Daring to Give the Gift of Presence

“What did you do for your birthday weekend?”

I grin and recount how I celebrated my nineteenth birthday with pina coladas, a trip to Spokane, and cake covered in sprinkles. I tell her about how I drove five hours across the state with my three best friends  to spend the weekend drinking great coffee, walking 7.3 miles (oh man), and spending quality time together before heading back to school for finals (oh man).

Sounds pretty wonderful, huh?

When people ask me what I did for my birthday, I make sure to tell them all about my time spent in Spokane, but I leave out my time spent in Cyberspace, agonizing over how many of my 528 Instagram acquaintances would decide that I was [pretty, witty, worthy] enough to deserve a “like” for my birthday.

There, okay? I said it. I spent part of my weekend…a big part….too big of a part… lost in the tangled web of the Internet waiting for people to show me I mattered.

& I wasn’t the only one who sought validation through social media on the trip…

Though one would think that our car ride home was loud and filled with goofy shenanigans by the looks of the 100-second-long snapchat stories that my friends and I posted, a large portion of our trip was inevitably spent in silence on Sunday afternoon while the three of us hunted for acceptance in the blue glow of our iPhone screens.

I don’t want to be honest about this. I want to pretend like Instagram likes and Facebook posts and Twitter favorites don’t hold an ounce of value in my heart, but as I posted pictures and statuses over the weekend, I couldn’t help but feel more loved and accepted as my phone screen continually lit up with promises of ever-climbing likes and notifications.

I sat in the car on Sunday and desperately wished for more and more of my Facebook “friends” to aimlessly wander through their newsfeeds and happen upon the notification identifying May 3rd as Alyson VanCleave’s birthday. My heart bursted with joy each time a person I hadn’t talked to in years would take 3 seconds to carelessly type out a 2 word, not-so-heartfelt “Happy birthday” message on my wall. I smiled as I reached 173 likes on a birthday Instagram post…a personal record. Some extra-sweet souls even devoted 140 characters just to telling me happy birthday…a serious act of love, clearly.

Meanwhile, reality passed by, as well as countless opportunities to love and care for the friends who have served me in real-life, tangible ways over the past year.

The fact that my friends and I are looking for ways to determine our worth is normal. Since the beginning of time, young girls have wanted to know that they are skinny, pretty, clever, and good enough, but social media has served as a dangerous platform to decrease feelings of “enough” and increase feelings of unworthiness among young women of the world.

We live in a culture where we are looking far past ourselves and those who care about us… to high school acquaintances, ex-boyfriends, and strangers…to dictate our worth on any given day through social media while simultaneously ignoring the real-life human beings-with beating hearts and caring souls- that are right in front of us.

The result? We are subconsciously portraying to the people that actually care about us that they are not worthy of our time, undivided attention, words or advice because empty sentiments and careless double-taps from strangers are more meaningful than those who validate our existence each and every day with steadfast love and patience.

The ironic cycle is harmful by nature. In the process of trying to feel worthy, we subconsciously tell others that they are unworthy.

We must be aware of the power that being present holds.

Even more so, we must be aware of the immense power that not being present holds.

A study done by Glamour magazine found that women, on average, have about 13 negative thoughts about themselves each day, equating to almost one negative thought for every waking hour. Every day unsuspecting, adolescent girls are subject to images in mainstream media that tell them they aren’t enough and we fuel that lack of self-esteem each time we choose social media feeds over friends.

So, what if we were a culture that built each other up and ensured that each and every young beauty in the world was aware that she is worth attention and time and the opportunity to live a life where every sweet moment could be savored and cherished and stored deep into hearts and memories instead of social media feeds?

Our job… as human beings, as best friends and individuals who know the sting of “not good enough” all too well, is to grant each other the gift of presence. To have the courage to Put. The. Phone. Down. To spend less time choosing perfect filters and writing clever captions and more time living life.

Dare to be present. Dare to show others their worth.

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