One of my boys made a new friend at camp this summer, and they stayed in touch by text after they got home. I noticed something concerning when I looked at his phone: he misrepresented himself to this girl. Sometimes, he lied about things he had accomplished and places he had been, but mostly, he made himself out to be more than he is.

Connecting with peers is an important part of adolescent development. Yet, it is complicated by the fact that teens are still learning who they are—not to mention the additional challenge of communication mediated through a device. One of the greatest challenges in our day is when our devices become the medium by which we look for identity. This isn’t merely a challenge for teens alone. I find myself doing that through my social media accounts as well. My son and I both use our phones to look for more or to even BE more. For example, I will post something to my account (mostly about my family) and check back frequently to see how many likes and comments that my post has received. Each thumbs up gives me a hit of dopamine that I end up chasing, wanting even more. When no one responds, I feel ignored. It becomes a vicious cycle of always needing more.

Make no mistake, we use social media to receive more: more significance, more validation, more attention. Using social media this way ignores the fact that what it provides is not real, such as those carefully curated posts that only show people at their best moments or posts airing dirty laundry (sometimes literally!)—all in the attempts of receiving more likes and follows.

By trying to get more on social media we actually get less.

I can be present in a room with my kids and not give them my attention because I am looking at my phone. (Those dog videos are really cute!) We also find ourselves putting more energy toward the online version of ourselves rather than our real selves. And don’t get me started on how much time I waste— when I sit down to spend just a few minutes looking at social media, only to come up for air an hour later and wonder where the time went. It also gets in the way of real community. I often see a group of teenagers looking at their phones instead of engaging with each other. Not to mention how looking at someone’s Facebook or Instagram posts of their recent vacation or house renovation leaves me discontented with what the Lord has provided me.

This is a very old problem. We can look at the pages of Scripture and see how often God’s people looked for life in the things around them. In Jeremiah 2, the Lord is contending with the people because of two evils they have committed: “they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer. 2:13). To paraphrase Pascal, we constantly look for something to fill the God-shaped hole in our hearts, a hole that can only be filled by the Creator who made us. This is true even of Christians; we often find our hope in things apart from God. This is especially true of our phones and social media. We look to these technologies for something that can give us more, when we should find our all in Him.

We complain about one of our kids and wait for our friends to back us up in our complaining. We justify our decisions to people who are only acquaintances. We ask for advice from those that are not in our faith community. And more often than not, our curated moments on Facebook do not truly reflect the struggles and heartaches of our daily lives, leaving us isolated and lonely. Social media cannot take the place of true community.

Once we recognize that our problems with social media are heart problems and not phone problems, what if we asked some hard questions, looking at our hearts and what it is we truly seek?

How much time am I spending on social media? (We spend our time on what we love most.)

Is there something that I need to do that I am avoiding by spending time on my phone?

How does being on social media affect my emotions?

What am I trying to accomplish when posting on social media?

We might just need to replace the rose-colored glasses of a carefully curated social media persona (whether posturing in its perfection or glorying in its “authenticity”) with gospel glasses. Remembering who we are in Christ colors our interactions with social media with truth and beauty. Because our identity and worth are rooted in our relationship with Him, we don’t need to find it in how other people respond to our posts or reels. When we remember that our significance, validation, and attention is found in Him, it frees us to live in honest community with real life friends.

Sisters, our phones and all that social media offers will never give us the hope and meaning we long for. Life is found in Jesus.

Photo by Andrej Lišakov on Unsplash

Shea Patrick

Shea Patrick is a former Alabama lawyer, who now works as a public school Reading Interventionist. She lives in Orangeburg, South Carolina. She and her pastor-husband currently have five children, including two adopted from foster care.  Shea served on the National Women’s team for the PCA as the Regional Advisor for the Mid-Atlantic. She loves her church, Trinity Presbyterian, and serves with the kids, music, missions, and women’s ministry. She was a contributor to “Hinged: Vitally Connected to Christ and His Church” (CDM, January 2020).