There’s no filter for life (but there is a story that gives it meaning)

In the past four years, I have experienced the deaths of three immediate family members, including my mother. I experienced the birth of my daughter, and first son, and I am expecting my third in a few short months. I have been dislocated from my living situation, and been in and out of work (not for lack of gumption or persistence). I started a business. I’ve strained tendons and muscles that kept me more sedentary than I’d like. I even broke my foot. I have encountered various emotional, relational, and professional issues that have proved to be intractable on many levels.

In sum, there have been many great blessings mixed with many great difficulties.

Some of the most impactful events may find their way onto the pages of this site. In a few cases, I may have made an social post or two about them, but in general, the most formative and important events probably won’t make their way to the World Wide Web.

The most significant life events are, by definition, the hardest to describe. They are the type of experiences that can only be understood by someone who has either a) experienced a similar thing, or b) gone through the experience with you. Even then, the personal details and nuances of the experience differ to such a degree that there can only be a partial understanding.

Many such experiences happen in the most mundane day today events of life. To convey their meaning would require much more than 240 characters or a deeply nested Twitter thread. There’s no filter that would make them aesthetically pleasing enough to garner even a pity like from friends and family.

I think that is the nature of spiritual formation. If you take a look at all the men and women of the Bible, the most powerful moments in their story—the ones where God was really working—are 100 percent unshareable. Imagine Jonah tweeting from the belly of the whale, “God is really working in this season. #blessed” Or David sharing an IG post: “I really love being back in this cave. Really takes me back to some good time writing some psalms. Good times. What the enemy means for evil, God uses for our good.”

In many cases, details about the most significant experience of one’s life may be downright unpleasant. At the same time, they may be eminently thought-provoking, formative, and significant for the person going through them. They may be the means by which the Holy Spirit is speaking.

The central issue has to do with how we frame our lives. When I started studying photography, I quickly learned that how you frame your shot is of upmost importance. What you choose to include or exclude directly affects everything about the image. Many photojournalists have gotten in hot water for framing their shots in a way that did not tell the whole truth of the story or for staging elements that appeared to be totally impromptu.

The same happens on social media all the time, except we’re not telling news stories about what happened out in the field. We’re trying to tell a story about our lives. We’re trying to frame and package our lives so it fits the constraints of a character limit or an aspect ratio for…well, for what?

Why are we trying to fit our lives in an artificial frame?

My days are not easily packaged for commercial distribution to the masses, nor are yours.

I’m convinced that when we try to condense our life down to a “hot-take,” a 15-second “story,” a 1080 x 1080 post, or a 240 character Tweet, we actually do violence to our own experience and consequently overlook the larger frame that gives meaning to our lives.

That frame is the Gospel—the story that God came to earth, died for our sins, was raised to life, and invites us to work with Him to renew and redeem all things.

Jonah was in the belly of the whale, but God was working. David was pursued by Saul, but God was working. Jesus was dead on the cross, but God was working.

There’s no filter for life that can make it share-worthy, but there is a story that gives it meaning and makes it worth telling. I don’t want to artificially frame my life in hopes that it reaches the eyeballs of some random stranger. I want to live my life as it is—trials and joys and all—and to share it straight, no filter, no Photoshop, no chaser. That’s how the stories in the Bible are told, and as it is, it’s the best story in the world.

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