Do you remember when Instagram came out? I do, and I remember in particular the little camera icon. Touching that little icon has always filled me with a vague sense of anticipation. Today, Instagram has more than 700 million users. Having used the service since 2011, I’ve watched friends as their lives have developed. I’m sure you have too. It feels like I’ve seen it all: their trips, their weddings, their kids—their best life moments. These are their “Instagram moments.” They’ve seen my Instagram moments, too. Your friends have probably seen yours.
Yet if we’re honest with ourselves, today for most of us is made up of many ordinary moments—not Instagram moments. Yes, there are some of those, but getting up in the morning is rarely, if ever, a picturesque moment. Neither is eating breakfast, nor taking the kids to school. Neither is answering e-mails from coworkers, nor brushing our teeth. That’s not to speak of the bad moments: the despair, the failures, and the hardships. Those moments are rarely posted.
The effects of Instagram on mental health have been well documented. Instagram use is associated with higher levels of anxiety, FOMO (fear of missing out), and loneliness. Of course, you can’t attribute these feelings just to browsing Instagram. It’s likely that we browse Instagram when we’re feeling lonely, and so there’s not necessarily a cause-and-effect relationship. Instagram and services like it, however, have given rise, especially among younger generations, to dissatisfaction with the ordinary. As perfect lives made up of perfect moments constantly enter our minds, we feel like we don’t measure up.
Why is that? There’s a conflict that occurs between our expectation of what things ought to be like (Instagram) and what they’re really like (real life). Our expectations for life shift and change as we view images of other people’s best moments. We come to believe in a subliminal way that the extraordinary, perfect life in the here and now is ideal and achievable, and the monotony and struggle of ordinary life is drab and worthless. We want our ordinary life to be extraordinary all of the time. But, as we all know, that’s not real life. The very definition of extraordinary requires the existence of the ordinary. Extraordinary things are a deviation from the ordinary. Instagram gives the impression that it’s possible to have the extraordinary without any ordinary at all.
Most of our following Jesus takes place in the ordinary, because it takes place in real life. This is apparent in the Bible. Just one example: there was a lot of talk in the early church about what to eat and what not to eat. If we read Acts, Romans, or 1 Corinthians, we eventually stumble upon passages about “meat sacrificed to idols.” To us, it seems like an odd thing to talk about, but it was a pervasive concern for early Christians. Meat sacrificed to idols was often sold secondhand in the marketplace. Christians wondered if it was OK to purchase such meat and eat it. The basic question was, How can I follow Jesus in what I buy and cook for dinner? What does my ordinary life look like because I’m following Jesus?
Because following Jesus occurs in the ordinary, most of our discipleship isn’t Instagrammable. For those ancient Christians, trying to figure out what to buy at the meat market was hardly a moment for exaltation. It was a real struggle. Think about some less-than-picturesque moments among Christians even today: a hard conversation with a brother in Christ, parents caring for children after a difficult day at work, or sharing the gospel with a coworker over lunch. That’s not to mention the daily battles in our minds that are impossible to photograph, even if we wanted to. Our discipleship mostly consists, day in and day out, of following Jesus on some rather ordinary roads.