In 2016, when social media is more pervasive than ever and young adults' currency of choice is Facebook likes and little red hearts on Instagram and Twitter, high school (and college) graduation is celebrated with perfectly-posed photos with foil "2016" balloons, or a banner with the name of the graduate's college of choice scrawled across.That photo is likely to be the most-liked photo of the year. The graduate will be fawned over by classmates, relatives and various social media acquaintances.
Though it's the most appropriate example this time of year, this use of social media doesn't just occur with graduations. We college kids, too, are fond of screenshotting and sharing our final grades each semester, musing about the hard work and dedication we put into reaping this academic harvest. Every time something good happens to us, every time we reach any sort of tiny mountaintop in life, we post it. I'm not making a blanket statement about everyone or "society as a whole," but so many of us (myself included) are guilty of this.
We whore ourselves out for likes and Internet-borne praise, but at the end of the day, have we truly accomplished anything? Can we lay down at night with the quiet satisfaction that we have improved someone else's life? Can we sleep in peace knowing that we've loved?
What exactly is it we're striving toward? What are we working toward? And between the things we do that look good on social media to get the approval of acquaintances, what are we doing to further the Kingdom of our Heavenly Father?
Sure, it's easy to get our Facebook friends to reinforce our personal delusions of grandiosity, but are we really all that good?
In C.S. Lewis' "Mere Christianity," one of the most renowned writers of the 20th century informs us, "The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether."
Though sharing our own personal successes on Facebook is temporarily satisfying, there is so much more eternal greatness to be found in doing good not for ourselves, but for others. For God. We can gain so much more than likes by saying a kind word to the people around us every day. We can gain so much more than likes by buying dinner for a friend who is low on funds this week, or for a perfect stranger we pass on the street who seems to be down on his or her luck.
It is incredibly challenging to forget about ourselves when we create "me"-centric profiles on various platforms that highlight the best aspects of who we are. We tailor ourselves to tell the story of what we believe is the best version of ourselves, when, in God's eyes, the best version of ourselves is no self at all. When we begin to treat ourselves as spirit-filled vessels rather than individual wells of some earthly measure of goodness, that is the moment in which we truly begin to find ourselves.
Back to high school graduates: the takeaway for you all is that graduation is not the milestone. The true milestone is when you are able to use the knowledge and value instilled in you through education and life experience to help others, in whatever capacity you were created for. The real milestone is not a piece of paper. It is not a grade. It is not a person patting you on the back and saying "good job." If you're doing it for the right reason, it is not a thing that will get you 200 likes on Facebook. Real success is when your presence in the lives of others draws them closer to God and allows them to lay down at the end of the day and know that they are better.
And the beauty of it all is that that sort of success that God asks for from us doesn't require sharing, because the One we did it for already knows.