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October 29, 2012

life, uncropped

I hardly remember life before Instagram. That may be a slight exaggeration, but in the last twelve months or so, Instagram took over my newsfeed. It's not so bad. Most Instagram photos I see are sweet, capturing smiling children, kissing lovers, enjoyable outings...and what people are eating for lunch. I "like" a photo here and there, and move on with my day.

Instagram is lovely for sharing bite-size moments of life. It gives you hope, you know? Because you could be in the ugliest environment in the world, but if you place a few cute things into the small frame shot by your cell phone camera, and crop out all the ugly stuff, your not-so-cute life can look really cute online. Just try it.

There's nothing wrong with cropping photos. But recently I've been thinking about how we often try to crop the pictures others see of our lives, to make them look better.  We think we're doing ourselves (and others) a favour. But are we?

Sometimes we want to crop our past. Who we were in the past doesn't fit the picture we want to present now. Maybe we're embarrassed of our upbringing, our background, our home life. So we get silent. We won't go there. Cropped.

It's easy to crop our present. We play the "I'm fine, how are you?" game every day, or every Sunday, without ever delving into the less-beautiful details of life. I wonder how many heads would jerk and eyes would flutter in prayer meeting if (after praying for Uncle Joe's safety and Brother Bob's cold) we prayed about the sin we're entangled in. If we talked about real life on a deeper plane.

When I'm with people of other faiths, sometimes I avoid spiritual matters. But to crop out any spiritual talk is crop myself. I am who I am only because of Christ, and He permeates my very being. When I take pains to remove Him from conversations, I'm doing a major crop job.
For those in some form of spiritual leadership, pride often leads us to idolize a squeaky-clean appearance. In a sense, that might attract people at first, because you seem like you have a life that's really put together. But while that person might admire you from afar, when hurt or struggle hits their lives, they're unlikely to think you can relate. They'll either suppress their problems or take them elsewhere. 

Some of my most treasured memories of teaching God's Word are those where I gave "my" kids the uncropped version of the lessons God was teaching me. One summer we talked about Proverbs' advice about words and communication. Sharing on a weekly basis about my failures and victories in communicating with my housemate made the lessons more real. Messier. More cluttered. But more true-to-life.

We crop because we're full of the fear of man instead of the fear of God. We're afraid of what others will do or think when we leave crop mode and let them see the bigger picture of our lives. Proverbs teaches that, "Fear of man will prove to be a snare..." but "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom...." (29:25, 9:10). Life-cropping due to fear of man is sin.

During the past few months, I've been a bit of a gypsy, staying in about 15 homes in 3 months. It has been enriching and beautiful. But I've also seen photos before they are cropped and edited. I've heard stories before they are edited for online consumption. I've eaten meals that weren't cute enough for Instagram. I've watched real life in many homes. 

And I know why we like cropping. Life is cuter that way. Zoom in on the beautiful centrepiece on the table; leave out the Cheerios gathering dust by the baseboards. Crop out marital strain and show only date nights. Fill the frame with feel-good content, click and upload.

We crop because we're not willing to live with or share reality. Sometimes reality stings, even savagely. But only when we talk with God (and often others) about real problems, can we find real solutions. Through the grace of God, ministered by His Spirit and our spiritual family, we can grow in living life uncropped. Staring fallen-world reality in the face with redeemed-world reality in mind.

I will finish with a relevant clipping from A. W. Tozer:
"If realism is the recognition of things as they actually are, the Christian is of all persons the most realistic. He of all intelligent thinkers is the one more concerned with reality…He demands to know the whole truth about God, sin life, death, moral accountability and the world to come…He takes into account the undeniable fact that he has sinned. He recognizes the shortness of time and the certainty of death. These he does not try to avoid or alter to his own liking. They are facts and he faces them full on."
Maybe here I should put in a disclaimer about how we should exercise discernment as to when and where to share life, uncropped. But you already know that, right?

Hey, you! Stop cropping.

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