Proverbs 25 – Thursday
“Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.” Proverbs 25:20
Any of us could be forgiven if, by looking at our latest social media feed, we were surrounded by people full of joy living their best life today. It’s easy to see how perfect our friend’s lives appear when viewed one photo, tweet, or snap at a time. It’s a perfect and tailored vision of what their lives are.
It isn’t uncommon for me to find myself not refreshed by spending a few (many) minutes on my latest Instagram feed, but actually more tired, weary, and heavy. In fact, recent studies have shown that spending more time on social media platforms actually increases the likelihood of depression. I know that I’m not the first one to say this, but holding our own lives – with all its boring, sad, weird bits – against the lives we see portrayed every day in these feeds is a pretty easy way to see yourself into a sadder state.
The thing is, we have a hard time stopping. We delete our Facebook, shut down our Twitter, and delete Snapchat from our phone. But before long, it’s right back again.
I want to talk about this, because I think that this verb from Proverbs speaks as deeply to how we treat ourselves as to how we treat others.
The more obvious way to read this verse is to see it as a directive to treat others and their pain with the respect it deserves. If someone’s in pain, don’t try to gloss over it. If they’re hurting, quit trying to just make them laugh. Quit telling me to smile.
And I can easily point out a ton of examples of how we see this same message echoed throughout scripture. The best thing that Job’s friends do isn’t to try to tell him how to fix it all, but to sit with him in the ashes and mourn with him. Paul tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. God sent Christ to meet us exactly where we are.
The Christian message is one of meeting people in their pain and sharing its load with them. Just like the song says, lean on me when you’re not strong, and I’ll be your friend. I’ll help you carry on… (you’re welcome for getting that stuck in your head).
But I want to focus on how we can each steal garments away from ourselves and pour vinegar on our own wounds. Although we can and do find all sorts of crutches in our life, few of them have the alluring power that social media has inspired over the past decade. Why? Because unlike many addictions, social media – when misused – can give us the fleeting sensation of being connected with others without any of the benefits of actually engaging in relationship with them.
Because social media also has the ability to be a transformative tool for actual social engagement. It can help us find a community of friends who will help us bear that load (to help us carry on…get it???). I don’t want you to mistake this as a tirade against social media usage, but rather as a call to reflect on how we should keep it in its proper orientation. Where digital connections enhance and strengthen the bonds you’ve built IRL (in real life), it can provide a way to stay connected in meaningful ways like never before. But if it has become an addiction that keeps us from engaging in the richness of the world around us, then we may find ourselves stripping off our own clothing on a winter’s day.
We need to not only treat others emotional trauma with the kind of respect and “sitting-with-ness” it deserves. But, we need to be attentive to our own emotional needs so that we can feed ourselves with relationships and community that doesn’t just feel engaging, but actually is.