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If you’re reading this article, you probably didn’t grow up with access to 200+ apps offering AR technology.

In 2011 Evan Spiegel – a self-proclaimed “shy, nerdy kid” his whole life – got together with a couple fraternity brothers and launched an app from his dad’s living room. “We weren’t cool,” Spiegel would later tell Forbesmagazine, “so we tried to build things to be cool.” The app was called “Picaboo,” although it would later be renamed “Snapchat.”

Contrary to popular assumption, Snapchat didn’t offer face filters in the early years. Filters were introduced in 2015, when they bought out a Ukrainian startup called “Looksery,” which specialized in facial tracking and modification. The entrepreneurs behind Snapchat saw a possibility – What if we used AR technology to change the way people see and express themselves?

It was an idea that took the world by storm, changing the face of social media…and the “faces” of everyone on it.

Understanding Augmented Reality

What is AR technology? “AR” stands for augmented reality. Think about that for a minute. At its base level, a filter is simply a distortion of reality. To be clear, it’s not all bad. Some filters are fun and downright hilarious. But counselors, physicians, and psychologists are finding that the “filtered” lifestyle comes with a cost.

A few months ago, I was talking to someone on staff at Grace who shared that at his daughter’s nine-year-old well check-up, the pediatrician talked to her about augmented reality. She didn’t use that term; she just explained that people’s faces don’t actually look the way they appear to look online. It was a word of caution and reassurance, offered alongside reminders to wear a helmet when she rides a bike. This is our new normal. Do your homework. Brush your teeth. Oh, and don’t feel pressured to look like a cartoonish supermodel in 4th grade.

Why We Hide

In one sense, it feels unprecedented. And it is. If you’re reading this article, you probably didn’t grow up with access to 200+ apps offering AR technology.  But in another sense, there’s nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Augmented reality is just one more way to hide our true selves, something humanity has been doing since the garden of Eden. Listen to what Adam says when God searches for him after the fall: “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” (Genesis 3:10).

Have you ever felt afraid because you were vulnerable and exposed? This is the fear that drives us into hiding, whether we’re hiding our sin, weakness, longing, or imperfection. It’s all a form of hiding our true selves. In his book Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton writes:

To be a saint means to be my true self. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I truly am and of discovering my true self, my essence or core. Trees and animals have no problem. God makes them what they are without consulting them, and they are perfectly satisfied. With us it is different. God leaves us free to be whatever we like. We can be ourselves or not, as we please. We are at liberty to be real, or to be unreal. We may be true or false, the choice is ours. We may wear now one mask and now another, and never, if we so desire, appear with our own true face. But we cannot make these choices with impunity. Causes have effects, and if we lie to ourselves and to others, then we cannot expect to find truth and reality whenever we happen to want them.

What’s at stake when we live an “augmented” reality? What’s at stake when we continue driving self-awareness, honesty, and vulnerability farther and farther underground? Nothing short of reality itself.

Three Comparisons in the Book of I John

Throughout the book of I John, we’ll see three juxtapositions: love and hate, light and darkness, truth and deception. We’ll talk about what it means to deceive ourselves, and more importantly, how to come out of darkness into light.

The great irony of living a filtered life is that we hide because we fear not being accepted, and yet the very act of hiding guarantees we will never be truly accepted because we will never be truly known. Jesus invites us to a more beautiful story – to welcome a little bit of Eden back into our lives, as we embrace the invitation to live “naked and unashamed” (Genesis 2:28). Known. Accepted. Unfiltered. Free.

Over the next 13 weeks, I want to encourage you to show up. The commitment to show up is the first and most important step you will take because any hope for future change rides on this first step. Will you be there? Will you press into the work God wants to do in your life? I’m praying He takes us on an incredible journey this summer – a journey toward healing the hidden self.

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