There was an extraordinarily honest article on the BBC News website today. "Blogger and model Roxie Nafousi has 46,000 followers but says her moments of anxiety and depression are exacerbated by the pressure to look perfect on social media." (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-39154628)
Roxie was set the challenge of posting images on Instagram that showed the imperfections of her day. The worst she could come up with was her spilling some Tortilla chips. If only my greatest daily disaster was crisps on the kitchen floor!
The Beeb also asked her to post some mundane shots of normal life. The result is her in a corridor working on a laptop whilst sitting on a giant exercise ball, make up and figure perfect. The only shot where she looks faintly unposed is babysitting for her niece. A scene that she dismisses as being boring!
Here is why she struggled in her own words: "I didn't want to post something negative because that makes me seem weak, vulnerable, mentally unstable. Not the person I want to project. You have this image of who you want to be on social media. And usually that's someone confident with a good life that's really happy, that's having fun, because everybody else seems to be like that on Instagram."
This is a woman who struggles with anxiety and depression. The article goes on to suggest that this might be because she has "...that "compare and despair" attitude, as Fearne Cotton has phrased it."
She looks for happiness in her self-esteem, which is based on how she compares herself to others. How they look. How many "Likes" they got for their posts. How many friends they have.
Research by the NHS suggests that 26% of young women are struggling with mental health issues, many of which are the result of the compare and despair culture we live in.
The tragedy of the article is that it offers no alternative. Roxie is an ambassador for the Mental Health Foundation, but her solution to low self-esteem is: "I think the way to really help young people cope with modern pressures is to give them the mental strength and confidence to be their own person and to understand what's behind social media and to understand the process of it." In other words be confident in your self-esteem and remember people airbrush photos!
The biblical paradox is that self-esteem for the Christian isn't found self! The Bible makes it clear that when we do the compare thing with God's perfect standards of love, we should be thrown into utter despair. There is no way that we can airbrush our lives to make them what they should be.
However, God's love for us is not dependent on us. It is a result of his character. He loves us when we are at our ugliest. In open rebellion against Him. Living for self. As Paul puts it in Romans 5:8:
"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
God's attitude towards me doesn't depend on my performance. It depends on Jesus. At the cross he takes my sin and I am given his righteous status before God in return. I cannot lose God's love because I did not earn it and even now it is mine only in Christ.
So it is by esteeming the God who loves me that I find security, purpose and strength for each day. Not by seeking to esteem myself. That should make Christian the first to admit their faults. The last to judge others. The quickest to say sorry and offer forgiveness. The slowest to spend hours trying to present an image on social media that is not an accurate reflection of who they really are.
So if you want to know how good I look on the inside. How nice I really am. Then picture the brutalised body of a crucified man. The Son of God who loved me and died for me. That's what it took to forgive me. No amount of "Likes" will ever be a substitute for love like that.