Laughter can conceal a heavy heart, but when the laughter ends, the grief remains. – Proverbs 14:13 NLT
I’m telling this story for Maddy. (You can read her story by clicking on her name.) I celebrate your life and am learning from what you had to say to us. I’m also telling this story for students like her who look for real glimpses of real people under the facades of filtered lives shared on social media. I’m sorry if any of us have mislead you to think that human perfection is possible, that happy is always, and that joy is the only emotion we experience. It’s simply not the case. And you deserve to know that you aren’t alone.
The three images of me that see with this post tell a story, one you might not guess unless I told you. The photo without a filter (the one on the right) was a selfie taken at Sunset Cliffs National Park in San Diego California last fall. The other two are the same photo that I filtered to try to hide the furrow in my forehead. I had been crying. None of them I posted on social media.
The light was brilliant, the setting around me dripped with beauty. But it wasn’t why I took a photo of myself. I took it because I wanted to capture how deceiving a smile can be. When I walked to see the ocean that evening I watched the sun sinking from sight into the heavy water of the Pacific. The sight of the sun sinking felt like home in a way that scared me. I felt like I was sinking too, because of some things I was going through. I felt like my whole body was being buried from the inside out. Everything in my life was beautiful -but I was a body full of grief. Grief over all sorts of things, none of which I wanted to talk about with anyone. The things seemed too trivial compared to the suffering so many endure. But I couldn’t push it away–the anxiety was there, felt, and experienced.
Donald Miller shared this tweet today:
“Loneliness isn’t a destination. It’s just a place you pass through. Hoping a lot of folks keep moving tonight.”
I think that he’s right about lowliness but many need a more collective reminder. I want my life to reinforce the knowledge that crisis is passable–even when it feels like nothing could be farther from the truth.
Nature, light, the sound of the ocean gathered around me that day hugged my body in light–God is light and I found myself in a spot to see it. I could see at once that even in my grief I was loved, held, wanted, cared about–even though I couldn’t seem to muster the guts to tell a single soul how I was feeling, I could see the truth.
This isn’t the case for everyone when they are overwhelmed and hurting. That’s why we can’t keep making the mistake of painting only the good days and filtering everything in an impossible light.
When we reveal the “not-okay” we give the people we let see it a pass to feel human together with you. We grow less alone and more seen.
When I read the story about Maddy and the tragic end to her promising life it fueled this post. She filtered her life on Instagram to show everyone what she thought they wanted to see. She had some pain that she couldn’t see herself passing through. She couldn’t keep moving. And she didn’t. I weep for her life, for her family, for her friends, but also for all of us who feel ashamed sometimes to say that everything is not okay. You deserve to feel connected in bravery, not in shame.
What if more of us were more willing to tell stories about the pain we hold inside?
It’s probably not the best idea to share the details, the names, the circumstances with everyone we know, but I feel like every teenager deserves a place to drag their overwhelming elephant to safety and given the permission to sit with it for as long as they need to. Every teenager deserves to see their youth pastor (parent, mentor, etc.) a caring and transparent human who also messes up, isn’t always okay, talks about not being okay sometimes, and is willing to share what the journey of passing through the crisis looks like, feels like, and hopes like.
We can help by peeling back the filters a bit more by showing ourselves as we are. We can embrace an unfiltered future, to help each other have healthier futures.
Here are a few ways I think we could move in that direction.
- Practice removing filters more often from photos. (Literally & metaphorically)
- Practice disclosing real feelings and emotions about life as we experience it.
- Open up your messy house and leave some junk visible
- Be real
- Laugh at yourself
- Cry if you need to cry
- Admit you don’t know and don’t have an answer
- Say “I’m not able to do that”
- Encourage small group leaders, teachers, coaches, and parents to be intentionally vulnerable around the kids they love.
What a kid sees is just as important as what they hear.
I want people to continue to see the real Brooklyn so when they face “the real” in their own lives they don’t feel so alone in it.