When my children were in their teens, and this thing called social media was in its infancy, I started hearing rumors about places on the internet called MySpace, Facebook, and something called a blog. I tried keeping up with my kids who seemed able to accomplish almost immediate fluency in all the emerging technology. I kept a careful eye on the kinds of information they revealed about themselves online.
Once, I even pulled one of my daughter’s friends aside and gave her a lecture because I thought she had divulged too much personal information about herself online. She’d listed her age, the town where she lived,and the place where she worked. Having watched a Dr. Phil show or two, I told her I’d never be able to forgive myself if some Creepy McCreepy internet stalker-type started showing up where she worked and caused any harm to her.I also was concerned about the amount of time my children spent online. I wanted them to experience real life in the real world; investing themselves in real relationships, not virtual ones.
And then I started blogging. And I began putting all sorts of personal stuff about myself out there on the internet.
At first, when I had only a handful of readers, I was cautious. I was afraid to post an email link, sign up for Twitter, or even post my last name anywhere. I had no idea who might be reading my blog and felt vulnerable and exposed. And then to know a couple of fellow bloggers. We stopped by one another’s places and exchanged comments, and a strange thing began to happen. I started to get to know people I’d never met. And I started caring about them.
I began referring to these people as my imaginary friends.
A friend of mine who teaches sociology at a small college in western Pennsylvania told me he assigned his students a research project evaluating others’ understanding of the concept of friendship. I asked if he’d had his students watch The Social Network. He hadn’t; but said he thought it might be worthwhile for them to discuss it in class, given the way social media is challenging accepted ideas about friendship.
I’m not a sociologist, neither am I a theologian. But it does seem to me that God is at work and doing something important through the context of social media. I’ve developed real relationships with some of my imaginary friends. I care about them. I pray for them and for their families. I share prayer requests of my own with people I’ve never met, except through their words.
During this past year I was able to attend several writing conferences and was able to meet some of my imaginary friends in real life. I invited myself to spend the night at the home of another, a complete stranger I’d met on the internet. (Don’t tell my daughter’s friend)
She wasn’t a complete stranger. I knew her. She’d revealed her heart through her words online. Each time I met a fellow blogger this past year, I experienced almost an identical reaction. I felt as though I was being reunited with an old friend I’d never met.
And now when I log onto Facebook in the morning, I find myself in the middle of conversations between my internet friends and my friends in real life. They’ve never met, but they are forming relationships. It’s weird. But good-weird.
Because of the presence of social media at this particular point in history, something seems afoot. I’m seeing real community form among people who may never meet face-to-face. And that kind of real community is possible because of relationships forged by union in Christ.
God never intended the believer’s walk to be a solo journey. Throughout the pages of Scripture, God is always at work gathering a people to Himself. I don’t pretend to know the mind of God or understand His ways, but I do wonder if He isn’t allowing me to catch a glimpse, by means of the internet, of His continuing work of gathering His people.
I think about the Old Testament account of the prophet Elisha when God’s people were completed surrounded by a powerful army. God reminded him,
Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them. 2 Kings 6:16, ESV
Linking with Bonnie (who I’ve met in real life!) @ Faith Barista. Click the link below to read more reflections on the topic of real community: