Identity In An Online World

“I think I’ve lost my life again,” I told her, twirling the stem of my wine glass as I talked. “That, or I don’t know how to be alone anymore. I used to be good at that.”

There it was: my honesty sitting on the table between two heaping bowls of clams and pasta.

We were one day into our weekend trip. This was vacation for the both of us and I was spilling my guts already, admitting my discontentment. She just smiled. And said amen.

That might have been the only thing I needed to say all dinner: I’m afraid of losing my life to things that don’t actually matter.

I want to be so honest here: I have a tendency of creating idols out of the things and gifts God gives me. Mainly, I’m talking about social media. The online identity. A world of “likes” and “retweets” that can too easily steer my sense of self-worth, send it flailing in different directions.

I struggle in a world that tells me the goal is to be known. To have a platform and a following, though I am not sure why. I’ve been guilty of associating social media with the DNA of my relationships. I’m human and I think that just means I have something inside of me that wants to be wanted. It’s easy to believe sometimes that social media fills the hole.

“You still want so much from the world,” I heard the whisper say so clearly a few months back. “You still want so much from the world and from other people.”

It was during my quiet time. I was struggling to just pay attention, not reach for my phone and check my notifications. I was feeling distant from God and that was because I was holding my stuff away from him, trying to shove it into a corner where I could deal with it all privately.

I didn’t want to admit how I would rather build an identity out of a digital attitude then let God actually work on my character. The hard stuff. The real junk.

I was running and running, claiming he wasn’t speaking, too afraid to hear him say, “I never left you. I never leave you. You’re just busy. You’re busy and you’re hustling and you are doing all these things that allow you to stay distracted enough that you never need to come to me.

But haven’t you felt empty, child? Haven’t you wanted to just let go? I never left you, you’ve just been trying to get away.”

I would sometimes rather live inside the distractions that keep me singing, “This whole life revolves around me. It revolves around me. My life matters. Me, me, me.”

I think that’s what social media really does. More than it connects us, I think we’re too distracted to see that it’s ripping us away from the one thing that really matters: each other. And how much we desperately need to show up for one another. Community is the stuff that fills.

Just show up. That’s be the biggest, noblest, and hardest thing you can do today.

We can get good at fumbling with the questions, “What does God want from me? Where is his grand purpose for my life?” I think, more than anything, God needs an army of people who are capable of getting off their phones, stepping away from distractions, and just focusing on how to be good to others. Actions and commitment make this world more bearable, not a digital footprint.

I need to be a follower far more than I need a following and so my grace-filled pep talk for the day is simple:

Hey you,

Don’t think you are so important. Keep the focus on others. Go back to God. Think more on your own actions. Above all, be who you say you are. Convince others that they are capable of things. That’s powerful. That’s what he probably wants from you.

God has no need for a strong online presence— he has a need for a refined character.

It won’t be edited. It won’t be filtered. It will be messy and full of people and yet somehow complete. It’s gonna be messy and full. I think that’s the life you’ve wanted all along.

Hannah Brencher

Hannah Brencher founded the global organization More Love Letters in 2011 and cofounded If You Find This Email in 2015. Her memoir “If You Find This Letter” is now in bookstores across the country.  Connect with her on Twitter.