We all do it. . . and we’ve been doing it for a long, long time. While we might not recognize it, it’s the same thing we gripe about when we find ourselves shaking our heads at the selfies our kids post on social media. Sure, our moms used to tell us to “comb your hair, tuck in your shirt, and make sure you pull up your zipper” before we’d leave the house. But there’s a huge gap between having mom and dad (ok, mom usually) caring for us because we didn’t really care about ourselves, to even the youngest of the young now fretting over how things look. We’ve morphed into an image-obsessed culture that requires the complete allegiance of our selves, our time, and our money into keeping up appearances.
The other day I ran across a thought-provoking article that got me thinking about how we’ve been doing this annually – keeping up appearances that is – during the month of December for years and years and years. The article on christianitytoday.com was provacatively titled, “Stop Sending Cheery Christmas Cards.” What?!? Written by Kay Warren, the article was subtitled, “When you don’t mention our son’s tragic death, it only hurts more.” Along with her husband Rick, Kay has been grieving the suicide of her son Matthew since he died last year. As you and I can only imagine, last Christmas was extremely difficult for the Warrens.
That’s where the Christmas cards come in. Kay Warren writes, When I opened the first batch of cards, shock washed over me. Photos of beautiful, happy, intact families cascaded onto my kitchen table. Most were accompanied by a greeting wishing me a joyous Christmas. Some had a signature and the message, “Hope you have a great Christmas.” Others included a standard family newsletter, listing the accomplishments, vacations, and delightful family moments that had filled their year. I grew astonished, then angry, as I realized that none of the cards mentioned that our precious Matthew had died violently six months earlier, leaving us definitely not having a joyous Christmas.
Again, you and I can only imagine what it must have felt like for the Warrens to read all those happy notes and see all those happy pictures.
I also think that Kay Warren raises a point that extends far beyond the intent of her article. While her words help us understand the very real and difficult waters grieving families have to navigate, I also think that her words challenge us to step back and get real. . . first with ourselves. . . and then with each other. After all, isn’t that what vulnerable Christian community is all about?
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about our culture of self-curation. The great irony of our kids and their selfies is that rarely if ever do our kids’ selfies reveal who they really are. In effect, a selfie tells the truth about who we wish we are, rather than who we really are. It’s a facade. A lie. And once our selfie is posted for all the world to see, we indulge ourselves in looking at others’ selfies. . . all the while realizing that the truth about our own selves (which we all tend to know in ways that can gnaw away at us) is that “I just don’t measure up.” But I’ll then go on to carefully craft and post another selfie in an effort to measure up, look good, and appear better than I really am.
So, wouldn’t you agree that the annual Christmas letter is a textual selfie? And when we include the carefully posed and curated photo of the family. . . well. . . that ups the ante? Hey, I’ve written and sent Christmas letters. I know how it works. We’ve chosen to not do it anymore.
I’ve often thought that all Christmas letters could be reduced to a generic four lines: “Dear Friends. Merry Christmas. Our family is awesome. Sorry that your family isn’t as awesome as ours.” Sounds harsh, but isn’t that what’s really going on here? After all, if our letters and the enclosed photograph didn’t reduce an entire 365 days into six paragraphs and one visual second that show the world our very (or imagined!) best, they might reveal the truth about the hurts, pains, and brokenness that have visited us and our families.
What would happen if we were honest about ourselves? I think we’d be more in tune with our need for a Savior. I think we’d be able to be thoughtful, compassionate, and empathetic with each other. I think we’d be indulging in true Christian community. I think we’d realize that we need to stop lying. I think we’d be true to ourselves, and to each other.