Five tips to embrace real-life relationships more than the carbon-copy versions we see online
I love social media. It has been at least partially responsible for my first book contract and some amazing speaking opportunities. I love how sites like Facebook and Twitter allow me to wake up each morning and encourage people to get into the Word daily. But recently, I’ve had this nagging feeling as though I’m headed in the wrong direction with my social media habits.
It started when a few of my "friends" thought it would be easier to delete me from Facebook than talk to me in person about something I’d done. It’s almost as if they assumed if I didn’t exist on their Facebook pages that I no longer exist in real life. I tried to make restitution, but each time, I was left with the cold shoulder. Super painful.
I know I’m not the only one who has been unfriended. You have probably either done it to someone else or been on the receiving end.
Yet another reason why I'm questioning my time online is because my fiancé is not big on social media. His reservations caused me to think twice before updating my relationship status on Twitter or Facebook when we started dating. At first it was hard; I simply wanted to tell the world about us. But as soon as we started talking about the M word (marriage), I knew God was tugging on my heart: What's more important to you? Reading all the notes of congratulations on your wall or savoring this real-life relationship I've given you?
Maybe you have also been more concerned about what's happening online than in real life. Maybe you’ve been interested in someone, checked out her Facebook profile and let that define who she is. Maybe she didn’t have a cute enough picture, so you didn’t pursue a relationship. I’m so glad I didn’t judge my fiancé based on his Facebook profile; he didn't even have one when we started dating.
Or maybe you’ve spent a lot of time exchanging lighthearted Twitter messages with someone you’ve never met (I've done this in the past), and in consequence, overlooked the very real need of a close friend.
These practices that have become common among our generation have caused micro relationships, lighting-speed breakups and hearts left out in the open. So through my own self cross-examination of social media and relationships, I came up with five biblical tips to keep us balanced. My hope is that we embrace real-life relationships more than the carbon-copy versions we see online.
1. Take a break.
About a month ago I took four days off from social media. I knew it would be rather difficult considering how much time I spend online. I needed to prove to myself and to my now fiancé that I could enjoy face-to-face companionship without having to constantly update my Twitter or Facebook status.
Second, it helped me see how much time I was wasting. Did I really need to post that picture? Say that thought?
2. Be intentional.
Does everyone need to know what I ate for breakfast? No, not really. When I find myself posting these minute-by-minute details, that’s when I know I might be spending too much time online. I can be real without giving too much information.
Here’s a question God’s been putting on my heart lately: Am I using social media for instant attention, or is what I’m posting bringing God glory? For instance, if I’m lonely, bored or depressed, 99.9 percent of what I post will not be intentional. It will not pertain to the Bible verses I’ve been challenged on recently or a blog post I took the time to think and pray about before writing. If I can’t answer the question above truthfully, that’s when I know I should reconsider before posting something online.
3. Invest in real friendships.
A real friend lets me know when something’s bothering him or her. Proverbs 9:8 says, "So don’t bother correcting mockers; they will only hate you. But correct the wise, and they will love you." When my friends take the time to tell me about a blind spot, it gives me an opportunity to grow. I would rather have someone tell me to my face how I’ve hurt them instead of writing me off so easily through social media.
The same goes for me. I need to take time to tell someone if and how they’ve hurt me instead of deleting, un-following or "hiding" someone on Twitter or Facebook. I can hide behind my computer screen by not saying anything and think I’m helping, but how is that being real?
It can be scary to confront a friend — don’t even try in 140 characters. It’s not possible. That’s why I try my hardest to go against the enemy’s lies that my words don’t matter or they won’t make an impact.
Real friendship asks God for courage to say, "Hey, my friend, I’ve noticed you’ve been having a hard time lately ... and I want you to know that I’ve been praying for you. Let’s get together."
4. Refuse to gossip.
Social media is now the quickest way to spread gossip. Who’s dating whom? Who’s breaking up with whom? Who are no longer friends?
I can’t even count how many conversations I’ve had with friends offline sparked from a friend’s Facebook post, picture or blog. The temptation is to talk about it behind someone’s back (which is so easy to do because of social media) instead of asking the person who wrote it.
Proverbs 26:20 says, "Fire goes out without wood, and quarrels disappear when gossip stops." Until I stop it, social media can be the catalyst to post, read and find gossip about my friends.
5. Think counter culturally.
In my quiet time recently I read this by Billy Graham. He challenged me to think counter culturally. He said:
We read in the book of Acts that the early church was filled with the Holy Spirit. They had no church buildings, no Bible, no automobiles, no planes, no trains, no television, no radio. Yet they turned their world 'upside down' for Christ. They instituted a spiritual revolution that shook the very foundation of the Roman Empire.
That quote challenges me to remember that I don’t need social media to change the world. Every time I am tempted to use Twitter or Facebook to make me feel good about my relationships or my ministry, I have to remind myself that God doesn’t need it and neither should I. The reason why I spend so much time online is because I still struggle with needing man’s approval. But what about how God sees me?
I notice the more time I spend on social media, it hinders my relationship with Him. The more time I spend checking my Twitter replies and Facebook notifications, the less time I spend with God and His Word.
I desire that my relationships bring glory to God, so if that means questioning my time on social media, then so be it! I'm thankful that saying less on social media doesn’t make my relationships any less official, real or legit.
Fifty years from now I won’t remember the Twitter updates and Facebook statuses, but I will remember the private moments spent with my best friends encouraging each other toward eternity.
Copyright 2011 Renee Johnson. All rights reserved.