There's a certain kind of oversharing on social media that we're all familiar with: the mundane pictures of somebody's lunch, the stream of selfies, the updates complaining of illnesses. Much of this can come off as uninteresting.
Another kind of oversharing has emerged, though, and it's powerfully interesting, enough to make us uncomfortable at times. We see people taking to Facebook with emotional and intimate stories of parts of their lives, even ones we'd likely never hear about in person. They are deeply personal, bordering on what some would consider too personal for public disclosure.
A mother who posted pictures of her dying baby on her Facebook page ended up getting her account disabled by the site and the images removed. Her example reveals the tension between a willingness to share publically about something painful and personal, while Facebook's own "community standards" were reluctant to allow it.
In our feeds today, we see the aching heart of the mother who lost a child; the procedure-by-procedure updates of a friend going through cancer or another life-threatening illness; the laments of the lonely widow. At times, we wonder should we be seeing this? Or on our own feeds, should we be sharing it?
Oversharing actually has deeper significance than we realize, especially for us as Christians. We shouldn't share arbitrarily, as if our online choices have no bearing on our real life ones. The principle of Philippians 4:8 is as real for our finger that hits the "send" button as it is for our mouths, minds, and hearts. Is it pure? Is it lovely? Is it just? Is it honorable?
Our posts and pictures should serve a greater purpose than simply garnering likes and retweets—or in the case of the most personal messages, shock value and sympathy. We should care about the person on the receiving end. Does it serve them? Does it encourage them? Does it bring grace into their life (Eph. 4:29)?
I have always felt comfortable, and even compelled, to share about our miscarriages, infertility, high-risk pregnancy, and even my random days of difficulty. My hope is that others might see the struggles and know they are not alone, that they would see the sorrow of our own losses and be given the grace to endure (2 Cor. 4:12). That they would see the ordinariness of my life and grasp that there is no temptation or trial that has come upon them that is not common to us all (1 Cor. 10:13).
In March, as we learned of my second miscarriage, I typed up a post titled, "In view of God's mercy: The Frowning Providence of Miscarriage." In it, I wrote about how we had nervously celebrated another pregnancy, only to have it come to an end. As I said then:
Miscarriage is so ugly and so raw. It takes the hopes and dreams of expectant parents and dashes them on an ultrasound table or the bathroom floor. It takes something that should bring the greatest joy and ushers in the greatest pain.
And we are feeling all of it.
Through sharing my life openly I have made friends near and far. I have met women who have gone through losses and sorrows similar to mine. I have met women who are newly entering seasons of loss and are looking for someone who shares their pain. I have met women farther along than me in the journey who encourage me to keep pressing on. I have learned the true meaning of the phrase a "shared sorrow is half a sorrow."
My philosophy of sharing is that I want to be as honest online as I am in person. If you knew me in real life I would not shy away from the realities of this fallen world. I want to be honest about the everyday mundane difficulties of work, family life, and living in community with others. Sometimes I share a glimpse of that with the Internet, and I'm grateful for friends who are open enough to share with me their highest of highs and lowest of lows.
When a friend gets a bad doctor's report or loses her job, I'm glad I can know that early-on so I can know how to reach out and serve her. A college friend whose husband is in the military posts pictures of her and her children on Instagram while her husband is deployed, which reminds me to pray for their family. Another friend recently gave birth after a complicated pregnancy, and I regularly checked Facebook to see how see was doing and to view the pictures of her premature baby.
Rather than complain about oversharing and TMI, we might celebrate how social media connects us and equips us to minister to one another in more deeply personal ways. Even before social media, in the age of printing pictures and writing letters and long catch-up conversations, we never had the chance to get those beloved updates in real time.
But the "in real time" is also the challenge of social media. We cannot share merely out of reaction or emotion. In the same way that our sharing should be pure, lovely, just, and honorable, it shouldn't be snarky, condescending, bitter, or complaining. This doesn't mean that you should never complain about something or even share your difficult day. There is a place for that. It simply means we should think about what we post before our finger hits "send." For example, I have chosen not to share about my twin boys' sleep (or lack of sleep) habits, discipline issues, specific fights with my husband, or the details of my miscarriage and subsequent D&C. Why? Because I want to be helpful, not voyeuristic. The details of my life are not as important as the overarching themes, and my reactions to them. I don't want my posts on social media to be reactionary. Facebook and Twitter are not a place for us to give full vent to our anger and frustration. We would all be served by carefully thinking through what and how we post for all the world to see.
I live far away from family, and social media outlets like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook bring my loved ones closer to me. I appreciate the pictures of my nieces and nephews. I like seeing a friend run a marathon or have a cookout with her neighborhood. And I've been known to post pictures, tweets, and status updates about my new haircut, yummy recipe, or the first time I saw my "swagger wagon," I mean, van.
For those who choose to open their lives in that way it can be a helpful tool for connecting, gaining support, or resonating with another life experience. But let's not forget that it can be fun, too. So if sharing your ultrasound picture, your meal from last night, or your son's first steps is something you want to do, share away. Know I will be right there with you.