Each week in the month of November we will be featuring an article on cultivating gratitude and thankfulness. To see the full series, click HERE.
When I was five, Kyle, my best friend, lived next door and had everything a boy could want. Tonka toys, a bunk bed, the newest video games, a pool. Everything. Kyle generously shared it all. He let me play with his toys and never held any of them back. But one day, I went to his house and everyone was gone. The side door to the garage was unlocked, and I went in. It was cool and dim. Afternoon light floated through a side window. There, lined up by the mudroom, were a few of Kyle’s toys. One of them was a small road grader. I don’t know why it stood out. Perhaps it was the double rear axles or the articulating plow blade, but as soon as I saw that grader, I knew I was going to take it.
I escaped through the side door and across the lawn, walking, head down, clutching my friend’s toy.
Feelings shifted my five-year-old heart. I didn’t have words for them. But, decades later, they still stir in me. The tension between comparison and contentment. The bare fact of coveting. Only today, I am no longer in my friend’s garage. I am scrolling through social media. I no longer compare myself to Kyle, but to every friend I’ve ever had. Instead of comparing my toys to Kyle’s, I’m comparing my middling career to the thousands of accomplishments that parade across Facebook every week. And instead of facing temptation in the warm darkness of one garage, I encounter one hundred glowing garages flush with the filters of Instagram.
I doubt that I’m alone. A friend’s baby bump when you’ve struggled with infertility for years. A couple’s engagement photos when your own relationship just ended. A former colleague’s exotic vacation after a dreary morning commute.
Someone, possibly Teddy Roosevelt, once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” And social media often seems like a comparison industry. The more time I spend there, the more disconnected I feel from others—and myself. The more I saturate my heart with the rich hues of Instagram, the less happy I feel with my Own. Bland. Life.
Instead of connecting, I find myself comparing. Is there any other way?
The Deeper Desire
If we’re ever going to move from comparing toward connecting, from coveting toward contentment, we must dig deeper to the roots of our desire. Unless and until we acknowledge our true desires, that progress will remain elusive.
Growing up, I thought desire was selfish and discontentment was sinful. Hadn’t it led me out of Kyle’s garage clutching his toy? The Bible says, “godliness with contentment is great gain,” and desire often feels like none of those things. But the Bible also reminds us that we’re broken. Everything is not right inside us. We are discontent because we long to be whole. We long to live the perfect lives we imagine on social media.
All is not right. Social media taps into some of our deepest desires and deepest fears. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Social media brings us face-to-face with those desires and fears. So now what? What do we do?
First, we start a conversation.
A conversation with whom? With Jesus.
When social media evokes our desires, we can talk about them. Maybe with ourselves, maybe with others. But most definitely with Jesus. Whatever our desires, we don’t have to pretend with him. He already knows them anyway. Our desires don’t have to be socially acceptable or religiously acceptable. They are always Jesus acceptable.
Why? Because Jesus knows what it’s like to have competing desires.
Remember his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane? He prayed to God, “If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me.” Even though Jesus knew his purpose, he still acknowledged his desire to avoid suffering.
If Jesus acknowledged his desires to God the Father, then you can certainly acknowledge yours, no matter how unacceptable they may seem to you. Like the old hymn says, “Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.”
Do what Jesus did. Bring your desires to God, acknowledge them honestly, and ask for what you want. Do you want to have a child, to be in a relationship, to enjoy a relaxing vacation? Ask for that.
There are no guarantees though. Jesus still endured the cross. That didn’t keep him from asking. But in acknowledging and asking, he was finally able to surrender his desire. “Not my will, but yours be done.”
As you scroll through your social media, what desires come up? Do you know? Your social media could become your greatest source of prayer if you take time to notice the feelings that emerge. No, it’s not necessarily enjoyable. But it’s honest. And wouldn’t you like to be more honest with God? He already knows. Do you?
That’s the first thing. Pray your desires. Don’t squelch them. God knows them. Whatever feelings social media brings up, you can take those to God.
Teddy was right. “Comparison is the thief of joy.” But he doesn’t have to be. Comparison can drive us to pray more honestly.
Scrolling for Gratitude
Social media can do more than make you pray. It can also lead you to more joy. And you’ll find it in a surprising place—your own profile. Social media floods us with a steady stream of other people’s posts, and chances are we’re probably adding our own too. That’s not an accusation. It’s an opportunity.
Like everyone else on social media, we mostly post our joys. Activities with friends and family. Far-flung vacations. Weekend road trips. Surprising moments in our otherwise ordinary days. That means our profiles offer us the chance to look back and remember joy-filled moments.
As I wrote this article, I did just that. I went back and scrolled through my own Facebook wall from the past year. I was surprised at how many good things I’d forgotten so quickly. I’d had many good memories and fun events with friends and family. My cousin’s wedding that I officiated. The fifty-mile Labor Day bike ride with friends, into the wind—both ways. The overseas trip I had spent months anticipating. A day at the beach. A night at the drive-in. As amazing as they were, I’d nearly erased them. Facebook brought them all back—complete with joy.
And another feeling surfaced as well—gratitude. Not only was I remembering the happiness of those experiences but I was also adding joy and thanksgiving as I reflected on them.
In prayer, discontentment and longing are not the only ingredients. We can spend time in joy and gratitude as well. Prayers like that often lead to worship.
Take a minute. Go back to your own social media posts. Scroll through the past year. From the mundane to the momentous. What did you forget about? What made you smile? When specific memories stand out, do the feelings of those events begin to come back too? What about joy? Gratitude?
Eyes to See
As I walked away from Kyle’s garage that afternoon, I clutched his toy against my chest, wanting it to fill a longing in me that it never would. What I didn’t know then was that longing would still be with me all these years later and that I’d still be searching for ways to fill it.
Social media can remind me of my deepest needs and my truest desires. It can point me to the God I so desperately and truly long for. Rather than clutching at toys, I can cling to God, the one who brings joy when I bring him my desire. It happens through prayer. It happens through worship. And it can happen through social media, if only I have eyes to see.
by Adam Graber
@AdamGraber works at Tyndale House Publishers. His writing explores how technology is shaping faith. Read more in his ebook, From Pews to Podcasts: What Technology Wants for the Church.