Grace over Face

Although it is a dying platform, there are still more than a billion people registered on the social media site Facebook. And when you read their posts, everyone seems pretty happy.

If you don’t believe me, just look at their pictures. If you click on practically any Facebook page you want – maybe your son’s, your mother’s, your next-door neighbor’s, your massage therapist’s – and you’ll see more smiles than a car-full of clowns. You see pictures of people having the time of their lives. There are pictures of people laughing at the beach, enjoying beverages at a party, staring at a sunset, all seemingly with a look of tranquility glued to their faces. It is no wonder looking at Facebook makes people so miserable.

A few years ago, the University of Copenhagen studied more than 1,000 people and their social media habits. They found that the more users engaged with sites like Facebook, and the more they looked at other people’s profiles, the sadder they got. They tended to be more dissatisfied with their own lives and more envious of others.

I totally get that. Facebook tells us that everyone else’s lives are great! They are fantastic and filled with sensational vacations and fun-loving people! But when we look at our own lives – our real lives – they never seem to measure up to what we see online. This is the same as looking at the pictures in magazines in the shopping aisle. This leads us to ask ourselves, “What’s wrong with us?”

I was just down visiting family this past week. It was good to see my mother, a couple brothers, a cousin and even some grandnephews. It is easy to appreciate and enjoy them. But there are times when I wonder whether we look at those closest to us in the same way as we do on Facebook? When we go to church, we often see smiling, happy moms and dads, dragging along their adorable, well-behaved children by the hand. We see parents beam proudly and brag about their children’s achievements. One has gotten toilet trained and another is graduating with honors. Everyone smiles appreciatively.

And you want to know something, all that is great. It really is. But sometimes it makes us wonder, “What’s wrong with us? My kid struggles in school. My daughter is pregnant. What happened? Where did we go wrong?”

So you know what we do? We pretend. We smile for the “camera.” We act like we have it all together. In a sense, we make our lives look like… Facebook. Maybe if we do it well enough, our friends will not notice that we are dying inside.

Now I understand the pressure. As a pastor, there is a lot of pressure to “look good,” to have your children to behave and have it all together. And being Chinese, it is magnified due to the emphasis on “shame” and “face.” In many ways, people expect our family to be perfect.

But do we? Nope… not even close!

I can still remember when we found our son’s initials carved into the china cabinet and crayon pictures on the walls. Doing a diligent investigation, I discovered that just like in the Family Circus cartoons, “Not me” made an appearance. Was there ever an admission to guilt? I will let you all decide…

Like any parents, we struggled with various things with both of our children when they were young and even into young adulthood. I know I have made cutting remarks to my children or lost my patience with them when I should have hugged them. I can remember being younger and blaming other members of my own family for my own mistakes. As a dad, there have been many times where I have felt lost, inadequate, and sometimes even a failure.

But look at my Facebook page and what do you see? Well, other than all the food pictures, generally you see smiles, laughs… “picture-perfect family things.” As I mentioned previously, on Facebook, almost everyone has got it together… or at least we seem to.

In my couple decades of being in ministry, I have seen and heard a lot about how and why families find themselves in difficulties. And honestly, there are a lot of valid explanations. But you know one of the biggest ways we fail? We try so hard to be perfect.

Sometimes I think that this is an especially big problem with Christian families, especially Chinese ones. Now in a way, I do find this strange. Why? Because our whole faith is based on the concept of grace. We know we are not perfect. We know we cannot be perfect. But we thank God that He sent Jesus to save us from our sins and imperfectness.

Although we know how dependent we are on God’s grace and mercy for salvation, we sometimes forget to show it to our families. Our husbands; our wives; our kids; ourselves. We see these Facebook-perfect families around us and we imagine that we need to be the same.

I am not sure all of us fully realize this truth but life is messy. We live in a fallen world so we can’t expect creation, even our own families to be clean and without blemish.

But when we discover that one of our kids hasn’t cleaned his room or met some standard we have put in place, how do we react or respond? I know if it was me, I might just come down like a ton of bricks.

Now let me be clear. I am not saying that parents shouldn’t have expectations for their kids, or that they shouldn’t have rules to follow or chores to do. Of course, they should. Part of our responsibility as parents is to raise them to be responsible men and women. To do that, we have to teach them how to do it.

But so often, in the middle of all of our rules and expectations, we lose sight of what’s even more important and that is grace. Honesty. Laughter. Love. We can become so obsessed with our Facebook façade that we forget to be real. Even to each other.

Being a parent can be frustrating, sometimes heartbreaking and always, always messy. But you know what? I think that a family’s messes and how those families deal with them are far more important than what families are supposed to look like. In fact, I think there is something beautiful about messes.

After all, everything worth doing is a little messy, isn’t it? Gardening is messy. Fixing a car is messy. Baking a cake is messy. Sex is messy. Birth is messy. Messes are part of Creation. They are a natural part of life. And because of that, we know the possibility that something beautiful can come from it.

So what is my conclusion? Grace over face… give me a messy family over a clean, pretty Facebook picture every day.

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