• Bill McLean

Reality or Online Posts & Christmas Letters

During the holiday season it is not unusual to see pictures of perfect Christmas decorations or smiling families posted online or in Christmas letters. Seeing these images gives us warm feelings as we connect with someone we may not have seen since the last Christmas

letter or online post.

Yet these same images can be challenging to look at because our experiences are usually not full of only smiling people and magazine quality decorations. It is easy to see them and become frustrated or jealous because everything is so perfect for them.

When I post something online it often takes sorting through over 100 pictures and a fair amount of grumbling to “please look up” or to “stop making a grumpy face and smile” so that our family has that one smiling and in focus picture. And still even then the single image

needed editing to adjust the size of the picture so you could see everyone while not seeing the messy living room just out of frame.

The truth is that reality is messy and very seldom resembles the idealized world of online posts or Christmas letters. When we read a post on social media, we see how successful or smart or wonderful someone is. What we seldom see are the hundreds or thousands of steps and missteps that led to the post or picture that looks so idealized and sometimes even perfect.

Missing from the image are the long hours of prep work before the big presentation, the months of training before the finish line picture, or the many batches of burned and lumpy samples before the pastry turned out just right. Even a really good movie has to gloss over

these aspects because the movie cannot go on for hours and hours, so we usually see a brief flashback or montage scene to set the atmosphere.

Yet, we live our lives in the messiness of the montage scene or flashback sequence.

Missing from the post are the hours of running and stretching plus adjusting schedules, not to mention washing workout clothes so that you can take multiple pictures to get the one where it does not look like you are sore and really need to take a shower.

The picture does not show the rehearsal sessions or the adults off to the side valiantly keeping the peace so that the shepherds do not try to sword fight with their shepherd crooks while the angel wanders off to play with the ornaments on the Christmas tree (or as the geometry of an earlier draft of this musing said the “angle”).

As wonderful as the perfect pictures are, for me it is the memories of the sticky fingers and icing covered faces that come rushing back when I see that image on the screen. My family is not perfect, and I know that I am not perfect, which is part of what makes us uniquely us.

Even “Silent Night” (one of my favorite Christmas carols) avoids the messiness of reality. That Jesus probably cried as a baby and the animals in the stable were probably smelly and loud, makes the image of a calm and bright night unrealistic but a wonderful image for the


Rather than focusing on the “perfection” of a single frame, the joy is in the journey of getting there and the anticipation of doing it again next year (and who knows maybe only needing 90 pictures to get the one that is posted next time).

This busy week of Christmas may you experience the peace and presence of Christ in the messiness that is real life.

Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones!

Grace and peace,


Rev. William "Bill" McLean, II

Presbyter for Congregational Care

Presbytery of Southeastern Illinois

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