Some years ago, a former pastor was speaking about the “selfie generation,” drawing parallels between self-promotion, self-interest, self-centeredness, etc. He mentioned in passing our youth pastor, a young man not long out of college who was very active on Facebook. The older pastor didn’t use the younger as a negative example. I think he just mentioned feeling a little awkward speaking about Facebook with one who knew how to use it so well.
It didn’t take long for the younger pastor to reduce his FaceBook presence. The only times he or his wife post anything any more is when they have a new baby. Of course, a growing family and ministry may have lessened his online time as much as the older pastor’s comment. But I miss hearing how the family is doing and seeing their updates. I suppose I could have, and should have, emailed or written them.
This is not a post for or against Facebook or selfies. Neither is sinful in itself. But incidents like these have caused me to wonder when talking about ourselves goes too far.
We’ve probably all known people who post more than we want to know or see on FaceBook.
On the other hand, we can’t help but speak about ourselves, our thoughts, opinions, etc. We can share examples of what other people have said, but mostly we can only share from our own frame of reference.
Sharing ourselves is part of being human, being a friend, ministering to others. 2 Corinthians 1: 4 tells us to “comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” What we write, speak, and share would sound clinical if we don’t put ourselves into it.
In my Christian college, each person in the dorms had to take turns sharing a devotional with the other members of their “prayer group,” which consisted of three rooms that met every evening. One particular roommate always struggled with what to share. Once she said, “I know what God has been teaching me, but how do I know if that’s what others need?” Well, we can only share out of what God has been teaching us. He’s probably showing us those things not only for our benefit, but also for those with whom we interact.
Once when a guest speaker was invited to speak at our church, he was in the middle of research for a book. He quipped, “If you want me to provide the meal, you’ll have to eat what’s cooking on my grill”—another way of saying he could only share what was primary in his own heart and mind at the time.
In Write Better by Andrew T. Le Peau, he suggests sharing something personal with one’s audience as a way to make a connection. But he acknowledges the difficulty:
Writing is a tightrope because on the one hand we are told as Christians not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought, and on the other we are told that as writers we should talk about ourselves so audiences can identify with us. By being vulnerable we can draw readers in and so help them benefit from our life and work (p. 190).
Here are some principles that I need to keep in mind.
God promises wisdom when we ask for it. I clearly need wisdom.
Do I listen before I respond? James says, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). We’ve probably all had the experience of someone telling us what we need to do when they clearly don’t understand the issue. Few things are more frustrating. I shouldn’t assume. Maybe I don’t even need to answer; maybe I just need to provide a listening ear or shoulder to lean on.
Do I show interest in others? I have one friend who asks lots of questions. After one time we were together, I realized that we had spent most of our time talking about what was going on in my life. Sure, I was mostly responding to her queries. But I neglected to ask about how she was doing. I have tried to rectify that in our subsequent visits.
Am I the star of my own narrative? Am I, in my own mind, the hero, the one who came up with the right answer or best solution and saved the day?
Now, sometimes we did come up with the best solution, and it’s not wrong to say so. Thomas Umstaddt, Jr. tells the story of Dr. Barry Marshall’s work on the cause and treatment of ulcers. His research led to a different theory than that of prevailing medical opinion. He was denied permission to conduct human trials. So he experimented on himself to prove his theory that ulcers could be treated with antibiotics. Thomas makes the point that it would have been wrong of Marshall to hold back his discovery because he didn’t want to put himself out there and promote his own work. He helped others by sharing his research.
In the apostle Paul’s writings, he had to stand fast on the truth and oppose false doctrine. He did so not because he couldn’t tolerate anyone else’s opinions, but because God’s glory and people’s souls were at stake.
So sometimes it’s right to share my research or solutions or whatever. But I need to make sure I don’t view every opinion or solution of mine in that way.
What is my motive? Am I seeking God’s glory or mine? Am I seeking to minister to people or seeking attention?
Am I operating from humility? As Andrew Le Peau stated above, the Bible does tell us, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think” (Romans 12:3). That doesn’t mean we put ourselves down. The verse goes on to say, “but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” I like what C. S. Lewis said about humility: a truly humble man will “not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.” Part of humility is acknowledging that all our gifts, talents, experiences, and the truth we know all comes from God.
Can I help? I have an inner, competitive, over-eager student who would squirm in my chair saying, “PIck me! Pick me!” if I weren’t so self-conscious. So, to combat that tendency, I often don’t answer in a group setting. But sometimes the poor teacher asks a simple question that she wants a quick answer to, and we’re all holding back because we don’t want to put ourselves forward. So going ahead and answering–as long as I am not monopolizing the conversation—is sometimes the best help to the situation. Or a hostess asks for people to help themselves to a buffet, but no one wants to go first. And we’re all holding up the evening’s activities and letting the food get cold. Sometimes it’s more self-forgetful in those situations to just do what’s needed. And sometimes God lays a burden to say something or brings a situation to our attention because He does want us to pitch in or share our perspective.
Some of us are like Peter: quick to jump in or to speak. Others of us are more like Moses or Gideon: we need a little convincing before we step out or speak up.
I’m drawn back to Matthew 5:16: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Letting our light shine involves letting others see us and what we do. But our motive is that they might see Him, not glorify us.
I’m sure there’s much more that could be said on the subject of when and whether to put ourselves forward. But these are the thoughts I have at this time.
How about you? Have you wrestled these issues? What principles help you?
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Yes, I am wrestling with these issues, and I can’t say that I have any great wisdom to share, except that motive is everything and God alone knows the heart.
Amen. I pray my motives will be pure before Him and ask Him to show me if they’re not.
Some good points; which I can indentify with some. Lately, I have been reevaluating how I respond to people.
Lots of things to consider and it can be hard to find a balance sometimes. I’m a worship leader and it can be a challenge to figure out where to draw that line. I’ve been asked to speak at a gathering this week so these questions are timely ones that I will be asking myself as I prepare.
I think these things might be especially hard when your ministry puts you in front of people in a physical way. But God will give grace to find the right balance.
This is an area I struggle with as it is my first response to think in terms of myself….to compare or liken my own experiences. Once I read something that said to take the word “I” out of certain conversations. This leans one toward looking at a situation through the eyes of another instead of one’s own eyes or viewpoint. This broadens our understandings of the world around us and the people in it.
I think about this issue a lot! After every outing with a friend, I mentally review whether or not I’m happy with the amount that I “put myself out there,” etc. I tend to be unhappy with myself when I feel I talked too much, etc. — much of this being that I’m naturally a pretty reticent person. I can relate to each of your scenarios — sometimes thinking it’s the better decision to just answer the question, go to the buffet first, etc. Interesting topic!
Sometimes we’re so afraid of putting ourselves out there that we become self-conscious, and that has its own problems. It usually makes me freeze or retreat. Trying to take my focus off myself and think what would be best for the others helps.
This has always been a struggle for me. Most times I tend to hold back which is not good. For me, it always comes to the motivation of my heart – I always question< "Why do I want to do this?" You have given me even more to think about, Barbara, so thank you!
Barbara, I came back to read this again today for a very different reason. “What is my motive?” is a question I ask myself often and I needed to read this again in light of that question. Thank you for this post!
Thanks so much, Joanne. I tend to hold back too much, too. I need to constantly keep watch on my motives, because I can lean either way.
Barbara this post truly has perfect timing. I agree with many of the points you mentioned. I had decided that this week I am taking a break from posting any type of social media and instead of using the time to focus on others. I think it is a good way to prepare our hearts during the Lenten season. Thank you for this amazing subject to ponder. Your writing is so inspirational!
Thank you, Laura.
Do you think the way churches minister to the congregation is going to change because of social media? It seems as if it could be harnessed for good!
No, of course not. As I said, there’s nothing wrong with social media in itself. I was dismayed over the young man in my example who stopped posting and missed his posts. This post was not about social media except as one example. I was mulling over the broader theme of when to put ourselves out there (in any way) and when to refrain. We have to to a certain extent, but finding the balance is tricky.
I’ve been wrestling with this questions and ones that are similar. I have not been one to put anything out there on social media that may be at all controversial. But then, after reading scripture and praying, I felt led to post something that was a Biblical take on pro-life. Well, the opposition flew out of the woodwork and called me judgmental. They said, “He who is without sin cast the first stone, etc.” I simply stated my opinion based on scripture and I will most likely never do it again. So many Christians remain quiet about their beliefs and I certainly see why. Where is the fine line between standing up for what you believe and still being humble? Great food for thought in your post. Wish I had all the answers…
I wish I did, too, Bev. I’m afraid, the way things are going, that it’s only going to get harder to speak up for truth. We surely need God’s wisdom.
Barbara, this is a question I am wrestling with especially this year, with my WOTY “empty”. When I first began blogging, some very friendly and generous book bloggers took me under their wing. They recommended I establish a social media presence. I write about running, so I followed other runners on Twitter. Runners are a positive bunch, always congratulating and encouraging each other. But if I am constantly posting things like “I ran 5 miles this morning” and getting replies like “Way to go!”, is that really the way to empty myself of my “self”? Am I operating from humility? Great post! You have made me think.
I don’t think enjoying that kind of encouragement is wrong. But I’ve had to correct myself for doing things just for notice and praise. Once I went to a lot of trouble for a special dish for a ladies’ function. People oohed and aahed, except one lady remarked I must have an awful lot of time on my hands. My inward negative reaction to her remark clued me in that I *had* done it for the oohs and aahs and not really to serve or give help pleasure to the ladies there. In something I read by Elisabeth Elliot, she said that wanting approval is not necessarily a bad thing–it can be an encouragement that we’re on the right path, that God is using us. I need God. I so need God to continually evaluate my motives and help me keep them right.
Thee is a fine line we walk. Sometimes I talk to much about myself, and other times I share very little. But our own experiences and lessons are what we are familiar with, and they are what God wants us to use to draw others to God. But in our story, he needs to be the hero, not us. This is something I have been learning and trying to do a better job with. This sentence caught my eye, “He’s probably showing us those things not only for our benefit, but also for those with whom we interact.”
That’s a good way to think of it–making sure that He’s the hero, and not us.
I loved reading your thoughts here. I agree, it is a difficult balance to get and our motivation is important. Sometimes I overthink it and hold back from sharing because I can’t work out if it’s going to bless others or not, or I worry about what people will think and how they’ll take it. It’s reassuring to know that others find this a struggle too.
It is–your comments as well as the others have helped reassure me, too, that we all find this a struggle. But it’s a good thing it makes us seek God’s guidance.
When I blog about parenting challenges, I never say what the challenge is. I’ve had parents of five year olds say, “I so needed to hear this today” when the challenge was a nerve-wracking teen challenge – but what I was doing in the writing was preaching to me – what God was teaching me to not give up, to draw closer, to keep my eyes on Him, trust Him. I learned long ago as a student – and used it as a college instructor – that if you have a question, so do most of the other people in the classroom – the others are just scared to ask it. I’ve found that when I write about God in the challenge, there’s a lot of other people facing hard challenges – and need the same kind of encouragement I do – it’s not about me, it’s not really about the challenge – it’s about God in the challenge!
Good advice, Maryleigh! When we share what God has taught us in our challenges, others can be encouraged in theirs.
Barb, all’s I can say is Wow! Boy, did I ever need to hear this. It felt like you were talking to me. Thank you for sharing these reminders to be mindful of. Blessings.
Thanks so much, Paula. I need these often, too.
I’m so glad you are addressing this topic. It’s such a hard thing for me to “market” my own blog posts on social media because it feels like I’m putting myself forward too much. But I also realize that if the Lord gives us something to say, we need to say it. I don’t have any answers either; a lot of it does come down to our personal motives. Are they pure or not?
I do like when people share their personal things on Facebook too. It helps us stay connected. I also like when people share an extra little personal tidbit when they text or email or leave a comment somewhere. You’re among the best at that with the comments you leave on others’ blogs, Barbara! I’ve noticed that for years and I love how you do it. You set a great example for the rest of us.
Thanks so much, Lisa. I love when you and others do that, too. And you’re right, so much comes down to motives. I guess in that way, the struggle is good if it keeps us seeking God’s help and grace.
Thank you for bringing up this important topic! Occasionally I get bitten with the overshare bug. It can happen online or in a group of people. Afterward, I shake my head and wonder what got into me. Maybe my need for affirmation. Knowing this about myself helps me to handle people who chronically overshare. What do they seek and how can I affirm them.
Yes–knowing our own tendencies should help us be more gracious to others. We so need God’s grace and wisdom to know when to share and when to hold back.
I appreciate these thoughts very much, Barbara. I’m generally OK with using myself as a topic in my writing, but “promoting myself” via social media and other venues makes me a bit squeamish! As for the writing, lately I find myself asking, “Why am I writing this?” and “Who cares, really?” I suppose these questions speak to motivation, and also to purpose. If I’m writing something because I think it will make me look good or bring in all sorts of words of affirmation, that’s a problem. If the answer to “who cares?” is “only me,” then perhaps I should be writing something else! 🙂
In one workshop in a writer’s conference I went to, the speaker, an acquisitions editor, repeatedly said, “Who cares?” She was encouraging us to write about topics and in a style that would draw people in and help address their cares. “Who cares?” rang in my ears for weeks after that. 😀
Barbara, these are all questions I should ask myself often to weed out any poor motives or heart issues. Thank you for this great piece.
Thank you, Lauren. I need to ask them of myself often.
This is such a helpful topic. I too have struggled with how much to share as a Christian blogger, knowing it isn’t about me but wondering what if my story might be helpful. The book you mentioned, “Write Better,” sounds like a good read too!
Thanks, Amanda. We so need God’s grace and wisdom.
Barbara, I’ve been thinking about this exact topic just recently and really appreciate your thoughts. I especially like that you brought us to the idea of letting our light shine before others. Yes, we have to put ourselves forward sometimes to do this. Let people see what’s going on in our lives. Even post on Facebook! Yet if our motives are to glorify Christ and we’re truly pointing others to Him, I’d define it more as sharing rather than self-promotion.
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