart may be hidden from others, but it is laid bare and naked before the Lord. He is the one who sees and weighs our motives (Prov. 16:2). This should humble us to take our words seriously, to honor the image of the Lord in the people we talk about, and to offer grace upon grace.
This same truth should encourage us and bolster our confidence. When we do mess up, God knows our repentant heart. When we unintentionally harm our husband or co-worker by sharing too much, he knows our hearts’ motives. And when we do it purposefully—when we forget the truths we should consider in the midst of today’s world—in that muck he has forgiven and will continue to forgive us (Eph: 2:5, 1 John 1:9).
May we who have been given grace upon grace be the most liberal to dole it out, whether in our actions or whether in the stories that we tell.
Brianna Lambert is a wife and mom to three, making their home in the cornfields of Indiana. She loves using writing to work out the truths God is teaching her each day. She is a staff writer with GCD and has contributed to various online publications, such as Morning by Morning and Fathom magazine. You can find more of her writing paired with her husband’s photography at lookingtotheharvest.com.