Leave stretch marks, not bruises... (Wise Words from Bob Goff)

Like most of us, I both love social media and at times loathe social media. It represents the best and the worst of us, depending upon how we are choosing to use it on any given day. I have had the opportunity to pray for countless friends and people I don't know because of Facebook. I have had the opportunity to encourage, uplift and inspire friends and acquaintances. I have also been encouraged, uplifted and inspired by friends and acquaintances. I have had the opportunity to support abuse victims and whole communities of hurting people. I have been able to see photographs I never would have seen; celebrate special occasions and travel destinations with others through their photo albums and posts. I have had the opportunity to make friends online that have become extremely close and important to me, even though our friendship exists and is sustained by the Internet as opposed to physical presence. I am able to stay connected to friends who live miles away from me. All very positive and precious opportunities I am thankful for.

On the other hand, there have been days when Facebook was the source of major discomfort, frustration, hurt feelings, disharmony, anger, shame.... I could continue with the adjectives. I won't.

We are living in increasingly "charged" times. Frustrations are high, no matter who we blame for our problems. Families and friendships are being altered, disrupted and shattered by differing viewpoints on the pandemic, politics, racial injustice, whose lives matter. I have met many people in support groups recently who are totally estranged from close family members as a result of strongly held differing convictions about an administration; whether for or against. And it makes me think of this passage in Luke 12:

52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”54 He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. 55 And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. 56 Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?

57 “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right? 58 As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled on the way, or your adversary may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. 59 I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”

There have been a few friends I engage with on Facebook whom I have asked to make an agreement with me that we won't comment on each other's posts when it comes to highly charged differences (especially politics), even if that means unfollowing each other. 

The reason I have requested this (only a few times) is because I VALUE the friendship and don't want differences to separate us. And the way in which a person engages with me is sometimes emotionally triggering for me (as I assume it can be for others as well). I have made that request because I want to protect a friendship. It is NEVER my goal to censor or silence anyone. Neither is it my goal to surround myself with only those who agree with me. 

I believe I have demonstrated a willingness to discuss differences with respect. I recognize I may sound condescending at times and I have apologized for that. We are all human. But I try to check myself and my tone continually. I work on my delivery. I strive for humility in my responses. I pay attention to the emotions I feel when I read something and ask myself why I'm being triggered or feeling what I'm feeling. I examine whether it's actually the words being spoken to me or something deep inside me that I need to be more aware of. Some days I feel like I have done well. Other days, I cringe and must confront my shortcomings, ask for grace from others and from above, make an effort to be better tomorrow. Actually, that's a daily prayer; that I will be better tomorrow than I am today. Even when it's been a good day.

When I've made this request of a friend and we've agreed not to engage on politics via social media, and then they violate our agreement by commenting anyway (especially with a mocking or combative edge), I feel antagonized. It feels adversarial rather than friendly. And I then have to evaluate the interaction. It isn't about the fact that we disagree. It's about what matters more; this person or the issue? Maybe this isn't a positive Facebook friendship? I don't like having to ask myself those questions.

I have recently been trying not to comment on posts I disagree with politically. Because I value the people I don't agree with and my relationship with them. I have made my friend list smaller and have let go of some people I actually still have warm feelings for in "real life." One reason for that decision was the result of a friend sharing with me (in a private conversation about our differing perspectives on masks) that she'd had to "defend me" (for my views) to other friends in our neighborhood. I value this friend and love her dearly. But it made me feel self-conscious. The fact that my being an advocate for wearing a mask or having different political convictions from the majority in our neighborhood would result in anyone having to defend me made me rethink who I was friends with on Facebook. And I let go of many in my neighborhood. Not because I don't still consider them friends. But because I have no desire to annoy people unknowingly. At the same time, I know that I will occasionally still express my convictions. And I will always express myself imperfectly. I want friends, not critics and opponents, in my social media world. Especially right now. And I'm sure most people feel similarly. 

I'm usually trying to do, myself, whatever I'm asking of someone else. If I'm asking someone not to engage with me, I'm also making a point not to engage with them (negatively). But it's never about silencing or censoring others. And I don't believe that silencing my own voice is the right answer, either. We are all just trying to get through a difficult time the best way we can. If I have provoked or annoyed you, please know it is never my intent to do that. And I assume that it is not your intent either. 

I am not against anyone because we believe differently. But I want my online time to be as constructive and enjoyable as possible. Not that it always has to be pleasant or light or conflict-free. My idea of a good social media environment isn't all puppy dogs and ice cream. I like deep conversations about meaningful things and posts that provoke deeper thought on any given subject. But I want to strive for constructive, respectful, loving, helpful dialog. I don't want to be a part (or a host) of mocking, dismissive, adversarial interaction. And I cringe when that happens in a conversation I am part of whether it be on my page or someone else's. I observe friends who have developed the skill of not reacting to people emotionally while holding to their own convictions and responding in calm clarity. I try to take lessons from those people. But if nobody was having those discussions, I wouldn't have the opportunity to learn from them.

We all have to find our own ways of coping and navigating the world we are living in today; both online and in our personal lives. However you need to protect your heart and your peace, do what you need to do. 

I hold out hope that we can rise above what annoys and angers us. I hope more of us will make an effort to remind ourselves of all the things we love and appreciate about the people in our lives, rather than focusing entirely on all the ways people annoy and disappoint us. No matter how many things we disagree on, we all share in this human condition: We are ALL flawed. We let people down. We disappoint and get disappointed. We annoy and get annoyed. We hurt others and get hurt by others. But we don't have to let our humanity divide us from one another as friends and family. We can choose to stretch each other rather than wound each other. It takes a lot of continual effort and a lot of forgiveness. I grant you that. It takes grace and forgiveness extended to ourselves, as well as others. But we can do this. Not all will choose it, but some of us will be committed to it. And I want to be one of those.