I. Who Is Writing Your Story?
“…there arises in Western societies a generalized culture of “authenticity”, or expressive individualism, in which people are encouraged to find their own way, discover their own fulfillment, “do their own thing” – Charles Taylor, A Secular Age
The digital landscape – especially through social media – reinforces and accelerates this individualistic, identity expression.
“Several young adults said the purpose of social media posts is to present yourself as a unique individual who does not lead a routine life.” – Renegotiating Faith Report
Three Primary “Fears”:
- The “Fear Of Missing Out” (FOMO): the idea that when we have access to the highlights of so many other people, we may feel like there is something significant going on that we are, well, missing out on life.
- Comparison Anxiety: the anxiety associated with comparing one’s life to others– and that leads to a sense of depression, like our lives are void of meaning and purpose. As one young adult says: “It’s almost like social media creates…an airbrushed life that makes everybody dissatisfied.” (RFR).
- The Fear of Not Being Amazing (FNBA): the sense that, with so many people watching my life, I don’t want to mess up, to ‘fail’, because in the past, failure might be witnessed by a few close friends and family who can be supportive.
Never before has there been so much pressure to publically build an identity and perform it.
“There is not a single exception. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all non-screen activities are linked to more happiness,” said just as categorically: “Just as for happiness, the results are clear: screen activities are linked to more loneliness, and non-screen activities are linked to less loneliness.”
– Jean Twenge, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?”
“Your phone keeps you close to the people far away…but far away from the people close to you.”
Sam Gangees says to Frodo in The Lord of the Rings: “I wonder what sort of tale we’ve fallen into?” – J.R.R. Tolkien
The character of Sam in Tolkien’s story recognizes that the story he is in is bigger than his own. He’s not the center of the world. He’s a part of it – but it’s not his story.
- If you have to write your own story that means that there is no objective purpose to your life. There is no real meaning in life – only our small attempts to construct a meaning for one’s self. And that’s pretty fragile. And frightening. Philosopher Mircea Eliade actually calls this “the terror of history.”
II. John the Baptist and the True Story
“The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.”
– John 3:29-30
III. Adopting a John the Baptist Approach to Life
1. You are NOT “writing your own story”
We are freed from the tyranny of believing we have to create a life of significance on our own terms – freed to find our hearts-home in God’s big story.
2. We are freed to just love other people; not see ourselves in competition with them
From Individualism to Personhood
“Twenge concurs that individualism leads to isolation, crippling anxiety and crushing depression:
The growing tendency to put the self first leads to unparalleled freedom, but it also creates enormous pressure to stand-alone. This is the downside of the focus on the self – when we are fiercely independent and self-sufficient, our disappointments loom large because we have nothing else to focus on. … All too often, the result is crippling anxiety and crushing depression.”
– In Renegotiating Faith Report
Individualism is about having to define yourself – on your own terms – and this is often, whether we recognize it or not, ‘over and against’ others around you.
A Christian account of personhood means being in relation to God and others.
Personhood does not obliterate your uniqueness, but it gives room for God to actually be God – at the center of our life. In gives room for him to be at work in us, so that, more and more, we become the persons God created us to be, that we might serve and love others as we serve and love God – not in competition, but genuine in our desire to love others…not for our own sake, but to glorify God, and truly just love others
IV. The “Fear of the Lord” Frees us From Every Other Fear
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” – Proverbs 9:10
“Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.”
– Proverbs 29:25
The “fear of man” doesn’t mean being afraid of other people, like “fearing for our safety”, but means “I care deeply about what they think of me – even to the point that it’s what drives my many of my actions.”
In a similar way “the fear of the Lord” is not equivalent to being afraid of God either. It means to reverence him, “respect” him and his opinions, to recognize his power and sovereignty and trust that he made us out of love for himself and knows how life works best.
To “fear the Lord” is to lift his thoughts of you above the opinion of everyone else. And when we do that we will be freed – really and truly – to function without the crippling fear of others, or of trying to make a name for ourselves.
V. Commitments and Practices:
When we know that we aren’t writing our own story – and we shift our allegiance, our place of trust, and when our starting place is “the fear of the Lord” and not “the fear of other people”, we are actually released into life giving freedom, and practices that support and affirm that place
1. We will aim to build deep trust in our most significant relationships.
“Spouses have one another’s passwords, and parents have total access to children’s devices.” – Andy Crouch, The Tech Wise Family
“There is nothing in our society that has surrendered more completely, and more catastrophically, to technology’s basic promise, easy everywhere, than sex.” (165).
2. We use screens for a purpose, and we use them together, rather than using them aimlessly and alone.
“As with so much of our mediated world, the solution to this is astonishingly simple, and radical only because it is so rarely done. The problem isn’t with our devices themselves – it’s with the way we use them. We simply have to turn off the easy fixes and make media something we use on purpose rather than aimlessly and frequently.”
“When we do sit down in front of a TV screen, it will be with a specific purpose and a specific hope, not just entertainment or distraction but wonder and exploration.”
– Andy Crouch
Life Group Discussion and Further Reflection:
What have you found most helpful in the series so far? What has been most challenging? Why?
Read John 3:23-30
1. Look again at v.30. How did John see his “story” in light of Jesus’ coming? In what way do you, or have you, found yourself needing to “write your own story”? How does this passage address this impulse?
2. How does John set the example for how we think about our life and what we are doing with our lives?
3. [For those who use social media – i.e. Facebook, Instagram etc.] Often people use social media as a means of building their identity – a way of “writing their own story” – with themselves at the center. What would it look like to take a “John the Baptist” sort of approach to our use of social media?
4. What might change for you in the types of things you post – and how you post them?
5. The “Fear of the Lord” is to have utter reverence and respect for God – to know that we are ultimately accountable to him, and therefore, we value his view of us above everyone else. How can you see this as “the beginning of wisdom”? How might starting with God reorient who or what we fear? How have you seen this to be true in your life? How would you like it to be more?
6. Review the Commitments and Practices section on the adjacent page. Discuss in what ways you see the wisdom in each. What suggestions do you have for being more purposeful in your use of screens? How have you already implemented these changes? What steps would you like to continue taking?
Pray: Take time to pray with your group – that the areas discussed tonight would lead to a deep enjoyment of God and what God made and loves.