On Facebook, I have over 800 friends. At one point I had closer to 1,000 until I spent an afternoon going through my list with a fine-toothed comb and chucking off anyone who I hadn’t talked to in ages or didn’t really know. That was about 2 years ago. Since then, I have sadly reverted back to this fake mentality of having all these “friends” although in reality, I can’t say that I am really friends with 800 people.
Don’t get me wrong, there are multiple reasons why we would add someone to Facebook or Twitter. In some cases I know them through other friends and we have connected over a mutual interest. Sometimes I have met them through the blogging sphere, or through research efforts, or through church connections. At other times, they are people I went to high school and university with who I no longer talk to, but who I still care about when they go through life transitions such as marriage and having children. Occasionally these people I have never even met will offer profoundly deep insights about my life and I am glad for those exchanges. I have friends from around the world – including places I have never been to and probably will never go to, yet somehow we find ourselves commenting on each other’s pictures and posts.
Some people in the older generation are sceptical of this and do not seem to understand the value of something like social media. They grew up in a different generation and do not see why we should share so openly about our lives and our political and religious leanings. However, I have a different opinion. I believe Facebook is a wonderful tool for communicating and connecting with others. It is a great way to get people involved in a particular cause, it is an effective and easy way to spread news about an event, and it is a helpful way to update many people at once about a trip or project without having to email each person individually.
Nevertheless, Facebook also comes at a steep price. In many ways, Facebook has cheapened what intimacy and friendship should truly look like. I have been in three dating relationships, all three started and ended on Facebook. The actual deeds took place in person, but had it not been for hiding behind a keyboard, we would never have gotten to that phase. I love Facebook for this – it has been a way shy guys have found the courage to ask me out, but I have also resented it at times. Facebook has created a sense of community and that is wonderful, but it has done so at the expense of creating loneliness and apprehension of the future. Although I can be happy for the many people I know who have gotten married and had children over the years (which is the majority of people on my News Feed), there is no denying that it also causes me a bit of bitterness. Every time I scroll through these life events I wonder when my time will be and why they were so fortunate while I remain here single. Articles have been written about how Facebook has turned into an addiction (of which I am certainly guilty), how marriages are generally stronger without it, and how it creates a sense of not really knowing who is truly a friend or not. Let’s be honest, no one in this world has the emotional reserves to have an in-depth, living and breathing honest friendship with 800 people. In fact, even having 80 people who you are truly that close to seems a bit far-fetched. In reality, most counsellors would admit that the average person only has about 5-20 friends, and those who have closer to 20, are usually crazy extroverts (like myself) who would still tell you that even though they care deeply about 20 people in their lives, they would only really open up and share every nook and cranny of their being with perhaps 3 or 4. That’s because although we are created for relationships, we are designed to give our all to them. We cannot give our all to more than a certain number of people at one time while still being true to ourselves and fair to them.
While I have been reflected on this whole Facebook phenomenon, I couldn’t help but make the connection between this social media culture and the culture I find so prevalent within the present day Christian church. Today over dinner, my co-worker and I were talking about the issue of faith. What does it mean and what does it look like? I have been lamenting this type of blasé Christianity I have been experiencing the last few months in Europe, but even before that in some of my Canadian friends. I was getting frustrated that people still wanted to call themselves Christian, still baptised their babies, and still had church weddings, all the while, admitting to me that they don’t believe Mary was ever a Virgin, they don’t believe in a literal heaven and hell, and they don’t believe Jesus was the Son of God. It was starting to truly irritate me that people were taking communion and telling me why I couldn’t take communion at their church because I am not Catholic or Baptist or Seventh Day Adventist or whatever, meanwhile Christmas was the first time of the year that they actually went to church.
Then it suddenly hit me: what these people are doing is really not that strange. They are simply a by-product of this philosophy which has no idea what friendship means. They are only mirroring the effects of a Facebook culture.
Yet, what these individuals are failing to realize is that a relationship with Jesus needs to be rooted in something much deeper than social media. When Jesus calls us to follow Him, He demands our all. He wants a full on, passionate, rich and deep relationship. He doesn’t want a “like” once in a while or a quick comment on a status that you read in passing.
My co-worker asked the question: “how can you say you are friends with someone if you never even talk to them?” But this is exactly what I do daily when I am on social media. I refer to almost everyone in conversation as a friend. My friend said such and such, my friend did such and such, today my friend posted such and such. Wait a minute, have I even met this person? Have I had at least 3 coffees with them in the past 6 months? Have I emailed them or called them at least twice this year? If not, how can I say they are truly on this deep level of friendship?
Somehow we think that belief in God is nothing more than fire insurance. We think that if we are baptised and if we show up to church on Christmas and Easter that should be enough, but Jesus tells us it’s not. In His Word, God illustrates what it means to be His friend. It means that we spend time meditating on Scripture and praying often. It means that He finds out about our issues from US rather than from our status updates. It means we do things with Him, we don’t just tag Him in the photo afterwards with a little byline that reads something like “wish you were here.”
Social media is a wonderful invention and a wonderful tool. It has revolutionized my life in so many ways. It has enabled me to get my writing more widely spread and to share my opinions and thoughts with such a wide variety of people. It has enabled me to meet people I never thought I would meet before, and to enter into other people’s lives. Sometimes it has greatly encouraged me as I read the various Bible passages, hymns, prayers, and inspirational quotes which are daily added to my Newsfeed. Sometimes it lightens the mood with humorous pictures and jokes. But sometimes it also sucks me away from time I should spend with people who really matter – the people who are right in front of me and whom God has placed into my path. Most of all, sometimes it distracts me from my one, true, love, the Lord Jesus Christ, Himself. The point of this post is not to bemoan Facebook, but it is to remind us all of the true meaning of Christianity. We do not ask Jesus into our hearts and lives just so that we can be friends with Him on Facebook, like His statues for the first few months, then ditch him when the next biggest follower comes up. Instead, we enter into a relationship with Him in which we are constantly transformed and transforming. We don’t just hang out with Him at a one off event that we heard about the night before when someone invited us, we hang out with Him daily. We don’t even need to make the connection on Facebook, we just open up His Word and spend even 10 or 15 minutes soaking in His presence. I hope that you are able to continue using social media in a way that pleases God and brings people together, but most of all, I pray that you do not abandon your faith in favour of this cheap version of “friendship” which never truly existed. For there is so much more.