Living In the Light

Oversharing. It seems to happen all the time. We call it TMI: too much information. It’s the guy in the next cubicle who insists on showing you his rash. TMI. It’s Aunt Hilda explaining her issues with indigestion and irregularity. TMI. It’s the neighbor who insists on taking the trash to the curb in nothing but his boxers. TMI.

Fortunately, although oversharing exists, most human beings have learned to hide uncomfortable aspects of their personal lives from others. Most of us have figured out that it’s best to keep some things to ourselves in order to maintain our own dignity and protect others from awkwardness. We’ve learned how to avoid TMI.

But that’s in the real world.

In the alternative universe we call social media or social networking, a whole different set of rules exists.

Have you noticed that what would typically be awkward or inappropriate to share in person often seems like the perfect fodder for a status update on Facebook or a 140-character rant on Twitter? “Never eat leftover sushi for breakfast. Feeling SO pukey right now.” Typically we’d say, “TMI!” But not in the world of social networking. In fact, that post would make a great video blog on YouTube. Food poisoning caught on video could be a viral sensation. You never know. In person, oversharing is a no-no, but online it’s fair game.

Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn predicts that sharing inane details of one’s life in the form of status updates, Twitter feeds and YouTube clips will evolve into something even more transparent and narcissistic. Zorn predicts that technology will allow something called “LifeCasting,” a nearly nonstop, streaming video of one’s every moment.

If Zorn is correct, then the next big thing will be to literally share every second of one’s existence with computers and cell phones around the globe. Zorn’s prediction may or may not come true, but given our collective penchant for online TMI, it doesn’t seem too bizarre. It also suggests an interesting idea. Suppose such LifeCasting were possible now?

Suppose, for a moment, that the contrived transparency of Twitter feeds and Facebook updates has given way to a constant stream of data capturing your every moment for all to see. Suppose that all you do is now seen and shared with a watching world. With no distinction between the “secret you” and the “public you,” what might the world truly think of you?

It isn’t a pleasant thought, is it? Most of us are used to being one person when we’re in private – completely alone, with no spouse, no kids, no one at all – and a different person when we’re in the presence of others.

The “private us” is private for a reason. We say things, look at things, touch things and generally do all sorts of things we’d never attempt if we knew someone were watching.

It’s been said that the truest test of character is not what you do under pressure but what you do when no one is looking. Most of us would probably agree. That’s why people get so excited when someone does something virtuous without the pressure of prying eyes, such as returning a wallet full of cash or returning to the mall, receipt in hand, when an error was made in one’s favor.

But if it’s true that character is best tested by what’s done in private, then what kind of character would the world discover we have if our every moment were broadcast? What about last week’s business trip, last night’s Web surfing or today’s text messages?

In today’s Epistle, Paul presses us to be people of little or no surprises when it comes to our character. He doesn’t expect followers of Jesus Christ to be flawless. Paul simply urges us to proactively expose our struggles to the light of day rather than hide them in the darkness of duplicitous living. “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them,” he writes. “For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly” (vv. 11-12).

One could argue that Paul wouldn’t be completely opposed to the idea of broadcasting your life for the world to see. He’s essentially urging Christ’s followers to live as if the “camera is always on.” Paul says, “Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light” (v. 8).

Paul tells us to step out of the shadows and into the shining; to cast our lives in terms of what we know God calls us to do; to let the light of God and the Word of God inform all that we do.

When we do that, a few things will happen: Truth will reign, and transformation will take place. Sin loves secrecy. In secrecy, all the lies we like to believe face no opposition. When we’re secretly flirting with a coworker via text message or piling up debt apart from our spouse’s knowledge, it’s easy to convince ourselves that what we’re up to is harmless, deserved or otherwise normal. But pull that action out of the dark and shine God’s Word on it, and we’ll see it for what it is: sin. Allow a good Christian friend to hold you accountable, giving him or her license to ask any question, and you’ll see your actions for what they are: wrong.

In this case, TMI is a good thing. Allowing the light to shine allows the truth to reign.

In contrast, nothing good can grow in darkness. Living, healthy things require light to grow and change into something greater. When major parts of our lives are shut up in the dark, hidden from the loving eyes of others and the truth of God’s Word, we’ll see no personal growth. We’ll stay stunted and stuck.

Paul continues: “But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light” (vv. 13-14). In other words, the light of God’s Word helps us see things clearly, and once we see things clearly, we become more godly. But it all begins by dragging our junk out of the dark. Godly TMI.

Lent is the perfect time for this. The season’s purpose is to place our lives under the intense light of God’s Word, preparing our hearts and minds for the gift of Good Friday and the joy of Easter morning. If the idea of LifeCasting, of letting your secret life be seen by others, freaks you out, then it’s a sign that confession might indeed be good for your soul during this Lenten season. You may need to drag some things out of the dark by digging into God’s Word and being honest with God’s people. You need truth to reign and transformation to take place.

The thing about living with a divided, shadow self is that at some point – whether we like it or not – what’s done in the dark doesn’t stay in the dark. What happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas. It makes its way to the light. Jesus himself offers a warning: “Nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17).

So which will it be? Will we do the hard work of confession now or will we wait and face the hard truth later?

YouTube’s slogan is simple and straight to the point: “Broadcast yourself.” Since the inception of the video-sharing site, millions upon millions of people have done just that. When it comes to social media, more and more, there’s no such thing as TMI. LifeCasting, here we come.

But regardless of how social media evolves, we need to remember what life as a Christ-follower demands. Let’s be eager to acknowledge our struggles. In doing so, truth triumphs and transformation happens. In doing so, grace will be our constant comfort and forgiveness our closest friend.

At the final reckoning, we won’t worry about TMI. We won’t worry about our LifeCast. For our life has already been cast.