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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

guest post: finding god while instagramming

I'm pumped to be sharing a guest post from my friend Meg today on finding God while instagramming.  I met Meg while we were both working on our masters degrees in Chicago, and we stayed in touch when Paul and I moved to Milwaukee.  I asked Meg to do a guest post after seeing all her beautiful Instagram posts popping up on my Facebook news feed.  I loved her perspective and the things she captured in her photos.  Meg currently works as a college campus minister and shares her photos at Megotraveler on Instagram.  Thanks for writing and for sharing your photos Meg! 

If you're interested in writing a guest post please send me a message at findingjoyinallthings870@gmail.com.  I'm accepting submissions that incorporate the theme of where you find gratitude and joy in your life.  Read other guest posts here.

About a year and a half ago I bought a fancy phone (read: phone with a data plan).  I was stepping up in the world.  I was about to graduate with a Masters degree. I was going to find the perfect job.  And I was in the process of beginning the rest of my life. Why not get a fancy phone and celebrate the moment?

Well, things didn’t go as planned and so the phone seemed more like a cheap parting gift, and at times I wondered if I should have gotten it in the first place. It sure didn’t help me find a job (that took over a year).  And it sure didn’t get me that degree (I earned that way before).  I was restless, and in a state of limbo, and so I did what any young, hip, overly educated person might do.  I piled the phone with Apps and hoped for the best.  This might not have been the most frugal decision, but one particular App became the conduit to seeing the world around me in a totally refreshing way.  Call me crazy, or even blasphemous, but the App called Instagram helped me see God in the world around me.  And I even found joy in the mind-numbing task of looking for work. 
In reality, taking pictures of my life and then feeding them through the Instagram filters became a part of my daily living.  In fact, Instagramming helped me pay attention, share my observations with others, and push me out of my apartment and into the world.  This pattern became a recipe of sorts and maybe a bit of evidence for the redemption of the fancy phone.  

So how did Instagram help me find God?


  1. I paid attention to things differently.  When I first graduated and bought my new phone I was totally preoccupied with the business of transition.  It seemed like everything in my life was changing.  I was leaving the world of academia, I moved, I lacked an income, and that list seemed to go on for days.  There was plenty to worry about, and even more reasons to drop God out of the picture and switch gears into a world of anxiety.  However, I picked up this new hobby that became a saving grace.  Within a short amount of time I started noticing that I was seeing the world around me in a totally different way.  The sun was rising and setting like it always did, but I started to really SEE it, and I took  a picture of it.  I began to see     that certain kinds of light illuminate details and that if I experimented  with different shots, I could focus on some obscure detail that became the picture that I posted.  Suddenly everything around me was beautiful and worthy of a picture.  I captured the essence of bugs, kids playing, rain collecting in a puddle, and fire escapes glistening in the light.  It was if I woke up and saw something fantastic in the life I was living every single day.  How could I not be grateful for creation and the life that I was living?

    2. I shared each moment with others and it changed them.  Over time I had posted hundreds of pictures.  Maybe weighing on the side of narcissism at times, I left perfection at the door and lacked a certain pre-tense in my picture posting.  I just saw so many beautiful things around me and I wanted to share that with everyone I knew, and those that “followed me”.  I took pictures of the food I was making and eating, and even got ideas from other Instagramers that I followed.  Every ginkgo tree served as my muse, and people connected those images to me because I LOVE those trees.  I started to take pictures of strange things as well, and people wondered  where I was and how they could get there too.  I started to embrace the perspective that the things I took pictures of brought joy to others as well. 

    Although my photographs could never replace the intimacy of a conversation or a letter, Instagram helped     provide me a way to remain connected to people I cared about, and let them know that I was doing ok.  It could have all been a ruse, but at least my family saw that I was fed, that I filled my day with good people, and that I was getting out of the apartment to do something other than job hunting.  And at the end of the day, I began to receive feedback that others were looking forward to my pictures, and wondered what adventure was next on my list.  Could it be that my pictures were helping people see the world in a different way as well?

3. I went on adventures SO THAT I could take pictures.  It was hard to find things to look forward to when I didn't have a job to go to, or little milestones to work towards.  I had to fight the temptation to think that I was stuck in this place forever, and that my life was going nowhere fast with unemployment.  So while I was taking pictures it started to feel that each image was uncharted territory.  I would go on a walk with a friend, take a picture of some trees changing in the autumn, and wonder what it would     look like if I came back to that same location in the winter.  That wondering became a list of places to visit.  I found that neighborhood festivals in the city were perfect grounds for people doing funny things, so I took the initiative and planned my day around applying for a few jobs  and then rewarding myself with a new experience.  Within time I found that my weekends  were full of good people and that we were having fun seeing things together.  I got out in the world and lived my life…and captured each and every moment of it.   

After a while, it felt like each picture I took was a moment of gratitude.  I could seek a moment out, live in that presence, take a picture of it, and then share it with people I cared about it.  Each adventure was a way for me to find more beauty and experiment with lighting and filters.  Additionally, each adventure really nourished a spontaneous side of me that could have easily have been squashed in the low budget, depressed, and worried state of not having a job.  I could have been stuck there, but I chose to live my life….maybe so that I could take the best pictures.  But I also wondered if my adventures encouraged others to do the same?

I’ve read a lot of articles about Instagram.  There is a lot of criticism out there about this App. I guess that the fancy filters can make it seem that people are living a sexy, glamorous life, but inside they are really sad and depressed.  I’ve heard that people simply take pictures and don’t really experience the moment. And I’ve gathered that some believe that connection to technology draws people out of relationship with each other and into a complicated relationship with a machine.  That’s probably all true to some extent.  Maybe even true of my own experience, and at the same time I would stress that intentionality can shift the wind of an experience.  At a time when I prayed for purpose and joy and connection in my life I ended up finding all of that in my living. 

Instagram became a neat tool to use but I never intended for it to be a replacement in living my life or making it look like anything it wasn’t.  So at the end of the day I'm glad that I have the ability to take pictures, that I can seize the day and go on an adventure, and that my desire to share beauty with others continues, all for the greater glory of sharing God’s world with others.

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