As a 38 year-old woman, I’m certainly not young, but I can also safely say that I have rather little expertise on much in life. Every year, I seem to learn over and over again just how much I don’t know. I consider myself well educated and a pursuant of knowledge in general, but knowledge (and this is one of the reasons it’s worth pursuing in the first place) is always evolving. Truth, the object of our knowledge, doesn’t change, of course - but what we know about truth does. Scientists discovered what they believe to be another extremely earth-like planet this past year, but their discovery of it didn’t constitute its existence: obviously, it existed before it was found. What we know today certainly doesn’t govern what can be known. We are only limited by our desire to know.
When I met my husband almost 20 years ago, we lived in a world without even a hint of the technology that we are surrounded by today. I didn’t get a cell phone until about a year after we met, and we had never heard of social media. I met him at a fraternity party back in 1998 and I’ve spent the last two decades re-meeting him, day by day. I don’t say this to be cheesy or overly romantic; what I really mean is that when I consider that now, I could ostensibly swipe past him on a screen, my heart sinks a little. How much do they miss, kids these days? What incredible romance has been sapped from their lives by the constant, nagging suspicion that there might just be someone better if they only swipe left?
We live in a world where what- and who- we can know seems to be endless, but we are defined (as all humanity has been) by what - and who - we choose to know. We used to be in a societal war about whether knowing God was important; now, we’re engaged in a battle over whether knowing anyone matters. Who do we most enjoy learning about? Us.
I’ve taken no less than ten personality tests this year. Ten.
I can unpack every single aspect of my Enneagram type in a matter of minutes (I’m a 4, in case you were wondering).
I have a constantly-updating photographic shrine to me (well, to my kids, too, but then, they’re extensions of me, right?) on Instagram, which of course you’re welcome to follow and comment on.
I have literally thousands of digital images “pinned” to “boards” on Pinterest which are all subtle reflections of my style, my interests, my thoughts, my taste.
Practically everything I do is somehow an extension of this most important field of knowledge in my life. Even the stuff I think I care about knowing is still somehow inextricably linked to the person I most want to be - and that I most want you to see me as.
It’s all so unbelievably gross.
And so I thank God in Heaven - not euphemistically, but truly - that I fell in love before Facebook. Swiping left isn’t dangerous because it offers the next best thing. It’s dangerous because it says that wanting the next best thing is okay. It consecrates our basest, most self-absorbed tendencies and calls them progressive - normal even. Of course, we find ourselves confused a lot, because isn’t it good to want something better than what you’ve got? Isn’t that just the American dream? Shouldn’t we encourage each other to know thyself, to do what makes us happy? Life’s too short for anything else, right?
The short answer is no.
The next best thing doesn’t exist. Or if it does, it’s gone in a flash, because it’s inevitably eclipsed by - you guessed it - the next next best thing.
So what do I tell my children when they begin navigating such a world as this?
To remember that what - and who - you most want to know will be the defining feature of your life. To rise above the incessant cries of to thine own self be true and to choose, instead, to live life for another. Love is patient, yes - but with whom? Love is kind - but to who? Love, by its very definition, must have a recipient, and that recipient cannot be the person who looks at you in the mirror each day. Love must be poured out, given away, to actually be love. It must deflect from itself and demand less attention, not more. Love doesn’t always feel good, or look pretty, or get what it wants. It’s costly, and difficult. Love - real love - will demand you give your everything.
But when you do, you’ll find that you get something back in return. A version of you that’s a whole lot less interested in, well, you.
And that’s the kind of transformation no Instagram filter will ever produce.