Instagram, Hashtags, and the Things We Communicate

There’s a search feature on Instagram which tells me that there are more than 40 million pictures tagged with the word “blessed.” They boast about meeting celebrities, getting a new tattoo, and finishing a morning workout with a protein shake. In our world, to be “blessed” is now equal to being famed, fortuned and favoured. But is this really accurate?

In my first year of college I noticed that students had an incredible capacity to adjust their lingo in order to fit in to their crowds of choice. But let’s be real: this isn’t something that only happens on college campuses. In the Christian subculture, we “share testimonies,” feel “convicted,” pray for a “hedge of protection” and “seek God’s glory.” Not that these are wrong things, or bad words — actually, most are derived from biblical principles – but one of these phrases has been so badly misused by Christians that it has led media icons, rappers, and movie stars to co-opt it to communicate something totally un-Christian; I’m thinking of the term, “blessed.”

Now that life on social media is such a predominant part of Western culture, we should perhaps be reminded of the implications of hashtags and rethink whether tagging a picture of front row seats at a Taylor Swift concert with #blessed is a good idea.

Here are four questions to consider before using the term “blessed”:

1) What are you trying to communicate?

Many assume that to be “blessed” has one very obvious meaning: to be fortunate or favoured. But if we’re honest, our use of #blessed has much less to do with God than it has to do with us. We use #blessed to highlight the most trivial events of our lives: made it to class on time, found a new outfit on the sales rack, on a vacation my parents paid for.  I’m not saying God can’t be at work in those situations. But by trivializing the idea of being blessed, we’ve allowed an important word to be co-opted and be detached from its true Christian value. Biblical blessing has much more to do with Jesus, his way and his message than it does with our daily pleasantries.

2) Why are you trying to communicate it?

My opinion on technology and social media is that, like all created things, they are good. In fact, their existence attests to the ingenuity and innovation that reflects God’s creative image on earth — man is called to join God to create ways that brings flourishing. Your media feed can be used for practicing gratitude and even experiencing a truly human connection (don’t tell me the slideshow of your grandma shared by family members didn’t make you shed a tear!). On the other hand, it can easily be used as an opportunity to brag about your life. Let’s be honest, telling the world how awesome you are through social media and adding #blessed doesn’t automatically suggest that you are thanking a higher power. Who’s getting credit here, God or you?

3) Gospel consistency: Does it line up with what Jesus said?

If you’re hashtagging #blessed whenever your life is going great, you’re saying something about God: you are saying that he’s only working when things go well. But, isn’t he at work in your life even when things are going terribly? Isn’t he at work even when you’re stuck in traffic or doing dishes?  People never Instagram sadness or trauma, or the mundane—but according to the Christian faith, God is at work blessing you right in the middle of it. According to Jesus, it’s the meek, the mourners and the merciful who are blessed, not the ones who got a free latté upgrade at Starbucks. The meek, the mourners and the merciful (and all the other beatitudes you may remember from Matthew 5), are blessed because of the person of Jesus as the king who is making all wrongs right.

4) Is my life being changed?

There’s an interesting use of the word “blessed” that you can find it in the book of Acts, in one of the first Christians sermons ever preached. Peter, we can say, used the term #blessed, but not like any of us do. In his sermon, Peter preached that Jesus was sent by God as a blessing that would cause us to turn from evil. The blessing that is in Christ is not a “my life got easier” blessing. It’s more of a “my life is being transformed” blessing: I’m not as greedy and selfish as I once was; I’m more giving and selfless; my world doesn’t revolve around me. Why? Because of Jesus. I am no longer defined by my possessions and circumstances because Jesus defines me by his love and leads me by his Spirit. I may not be perfect, but I don’t need to make up for my imperfection by boasting about abundance or fortune.

God’s love casts out the fear of being unworthy, so we don’t have to front. So the next time you hashtag your photos, put wisdom to work and interrogate yourself: what are you going to communicate, what are your motives, is it consistent with the Gospel, and are you being transformed by the ultimate blessing who is Jesus? Perhaps a better way to hashtag is not with #blessed, but with #thankful.