I recently came across a promotional video from Canon Press on Facebook which featured Rachel Jankovic sharing pithy statements of wisdom about married life. Among these bits was one about posting content on social media about one's spouse. She says, "That sappy, romantic Facebook post you wrote for your husband. Who is it for? Who is it really for? Because it is unlikely that it is for your husband. Don't lie to yourself; double-check your motives." To be honest, I have felt this way about those posts for quite some time. Seeing people write Instagram captions in the second person seemed odd to me as the scroller. Like, am I supposed to be reading this? Is this for me? We all have that one friend on Facebook who uses public posts for what actually should be private conversations and it feels like you're eavesdropping when you read them. But where does that leave sappy anniversary posts?
We've all heard the demeaning terms of trophy wife/husband whose spouse uses them as a prop for their own social capital one way or another. This trope translates to the social media world partially through sappy anniversary posts (like I said, usually written in the second person) which initially seem charming but are fueled by a need to be validated by others. Look how awesome my wife is! Like my post so I feel confirmation! This sort of thing is what Rachel Jankovic is speaking about and it is well stated.
So what is the solution then? Is it just no sappy Instagram posts altogether or is there another way? I think there is indeed another way to approach this and it comes from Paul's theology of public honoring.
Consider the Pauline Theology of Public Honoring
Though these sappy anniversary posts can serve a variety of purposes such as the ill-intentioned validation seeking, one thing it almost always accomplishes is that it honors the spouse in a public way. This is a good thing! In fact, it is something that Paul demonstrates and exhorts Christians unto.
Consider Philippians 2. In this chapter, we are introduced to Epaphroditus who had traveled from the Philippians to Paul bearing a letter and some gifts (Phil 2:25, 4:18). While he was visiting with Paul, he fell extremely ill to the point where he almost died (2:27a). Paul of course was worried (2:27b) but rather surprisingly it seems that Epaphroditus was concerned that the Philippian Christians had found out he was sick (2:26). Now, at this point, we have to be careful that we don't read too much into this because just before that is mentioned, Paul says that Epaphroditus longed to see the Philippians. Nevertheless, the fact that they knew he was sick was a cause of concern for Epaphroditus and it seems that we get some insight as to why in the following verses. Paul writes in verses 28-30, "I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me".
Was it the case that Paul anticipated the Philippians to not receive Epaphroditus and so he, therefore, exhorts them to receive him with the joy and honor men like him? Perhaps. Nevertheless, even if that isn't the case it does stand that Paul himself honors Ephaphroditus here in a letter that was presumably to be read aloud in public like the other letters (Phil 1:1, Col 4:16, 1 Thess 5:27). Thus, Paul honors Epahroditus publicly. If Paul sees no issue in the public honoring of another (keep in mind that the audience of these honoring statements is not merely Epaphroditus but the entire Philippian church), why should we?
Check Your Heart
You may have heard that phrase before. It's honestly one of those Christianese clichés but for a good reason. We should be checking our hearts (Deut 4:9). When it comes to these sappy anniversary posts, it is absolutely possible to type out two paragraphs of meaningful and honoring statements about one's spouse while all the while doing so to gain the approval and validation of others. When I find myself in that spot on social media I have to ask myself, "why am I posting this?". Perhaps if I answer it in that way, I should just delete it.
However, if I'm going to be consistent with the ethic of Paul in honoring others then I cannot simply say that sappy Instagram posts about my wife are altogether bad in and of themselves. The arena of social media is fresh for just about everybody. We don't have wisdom passed down from generations past on how to keep good digital hygiene (shout out to Brady Shearer for that term). However, the wrong response is to seize up and remain paralyzed in the digital landscape. Let's take our theology and bring it into the digital world.