Pope Benedict’s recent letter on World Communications Day discussed the challenge of being authentic and faithful, and not giving in to the illusion of constructing an artificial public profile for oneself when participating in social media like blogging, Twitter, and Facebook.
So what does it mean to be authentic online? Does authenticity require full disclosure? Does it demand we share more than the most endearing photographs of our children and balance them with snapshots of our kids picking their noses or doing naughty things? Should the foodie bloggers be required to share their kitchen successes and messes?
My answer is no. No, we don’t have to “let it all hang out” in order to project a genuine image of ourselves or our lives. We can be truthful without being ugly or sharing ugly things. My joy, the good moments I capture on film – these are genuine moments of my life. They’re not the only moments, but they are real.
Even if I’m personally comfortable with bearing all, my family may not be. My husband, for one, is a very private man. Honestly, he doesn’t get the whole blogging thing. He supports my writing here because he loves me and knows that writing is a form of self-nurturing for me. However, he’d probably be happy to hear it if I one day decided to bag the whole blogging thing.
Right now my children love seeing their faces on my blog. Sometimes my oldest will say something funny, and she might see me scribbling her words down somewhere and ask, “Are you going to put that on your blog?” She likes the idea of her life being documented. She’s annoyed with me that I’ve already run out of stories from my own childhood to tell her (to be fair, she asks for stories from when I was a child all of the time; my bank of memories is no match for her desire to hear every detail from when I was small like she is. A blog from way back when would be very helpful). Yet, I know that as my children grow older, I’ll have to be increasingly vigilant about what I write about. I don’t want to embarrass them by sharing even the most innocuous anecdotes. Nor do I, in a misguided effort to be completely authentic, think I ought to share a story about an older child’s incorrigible habit or moment of inexplicable rage. Just recently I wrote about a misdeed of one of my children, but I protected the guilty party by not giving many details at all. Would I want someone always writing about my bad moods, my bad days, or the day my face contorted into something beyond ugly and I lashed out my child? I don’t think so.
Now would it be inauthentic to pretend I can sew or that my personal level of parental crunchiness is unmatched? No way. I can’t sew. I’m not all that crafty. I consider myself quasi-crunchy, but I’m not against vaccines. Nor do I use cloth diapers (I’ve received FREE disposable diapers for most of my parenting career.) I do like to cook, and we eat our share of healthy, organic food, but we also love chocolate, and I’m not afraid to dole out Goldfish to my kids. There’s some authenticity for you.
In all seriousness, being genuine online (and in real life, too) is something worth pondering, but Pope Benedict also reminded us in his letter to be faithful, and we have to be faithful in the big and small things. And sometimes being faithful means keeping our dirty, little secrets to ourselves. We don’t in everyday conversation divulge everything to the mail carrier or the grocery store clerk.
“How are you doing today, ma’am?”
“Fine, thank you. And you? Wait. I take that back. I’m working on being more authentic. I’ve had better days. My mom isn’t feeling well, and I’m worried about her. Neither is my grandma. She ended up in the ER on Sunday, and the retirement dinner my husband and I had planned for my dad had to be postponed. My father-in-law isn’t in good health. He had fairly routine surgery, but his incision split open, and his healing process is now pro-longed and he’s losing crazy amounts of weight. And my basement flooded. And I’ve had a terrible stomach ache, and the babysitter I had lined up for the summer just got another job and won’t be able to help out after all. And watching the news lately makes me sad. A lot of things make me sad, and I haven’t made any friends other than people like you – by the way, thanks for listening to authentic me – in this new town. Oh, and…”
I’ll stop there. You can guess if some or all of the above is really going on behind the scenes in my life.
Personally, I’ve had something I long to write about because I know it would be cathartic for me, but this something involves someone else and his own inner demons and while I do plan to write about it down the road, right now it’s better to keep silent to protect the involved parties. Just remember what you see isn’t always what you get. Now there’s some ambiguity for you.
During prayer time, I’ve been reading a life-changing book called The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Lesseur: The Woman Whose Goodness Changed Her Husband from Atheist to Priest. It contains the transcript of the personal journals of a woman whose beautiful example of how to live as a Christian in a secular world eventually led to the conversion of her atheist husband. After her death, her husband read her journals and became a Christian and later a priest. Whenever I can carve out a corner of calm in my busy days, I’ll read a little bit here and there, and Elisabeth’s wisdom consistently speaks to my soul.
I’ve highlighted and marked passages all over the book’s pages, including these words in which Elisabeth shares some of her spiritual resolutions:
“To avoid speaking of myself, of my troubles, of my illnesses, and especially of my soul…The abuse of confidences and indiscreet conversation easily lead to pride or to an egotistically absorption in oneself. To abandon the reserve only in those rare cases when the good of a soul seems to truly demand it or when some compelling opportunity for edification or counsel presents itself. Even then to speak of myself and my soul with perfect truth and simplicity, without affectation or secret seeking after praise, wishing to glorify what is divine by belittling myself, or, rather, by letting myself be seen with all my weakness and faults.”
In an effort to be authentic and even to reveal God’s goodness, I’ve often felt compelled to parade around my badness, but Elisabeth’s words made me wonder if I was trying too hard to be authentic (and most often, authentically bad rather than authentically good).
Projecting humility is important. We don’t want to give people false impressions. As a chronic people-pleaser, I sometimes struggle with this. I want everybody to like me, so it’s tempting to fabricate all these different images that appeal to different crowds of people. Yet, I am what I am, and I hope that comes through in my writing. I am a broken woman being pieced back together because of the love of Christ.
But perhaps like Elisabeth Leseur so beautifully writes, I have a responsibility to be careful to not abuse confidences, to not be too indiscreet in my accounts of my personal life, and even to be careful of what I write about when it comes to what’s supposed to be an intimate and personal relationship with God. Maybe prudence would help me keep some of my belittling talks to myself, between me and my God rather than feeling like I ought to show my dark side to prove how authentic I am. Maybe just maybe being authentic doesn’t require me putting life and all its gory and bloody details out on the dissection table for my fellow humanity to examine.
Yet, I’ve gathered from the way they criticize happy mom blogs that there are people who feel like in order to be authentic a person has to bear it all and sweep out all the skeletons in their closet. It seems some people want the grit, the dirt. Maybe they should watch reality TV. If someone is a glutton for misery, then they probably want to stop reading uplifting mom blogs. (I like misery sometimes, too. That’s why I’m drawn to reading heart-wrenching memoirs.) But they don’t need to go around beating up happy moms (who may be struggling internally) or accusing them for being silly simpletons who don’t know what it means to suffer. Because I bet they do know. We all know.
The world is constantly shoving heaping servings of misery and solipsism my way. It’s refreshing to have an opportunity to read or write something that is authentically good and beautiful and is faithful in the small things.
This brings me to my proposal. Perhaps an authentic message we should all strive to want to hear and/or communicate is this: Living your vocation as a Christian wife and mother is the hardest and the most rewarding thing you’ll ever do.
Does that sound overly peppy? That’s because it is. But maybe we could all use more happy-clapping-inspiring mantras in our lives. Maybe we’d all do well to follow Elisabeth’s wisdom and keep some of the ick to ourselves and between our God and us – unless, as she says, there really is “a compelling opportunity for edification or counsel.” And I do believe that sometimes sharing our ick can minister to others, but we need to pray before we put it out there and also consider others who might be involved in the ickiness and how they might feel with it being on display for all of the cyber world to see. Being discreet is not the same as being disingenuous.
You may feel like you’re alone, but you’re not. You might feel like you’re the only baby-wearing, breastfeeding mama out there who can be sweetly caressing your infant one minute and in the next is screeching at an older child out of sheer exhaustion. But you’re not. (Without saying too much or revealing too much of my humanness after writing all this, trust me on that one.) You’ll fail. So do other moms. We are authentically human. But let’s not forget, we’re authentically good and beautiful, too, because we are all God’s beloved.
Elisabeth’s words have challenged me to consider that maybe, at the end of a blogging day, what we really all ought to be doing is reading and/or writing what we can become.
UPDATE: I just read this insightful column by Elizabeth Esther that takes a look at how and when mommy blogging can wound children. In the very first paragraph, she writes, “That’s how you know Mommy blogging has crossed a line: when ‘being honest’ trumps our duty to protect our children from public spectacle.” Amen.
And then these wise words from Elizabeth: “True, radical honesty is about personal confrontation, not public disclosure. There’s the reason why some entries in our diaries need to remain private: because we’re still in the process of sorting through our negative thoughts and feelings. That kind of honesty is compromised when it is subjected to public scrutiny and it very easily can cause unintended pain. Imagine the devastation of a child reading that her mother loved her less—and that these words were written for public consumption. That kind of disclosure is not honesty. It is akin to cruelty.”