How do you measure a successful life? What are the signs of a life well-lived? Good education? Career? Marriage? House? Family? Ministry? Public affirmation or recognition?
If my Facebook news feed is anything to go by, I think I know the answer; a post with a million ‘likes’.
Facebook has changed the world. We are more connected now than at any point in history and our lives are permanently on display. But Facebook has also created an unprecedented platform for social comparison and it’s making us miserable because it’s making us green with envy. Envy is a sin that I don’t like admitting to. I used to naively think that as you moved through the various stages of life, things like envy would diminish. It doesn’t. And motherhood is, so far, the worst stage of life for going green…
Envy compares and becoming a mum is like opening a can of worms for comparison. Unchecked, and conversations can all too easily become about post-pregnancy weight, children’s sleep and feeding habits, growth, behaviour, anything in fact. The problem is (as in all areas of life) there will always be someone else that seems to be doing it better than you. And let’s be honest, Facebook, where we carefully edit and manage our image, is a breeding ground for boasting and insecurity. I found that certain posts – silly things like a picture of a friends baby with 100s of likes – started to make me feel envious…not because I want their baby (!) but because deep down I want that recognition.
Facebook envy isn’t limited to mothers. A recent academic study concluded that witnessing friends’ holidays, love lives and work successes on Facebook leads to strong feelings of envy, leaving us feeling lonely, frustrated and angry. Envy is probably the easiest sin to hide but it eats away at us.
James 3:16 says: “Where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” By linking envy with selfish ambition, James shows that envy and the ego are closely linked.
Where there is envy, there is an ego that is hurt. It is hurt because envy is the emotion we feel when we want and think we deserve what somebody else has got. It‘s covetous behaviour that creates disorder in our lives and worse still; it accuses God of being unfair.
Paul, in 1 Corinthians, uses the word “puffed up” to describe people in possession of a distorted ego. Tim Keller explains that Paul is implying that the ego is fragile; it hurts when it is not being given what it wants. What our natural ego wants is to draw attention to itself and feel significant. We therefore resent others who have the significance we want, we become fixated with the projection of our best selves in order to get the affirmation our ego craves.
So what is the solution? Well Paul says: “Imitate me, I care very little if I am judged by you or any human court; indeed I do not even judge myself… it is the Lord who judges me” (4:3).
Envy and all associated sin will always be rampant in our hearts if we’re looking to the world to give us a verdict on our worth and significance. Facebook is arguably a modern day “human court”. Paul is saying he doesn’t care about comparisons, he performs for an audience of one. Not millions. The only way that I can feel genuine joy for my friends that isn’t marred by hidden envy is to grab hold of this and live with it every day. The verdict on my life and yours if you are a Christian has already been given. We don’t need to get a judgement or approval on our lives from anywhere other than the gospel.
As Christians we can experience a transformed ego. Jesus is our greatest treasure and that should fundamentally change how we use social media. Christ’s glorious death and resurrection has given us eternal worth, enough to drive peace into our hearts and enable us to be ruthless about resisting the sin of envy.
This article is from our Seven deadly sins edition. You can read the other articles here.