Facebook decided to kick off 2019 with a challenge: Compare your first profile picture to your most recent one to see how hard aging hit you over the past ten years.
I pulled up my first profile picture and stared at it, the air exiting my lungs and an odd numbness seeping up from my toes. Hello, fresh-faced person. I remember you. I remember that shirt, the wallpaper in that kitchen, that haircut. I also remember the night I uploaded you in 2008, sitting in the bedroom with my husband, lightheartedly filling in my Facebook profile with enough information for my identity to be stolen and my house to be robbed.
The picture, actually taken in 2005, was the only scanned picture I had of myself at the time—back when I knew nothing of smartphones, selfies, or the social media platforms that now seep into every idle moment of our days.
Twitter rants and hashtags, internet trolls, humble brags, virtue signaling, sub-tweeting, Instagram stories, Snap streaks, tagging, and liking were not in my vocabulary or experience. So, staring down a younger version of myself, my first thought was not “What a wrinkled hag I have become,” but instead, “This is the ten-year anniversary of the year we gave our hearts to social media.”
Hard to believe a decade has passed since social media’s cultural watershed, since parents and grandparents joined their kids on Facebook, and since Twitter expanded from niche networking to the mainstream. Not to disappoint, but I don’t really hate social media. Like any other innovation, it can be used either for help or harm, according to the one who holds the tool in her hand.
Any crowded room we enter contains its share of sages and fools; social media platforms are just very crowded rooms following the same pattern. We can’t choose who enters, but we can choose which voices we listen to and which voice we ourselves use. And ten years in, I’m glad for the opportunity to “think on these things.”
When I was 10, I memorized Scripture to earn a spot at a summer camp. One of the passages I memorized was Psalm 90, Moses’ stunning reflection on the eternality of God and the ephemerality of man. Gazing on that first profile picture, the words of verse 12 came back to me: “So teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Whatever translation I memorized seems to have dropped out of use (hello, aging), and I miss its word choice. The Christian Standard Bible still captures the same sense: “Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.”
Carefully. Aright. Rightly. Important adverbs. Our days are numbered, as every Throwback Thursday and “Facebook memory” will remind us, but do we count them as we should? Does their measure reflect a heart that is growing in wisdom or just a face that is growing in wrinkles?
Imagine if it had been possible to post a picture of your heart in 2008, laid next to another in 2018. A spiritual angiogram, before and after, a trajectory of the growth or decline of wisdom itself. What would it show? Would you want to post it?
This is what I thought as I sat at my computer, contemplating the face of a younger self. I have not stopped thinking about it since. Who says social media can’t make you wise?
Ten years of social media has shown me the wisdom of being slow to speak, how comparison kills joy, how in-person friendship knows no substitute.
But it has also taught me the sweetness of the well-timed word of encouragement, of shared celebrations and shared losses. Used wisely, a virtual platform can actually minister. For those indwelt by the Spirit, wisdom can be unearthed from even such common soil as social media.
I declined the Facebook aging challenge. It was too tempting to choose a current picture that would minimize the passage of time: filtered, angled, cropped. Too easy to cheat. Facebook invites us to count the lines on our faces, but wisdom reads between those lines.
The world seeks the fountain of youth with unmatched fervor, thirsting for the outward appearance of agelessness. Friends (Facebook or otherwise), seek instead the ageless Fount of all wisdom and drink deeply from it, as one who is learning to count.
Jen Wilkin is a wife, mom, and Bible teacher with a passion to see women become committed followers of Christ. She is the author of None Like Him.
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