Thursday, May 16, 2019

Remembering the Impact of a Kind Teacher

I’ve recently joined a Facebook group made up of people who went to my high school in the ’80’s and ’90’s. It has been fun to reconnect with old schoolmates and remember some things I hadn’t thought about in years. In one thread, we’ve been discussing memories from our elementary school years, and it reminded me of something I have thought about often through the years.

In about the fourth grade, I had a teacher who, as I look back over the years, made a big impact on my life, and I’ve often wished I could contact her and thank her, but I don’t know how to do so. Anyway, one day as we were sitting in class doing some desk work, I remember us kids talking, like kids do, and I said something unkind about someone else. Word got back to the teacher about what I had said, and she called me over to her desk. I was mortified, just sure I was in trouble. However, she very kindly, very gently told me a story about how she had known a girl when she was in high school who she hadn’t been very friendly with and who wasn’t the most popular kid, but later they ended up going to the same college and living on the same floor in the dorm. She told me she and this girl ended up being really good friends, and how she regretted not being kinder to her in school sooner because she missed out on those years of being friends with her. The point was, be kind no matter what. I felt then, and still to this day feel ashamed of what I had said that day. I don’t even know why I said it. I didn’t mean it, and I was being a dumb kid.

As I’ve thought about that incident through the years, I’m so thankful for how kindly my teacher handled that situation.  She could have just scolded me in front of the class, but she chose to make it a teachable moment instead, and I remembered it. Forever after that, it made me think before judging or dismissing someone unkindly. Even at that age it helped me to realize it’s not all about me.  Everyone has a story. I believe the Lord used that teacher in my life to begin chipping away at my prideful little heart, because as I look back, wow, I sure did have a lot of self-centeredness going on, even in fourth grade. I’m thankful for that teacher’s influence in my life. She probably doesn’t even remember that day, I’m sure there were lots of moments like that in the life of an elementary school teacher, but I have never forgotten it.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Some Thoughts About Social Media

I had the privilege of participating in a panel discussion last night for the women of our church, encouraging us all to think about how we use social media and how to navigate it for the glory of God. So much good information and great thoughts were shared, and I wish I could share all the panel speakers' topics here, but I thought since I haven't written a blog post in a very long time, maybe I could at least share what I wrote for my portion of the discussion and try to allow my blog to live another day. I do not love public speaking, but when asked to participate with this forum, I was excited. This is a topic I've thought a great deal about and I'm thankful I got to be part of it. The topic I got to speak on is "Things to Consider Before Posting."

I have to admit to you that I have not always handled my use of social media well and have made some unwise mistakes along the way.  So, in looking at how we use social media I am not going to lay down rigid, legalistic rules - we all have different personalities and reasons for using social media, so it won’t look the same for all of us, but I would like to encourage us to think carefully, and give us a bit of a starting point, mindful that we want to honor God as we use social media.

The first thing we want to consider is that we who belong to Christ are ambassadors for Him - always. No matter what we do, in real life or online or at the store or driving, wherever we are, we represent Jesus Christ. So as we examine our social media habits one overarching question we want to ask ourselves is, “Is what I say and how I behave in this format something that brings honor to God? Am I adorning the doctrine of God in how I use this media, as Titus 2:10 tells us we are to do in everything? Am I acting in a way that will attract others to Jesus when I speak of Him, am I saying anything that contradicts the message of the gospel or might make it harder for unsaved friends to hear that message when I do share it, or saved friends to be encouraged by it?” 

 Next we want to keep in mind as we post:  Why am I using social media? Some seek connection, some use it to teach or encourage or share helpful information.   It’s a good idea to examine your reasons for using social media, not just mindlessly posting. One thing I’ve become convinced of is that social media is better used as a SUPPLEMENT to real life relationships, NOT as a substitute for them. The Bible has a whole lot to say about loving one another - this means we are in real, in person relationships.  A book I found helpful is, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke. I was struck by something he addressed in that book, that we are embodied people. We NEED face-to-face relationships. This may be due to my more introverted nature, but I find it a great temptation to substitute online interactions for real face-to-face interactions and settle for a level of relationship that isn’t as fulfilling as real, embodied friendship. If I’m not careful, I can coddle my inner hermit instead of pushing out of my comfort zone and learning better how to interact face-to-face. I settle for less, because it’s easier to like a post or write an encouraging comment than it is to actually get together in real life or make a phone call, and not as ‘uncomfortable’ as taking the time to come alongside someone in person. 

Reading friends’ posts can give us a springboard for things to talk about in real life, which is a helpful supplement, but they don’t substitute for truly knowing each other. To have real relationship, we need to do life together. I kind of see Facebook and Instagram as great replacements for the old Christmas letter. It’s a way to stay in touch with people, and a tool to share life events with our friends, but not necessarily to share everything. 

And in our everyday lives, texting is great for quick messages and staying in touch when we don’t need a longer conversation - I mean, I don’t always have time for a two-hour phone call when I really just wanted to ask a quick question or confirm plans to meet, so texting is great for that type of thing, or a quick, “I’m praying for you!” is always encouraging. 

However, it’s easy to have a false sense of intimacy with these media. Because we do share so much or because communication is so instantaneous, it’s easy to think we know people better than we actually do. Researchers are beginning to notice that people who spend a lot of time on social media are experiencing a greater sense of loneliness than you would expect considering how superficially connected we are. While I was writing this, I heard Al Mohler mention this in a segment at the end of his The Briefing podcast on March 21, so it is something people are noticing.  Because we have a real innate desire to know and to be known, we need to consider that It is not the same level of intimacy you have when meeting together, spending time in each others’ homes, praying together, serving together, seeing each other LIVE in real life. So, that’s something to keep in mind as you consider how much time we spend in these venues.

While I was working on this talk, we were discussing the chapter in Respectable Sins in LIFE group, covering sins of the tongue, and we read Matthew 12:36-37, which says, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” I have to tell you I found that pretty scary as I really stopped to think about how that lesson applies to how I use social media - so many careless words, I’ve posted. In fact, during every lesson the of the Respectable Sins study I was strongly struck by how applicable every heart issue we covered is to our social media use, too.  That’s why I have listed it as a resource for this topic.

To move toward application, I’m sure many of you have probably heard the acronym THINK before. I find it to be a helpful grid to work through when posting on social media, and I’ll give you some examples.

First, there’s T - is it true? We Christians are to be truth tellers. We have the most amazing news of all - the gospel - that we want our friends and neighbors to hear. So, we want to be people who tell the truth even in little things, so that when we talk about the most important truth, they can better hear us. One area to be careful is with forwards and memes and news stories. Do not forward things that are not true. Always check it out. We come across as gullible and foolish and we clog up our friends’ newsfeed when we thoughtlessly forward things that are not true. Proverbs 14:15-16 says, “The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.  One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless.” When my friends see me falling for hoaxes and fake news things, what will that make them think when I then turn around and post about Christ? If they see me as gullible on these less important things, will they see me as discerning when it matters? We, of all people, ought to be most careful with our words. At the same time, we do NOT need to post every single thing about our lives in the name of being ‘real.’ I’ve seen the criticism sometimes that we are fake and not transparent on social media if we don’t share the good, the bad, and the ugly. Well, just because it’s true, doesn’t mean it’s wise to share it with our whole friend list.

Which brings us to H - Is it helpful? I don’t know that we need to agonize over whether every single thing we post on Facebook fits this, and I don’t believe we need to only post serious things, it’s ok for it to be fun, but I certainly want to keep this in mind. Why am I posting this? Am I wanting to share something humorous? Am I sharing good information? Am I cheering for my favorite team? Or am I being annoying, boastful, or hurtful with my posts? Am I oversharing? When my friends open their feed, do they have to scroll through 14 of my posts before seeing what anyone else is talking about? That is kind of like that person in a group who dominates the conversation, talking mostly about herself. Really, who honestly cares what I had for lunch today? What am I trying to gain by running to social media to post every thought? As a recovering oversharer, I’ve found myself pausing when I have an urge to share a thought or picture, why am I sharing this? Can’t I just live in the moment? Or what about an overabundance of selfies? Again, think about what are you trying to accomplish with this post and what is this saying to the people on your friends list. Am I posting things that are overly divisive? For example, I have friends on my feed who are unsaved, and they also hold very different opinions from me on things like politics and pop culture. If I am posting a lot of strong opinions and generating animosity over those things, am I making it harder for them to hear me when I speak about the things that are eternally important? These days, people often are very quick to take offense and we can be unnecessarily polarizing when we aren’t thoughtful about the venue in which we share opinions. Keeping in mind that first, overarching consideration that I am an ambassador for Christ, is social media, where I have friends of various spiritual states, the best place for me to be overly opinionated in a way that might hinder the most important message? That’s not to say it’s wrong to have opinions on politics or pop culture or that it’s wrong to ever post about them, or that they aren’t important, but do consider what do I want my main message in this format to be, what is most appropriate for this format, what do I want to be most known for, if I have non Christian friends and family watching? 

Next we have I - Is it inspiring? Does what I share tend more toward encouraging, or more toward complaining? Do I lift up, or drag down, overall? Not that you have to be happy, happy, happy all the time, but what’s the general tone of your social media profile? Since we are specifically thinking about how to use social media for the glory of God, I wanted to encourage us to really think about how we handle His word when we use it in our social media. Scripture is such a powerful way to encourage others, but how many times do you see scripture verses mangled and used out of context to say something they don’t mean?  I am a Christian. I love Jesus. This is what I want most to talk and think about. So one thing I’ve prayed is that I would be careful not to ever lead anyone astray by not being careful with doctrine and what I say about Jesus and His word. It is a joyous, but serious responsibility to talk about our God, and we want to be accurate when we do. Be careful about quotes you share, too. Sometimes you may see a great quote on a beautiful background and love the sentiment, but if you look a bit into the author of the quote or the site it came from, they may not be a source you want to be pointing people toward. We want to be careful not to seem to endorse a source who may not be trustworthy overall. We women really need to guard our hearts and minds - there’s so much out there that just isn’t the best in the way of books and teaching. Proverbs 11:22 has a pretty graphic picture warning for us, “ Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion.” 

Which leads to N - Is it necessary? Proverbs 10:19 says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” Have I thought about the people on my friend list? I don’t know about you, but not everyone on my list interacts with me, and sometimes I forget who all may be reading my posts. Some are close friends, some are family, some are merely acquaintances I’ve known in the past, some are believers, some are not. Is what I’m sharing something I would share with a mere acquaintance in real life?  If it’s too personal to tell to those not-as-close friends in real life or could easily be misunderstood, I should think twice about posting it on social media. When posting pictures or mentioning a get-together, think common courtesy first- Could this make real life friends feel left out?  And what about Vaguebooking? You know what that is? It’s when you're annoyed with someone and you really want to say something, but you don’t necessarily want to say it directly so you post a passive aggressive comment hoping maybe they’ll see it, or you’re having a hard time and you want a little sympathy, but maybe don’t want to share it all out there, so you share some vague comment about what a hard time you’re having. They're the sort of posts you read and think, “Who is she talking about?” or “What’s going on with her?” Worse than vague complaints are actual, airing of the dirty laundry rants. Again, remember your audience - it’s unwise, foolish, even, to vent all over social media, and honestly it’s embarrassing and not the best witness. Proverbs 29:11 “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.”

And then we reach K - Is it Kind? As a mom, I really want to touch on this, and I wasn’t quite sure where to put it, but I think it fits here under kind - what about what and how much I share about my children? When they were little and I shared a funny little story it didn’t seem quite as big of a deal as it is now that they are older. I caught myself recently sharing a story I thought was funny about something my daughter said, but the more I thought about it, I was sharing something that to me was funny, but to her was embarrassing. So I took the post down pretty soon after sharing it. I am much more careful now to think, how would I have felt if my mom had a Facebook account when I was this age, and how thankful I am she didn’t? Ephesians 6:4 warns us against exasperating our children, and this is one area we need to consider. It has made me much more aware of the fact that loving my neighbor well, including my kids, means thinking more about what is best for them, regarding what I post. As my children’s mom, I want to protect them, and that means being wise about what I share. And then, more generally about kindness - we are to be people who love others. Our words are powerful.  The people on the other side of your social media interactions are real people.  Think about how you come across. Think about how it would impact you if someone posted or texted the way you do and be careful with your words.   We can use this tool as a supplement to aid us to encourage and rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep when used wisely. Not that we necessarily want to overanalyze and constantly walk on eggshells, but we do want to be caring of others. Do I know someone in my friends feed who is struggling especially with something right now and maybe I could be a little considerate about what I’m sharing, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with them - could what I’m posting hurt them unnecessarily or be a bit tone deaf to their pain at this time? We are to be peacemakers - Romans 12:18 tells us, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Especially in the mediated world of social media, where facial cues, tone of voice, and body language are missing, be kind -  in what you say, and in how you interpret what others post and say. It’s so easy for mediated words and pictures to be misconstrued.  I’ve seen comment threads degenerate quickly into angry interactions that I’m willing to bet would not have happened if the people were sitting across from each other over coffee, or left private conversations private, not put out there on social media.  This is so important - Don’t text or post angry. James 1:20 warns us “The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”  In that same vein, most of the time it is wise to stay out of Twitter and Facebook arguments. Think - do I need to address this at all? Do I have the kind of relationship with this person that earns the right to correct or reprove? If I think I do need to address it, I probably should go to the person privately - in person if at all possible. Remember, as far as it depends on you, preserve peace and one of my favorite Proverbs says, “The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out.” (Proverbs 17:14)

In summary, really what all this boils down to should be that when using social media - Am I loving my neighbor as myself? Am I preferring others, and am I bringing honor to my Savior and loving Him first, and is that reflected in how I interact in this format? This can be such a powerful tool for good and for encouragement and for sharing gospel truth. Let’s be careful that we use it for good and watch out for pitfalls.