It made me jealous to see proud and evil people and to watch them prosper.Psalm 73:3 CEV
Do you ever struggle to be happy for others? When someone comes up to you and shares something exciting that’s happening to them, is there a little part of you that’s bothered? I know I never struggle in this way, but maybe you do. Just kidding! I totally struggle with this, and I would assume you might from time to time. If you don’t, praise God for the fact that you don’t struggle in this way.
Picture this: you walk into school or church, ready for another normal day, nothing particularly exciting planned. Your best friend bounds up to you, smiling uncontrollably, and shares some news. Fill in whatever makes sense to you: “I got the lead in the spring musical!” Meanwhile, you didn’t even get in the show. “I made it onto the football team!” Meanwhile, you got cut during tryouts. “I got a new phone for my birthday!” You’re still using an old model that’s outdated and slow. “He finally asked me out!” You’ve never even been asked on a date.
How do you respond to this good news? Your friend is excited about the good things happening in their life. If you were in their shoes you’d be excited too, but maybe you find it hard to be as happy as they are when you hear their news. You stop yourself from scoffing and try to suppress the annoyance boiling up inside. Or maybe when your friend leaves, you fight back tears of frustration over your own life, which feels boring at best. Maybe you feel like a failure or maybe you feel angry, feeling entitled to the same blessings your friend has.
Wisdom From Scripture
Through the years, the Lord has grown me to see the beauty of God’s Word. One part of God’s Word I’ve grown to love is the book of Psalms. I love how the Psalms capture emotions, and I love their honesty. I love how the Psalms say what some of us are, at times, too afraid to admit. I also love that they help put words to what I’m often unable to voice.
Read the opening verse of this post again. The psalmist is jealous to see all these wicked people living the good life. They have success, money, good health, material prosperity. Do you ever look at the world and think, They have it so easy. They have so much money and freedom. God, I’m trying to faithfully serve you and what am I getting in return? I’m following you but my life is harder than theirs!
If you read the entirety of Psalm 73, you’ll see that the psalmist comes to his senses and sees the Lord’s goodness. He also sees that the good life he thinks others have isn’t really all that it seems. It won’t even last. What we see on the surface may not reflect what is actually true.
The Earth Is Groaning
In Romans 8:22 we read, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” In an episode of The Local Youth Worker podcast, author Melissa Kruger commented that she keeps this verse in mind as she scrolls through social media. She remarked that, although this may seem like a strange verse, it reminds her that everyone’s “highlight reel” doesn’t necessarily reflect reality. In other words, they’re groaning too.
Many of us are familiar with this highlight reel—all the good parts of people’s lives that make their way onto social media. They only show the good, not the struggles. A cute selfie with our significant other from last week (ignoring the fight we just had with them and the harsh remarks we made). The perfect family Christmas with fresh baked cinnamon rolls and matching plaid pajamas (okay, maybe some of you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing matching family pajamas). The point is we show the good stuff. No pain. No heartache. No groaning. Only prospering, like the psalmist observed. Even when people decide to be “authentic” about their hardships on social media, they’re still choosing what to share. We’re still not seeing the full picture of their lives. Add to that the fact that their “authenticity” can often be a form of manipulation, which simply tries to win sympathy or favor from their followers.
The highlight reel is another aspect of the anxiety associated with FOMO. We can’t help but compare our behind-the-scenes brokenness and boredom with the perfection others seem to possess. We know how imperfect our lives are, but we tend to think others have it all together. On the outside, others seem to escape the pains of this fallen world. To fight this FOMO, we may be tempted to try and play the game. We end up creating our idea of perfection. We begin to curate our own highlight reel. We start to share and post the best parts of our lives. Just the vacations, concerts, and experiences we know others want. We show the game-winning shot we just made, the impressive cake we just baked, the amazing sunset we witnessed, that hilarious viral challenge that gets a lot of likes, and the moment when we were with the in-crowd.
Some of this can be totally fine and innocent. We may simply be inviting people to share in the joy of what we have witnessed or created. At the same time, we need to be honest with our own hearts. Are we being lured into the trap of the highlight reel?
Are we trying to make others jealous? Are we attempting to push back on our sadness by making others think we have the good life? Will their “liking” and seeing what we’re up to give us just enough happiness to smother the groanings of this life? Obviously, this isn’t the solution, but sometimes we think it is because it feels good and gratifying in the moment. So what is the real solution?
The solution is to look at any image on social media through the lens of Scripture. Behind every smile, sunset, and party is the groaning of creation for the return of Jesus. Think about it, Jesus is above all things. He is the Light of the World, the Bread of Life, the source of Living Water, the Resurrection and the Life, the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. At God’s “right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). This world, especially in its broken, sinful state, cannot compare to the fulfillment and joy of knowing Jesus and being with him and the Father in heaven. Even the best parts of this life aren’t enough to give us lasting, complete joy. Don’t misunderstand me and think I’m encouraging you to take joy in the fact that everyone is suffering—that’s not the point at all.
In the midst of your sadness, know that you are not the only one struggling. Every human—no matter how rich, how smiley, how beautiful—is longing for another life. Pray that you can share in the joy others share through social media, but know that their life is just as broken as yours, and that they are in need of the same Savior you are. We need to remember this truth as we come across other people’s happiness on social media, but there’s also a second truth to remember: our own sinful heart.
There’s a part of us that’s simply jealous of other people’s happiness. Therefore, when you see someone else’s highlight reel or happiness, ask God to help you have sincere joy for them. Even when you think someone may be posting something to make you feel less-than, pray that you won’t judge their motives, but will truly share their happiness with them. And remember that both your ultimate happiness and theirs won’t be found in the experiences and blessings of this world, but in Christ. We need him to lift our eyes to himself, to help us believe that he is the source of true, lasting “fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11).
For many of us, this challenge to be selfless and content is impossible—and that’s exactly the point. Truth be told, we cannot judge other people’s posts perfectly, and we often can’t help but be jealous of what others have. And that’s exactly why we need Jesus.
Jesus always took joy in the good things people took pleasure in. Jesus has compassion for judgmental and jealous hearts like yours and mine. By his grace, he wants us to fight those natural impulses in our hearts, but he also wants us to fight against the lie that those impulses are irredeemable. Rest in the reality that Jesus welcomes restless hearts. He offers compassion and forgiveness to the judgmental.
Excerpt adapted from Social Media Pressure: Finding Peace Alongside Jesus © 2023 by John Perritt. Used with permission of New Growth Press. May not be reproduced without prior written permission.
social media pressure
Social Media Pressure helps show why social media can leave you feeling sad, anxious, and depressed and points to practical ways of turning to Jesus for rest and wholeness. In this devotional, John Perritt, a longtime youth pastor, will guide you in making sure that your relationship with God remains at the center of your life without letting your phone take over.