Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
Welcome to The Daily Prayer Team messages, each day includes a passage of scripture, a reflection and a prayer. Sponsored by Saint John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” I Samuel 16:7
Rarely it seems that we read bad news on social media. Occasionally, someone will write “I’m missing my dad” if he had passed away recently. But we are not likely to read “I didn’t make the football team,” or “didn’t get into the college of my choice”, “was just chewed out by my boss” or “status: fired.”
I recently heard someone call Facebook “Fakebook” because there is not much stuff that’s authentic on there. It’s generally true that we tend to put only the pretty, dressed-up, happy versions of ourselves on social media.
There are at least two reasons why we do this. The first is pride. We don’t want people to see the less-than-best us. We post photos of our achievements, not our failures. We don’t regularly see things on social media like someone posing with a photo of the police officer who just gave them a ticket, there are no selfies at divorce proceedings, and no one posts “feeling annoyed that my kid failed math.”
Second, there is genuine fear what people would think if they saw the real us. Would they be judgmental? Would they be sympathetic? Would they run away from someone who “has issues?” Would they avoid us for fear that failure is contagious?
There is a vicious cycle where everyone says everything is okay. And we are for whatever reason, afraid to break the cycle.
There is a problem with “fake,” and that is that we can fool lots of people, but deep down, we can’t fool ourselves and we can’t fool the Lord. He knows our struggles. We know our struggles. Without some authenticity, we will keep struggling. The only way to win the struggle, or even manage it, is with some degree of honesty.
There are at least two bad things that result from the dishonesty of social media. The first is anger. We have the misguided notion that everyone’s life is perfect, except ours. If “everyone” appears perfect (even though we know on some level they are not), posing with perfect clothes, on trips to exotic places, putting only their best faces forward, it’s upsetting to wonder “why aren’t those things happening for me?” For instance, when someone posts, “Celebrating twenty years together with the love of my life,” the person who is in a struggling marriage feels angry and sad about their own situation, wondering why the couple on social media looks just perfect together. Of course they do! (and maybe they really do have a great marriage). Because they are never going to post “Celebrating twenty years together with the love of my life even though we’ve been to the brink of divorce several times and he cheated on me ten years ago and after years of therapy I forgave him.”
Which brings us to the second by-product which is isolation. Because we think everyone is doing well, and we know we are not, we feel isolated. How can I tell the perfect people about my imperfections? I’ll stand out like a sore thumb. I’ll be a pariah. They’ll laugh at me.
What happens when people are isolated and angry? They eventually either implode or explode. Implosion includes things like alcohol and drug abuse, to take the edge off to a sad reality that can’t be shared or fixed. And unchecked, implosion can lead to destructive behavior that in some cases leads to suicide. Explosion includes acting out, which can include something small like gossiping about others as a cover for someone’s own inadequacy, or can include something more destructive, like bullying. In extreme circumstances, explosions include violent outbursts, and with access to a gun, the acts of mass violence that are becoming all too common.
It is important to note that not every angry or isolated person is going to commit suicide or shoot up a school. And social media is not the only cause of anger and isolation. (Depression and mental illness are serious problems that we as a society must continue to address and treat. This study is not a scientific or medical study on either. I do not pretend to be an expert in either depression or mental illness. This study is on encouragement and how to use it as one way to improve our world). However, I am believing more and more that social media causes more problems than it solves. It divides people more than it unites them. I use social media to share good news and encouraging messages. I post pictures of positive events in my life and in my parish. And yes, I don’t generally air failures on social media. However, I do not let social media affect me by constantly comparing myself with others, or counting how many people “like” or “comment” on the things that I post. In fact, as time goes on, I’m using social media less and less. Because I want to be an authentic and truthful person and I want to associate with authentic and truthful people and I’m realizing that social media does not help either of these pursuits.
The purpose of this study on the “Heart of Encouragement” is to encourage us to encourage others and build them up. A good place to start is by being creating environments where it is safe to be honest. We need to change “fakebook” to honesty and move from “Facebook” to face-to-face conversation.
The heart is the center of the human body. Without the heart beating, there is no thinking or doing. A body can work without hands. A person is still alive even when their brain is damaged. But without a heartbeat, there is no life. At the heart of encouragement is honesty and authenticity. Without these, there can’t be genuine relationships. If encouragement is part of the solution, then eliminating the problem of being fake must also be part of the solution.
Lord, help me always to know that You are real. Help me to build an authentic relationship with You. May I be inspired to bring to You my good things and my failings. Please help me to encourage authenticity in my relationships with others. Please bring others to me who will encourage me to be authentic. Bring people into my life with whom I can be authentic. Give me the courage to be honest, to take away my temptation to be fake, and to surround me with people with whom it will be safe to be honest. Amen.
This first section of our study has been about I Thessalonians 5:11, which reminds us that we are to both encourage one another and build up one another. In order for encouragement and building up to occur, there needs to be honesty and authenticity.
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
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