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Thursday
Feb132014

"I'm praying for you."

Are there any sweeter words than those? When someone tells you that, don't you feel blessed and encouraged?

Yesterday, someone sent me a message with those words. It's not that I solicited those prayers. It's not that I put out a call for them, expressing a particular need. It is because she cares for me. She knows me, and she knows about the burdens of my heart. We have never met face to face, but we have known each other online for a very long time.

One of the benefits of the internet and social media is the ability to offer prayer when it's needed. Facebook and Twitter are excellent when a need arises and one wants to get the saints praying. The old fashioned tool of email works just as well, too, and has the benefit of discretion.

It's so easy to reach out to someone, write a word of encouragement, say a prayer, and let them know. I think it's important to let others know we are praying for them. It is not so that we can feel important or self satisfied. It is because it helps the person to know that someone is praying for her.  Sometimes those four little words are the difference between feeling alone or feeling encouraged, the difference between a good day and a bad day. We don't need to be lengthy or profound. We just need to let that person know that we are aware of their need, that we care, and that we're lifting them up before the Lord. 

Those words from my friend yesterday made my day. It bolstered me to know that someone not only prays for me, but reaches out. Social media makes it so easy to reach out, but how often do we capitalize on it for that purpose? We may be quick to use Facebook to ask for prayer, but how often do we use it to tell others we are praying for them? We like to use social media to let the world know what we're doing, but how often do we use it to inquire after others? Instead of using your iPhone for Angry Birds, or Flappy Birds, or whatever the latest distraction is, send someone an email saying, "Hey, I'm praying for you. Hope you are doing well."

Reaching out is so easy, so simple, and takes so little time. Yet the benefits for the person who receives the hand extended can mean a great deal. We often sit behind our screens like casual observers but we don't reach out. James 5:15 exhorts us to pray for one another. The end of the verse says this: "the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working (ESV)." 

Knowing someone is praying for you is prayer power in action.

Monday
Jan202014

It's either social media or quilting

Quite a few years ago I was in the process of making a baby quilt for someone who was expecting a baby. I also had young children. I interspersed my sewing time in between caring for them, the house, and my husband, and that semester, I believe, a course in British History since 1603. 

The house we lived in had a huge family room for the kids. My sewing machine was in that area, so I could sew and supervise at the same time. The room, with its ample space, could also become, in record time, nearly impassible because of the toys on the floor.

I remember one afternoon, during the boys' nap time, and while my daughter was at school, looking at the room, with toys everywhere, empty juice glasses, and little dishes from where little fingers had eaten Goldfish Crackers, and decided to sew rather than clean it up. I paid for that later in the day, after we ate our Generic Frozen Food Dinner, and after I had to clean up a mess at 9:00 that night, and fold a load of laundry I had put in the machine that morning, but avoided all day.

There was no social media at this time, yet I had allowed something to distract me. It is always easy to blame everything on social media. The reason I can't concentrate is because I'm on it too much; it's so nasty on social media, and it's put me in a bad mood. The evils of the world are encroaching through social media. When it comes to teenagers, we like to blame all of their immaturity on social media and video games, forgetting that once upon a time, young people were just as easily distracted (and maybe still are) by sports, music, or television. 

Social media itself is neutral; it's the people who make it what it is, good or bad. And if we weren't being distratced by it, we'd be distracted by something else. Maybe there was no Facebook when my kids were toddlers, but I am sure I am not alone in saying that I was occasionally on the phone too much.

It's a choice to either turn off social media or keep it on. There is no harm in taking a break from it now and then. I find that I don't enjoy "live tweets" from television shows or sporting events, so when those tweets come through, I often ignore Twitter until the furor is over. Facebook has ways to filter what people share on their feed, or you can turn a friend's feed off for a while, perhaps during that acrimonious election or after the season premier of Sherlock.

We are the ones who need to practice self-control and find things to occupy our minds with. Twitter cannot be held responsible if we fritter away forty-five minutes getting worked up about what social media is saying about whatever the issue of the week is. Twitter doesn't have a big hand which reaches through the screen of my computer or my iPhone and grabs me, and holds me down, refusing to let me leave. It's a choice. And if I find I can't control my impulses, then I suggest I get that under control. If I have a struggle doing that, it says more about me than the media itself.

Wednesday
Dec182013

Becoming distracted from our own lives

It's easy to become distracted by social media when life is really good. Or maybe you're the type of person who finds the distractions of the internet a helpful way to cope with difficulties. Either way, real life is always there, no matter how easily we get distracted.

My friend and I are both encouraging one another to spend less time online over the month of December. She is doing better than I am. I am trying to limit my time to the morning hours and late evening. So far, it's very helpful. I do get a lot more done, and spending less time on things like Twitter, especially, means I'm not distracted by things that either irritate me (like those Twitter people who re-tweet over and over again the same article. Don't they know that repetition can be over done?) or are none of my concern.

I shared with my friend via email this week that I found that the biggest temptation with social media was its ability to distract us from our own lives. Whether we find ourselves constantly comparing ourselves with others or seeking ways to draw attention to ourselves, we can so easily get wrapped up in things that we neglect important things like our kids, our homes, or our friends.

I was reminded of this last night when my father called me to say that my mother has been hospitalized. She has some health concerns, and while this particular incident is not really serious at the moment, the woman is over 70 and has some chronic health problems, and any hospitalization is something to take note of. 

As I listened to my father's words, anything and everything that drew my attention during my late evening foray into social media immediately flew from my mind, and all I could think about was how I wish I could be there with my parents. Now. Today. They need me. I need to be there with them. 

It occurred to me that thousands upon thousands of people live with illness and things that are so much more important than the fleeting distractions we get so easily entangled with. It is a reality that men and women everywhere, at Christmas time, deal with sick parents, sick spouses, sick children. Or dying parents, dying spouses, and dying children. 

I've heard people say, "Of course on-line life is real. It's filled with real people." And that's true. But more often than not, when I get to consumed with online drama, it's not my life I'm living; sometimes, it's someone else's, someone I will likely never meet.

When I got of the phone, a thought went through my mind: thud. Reality.

I'm not saying that I hate social media or that I plan to stop using it. It's a useful and enjoyable tool for the most part. But I was reminded that life continues on all around us, and sometimes, if we don't look around, we might miss something.

After last night, I don't care about Christian ghost writers, hard-line Christian feminists, or what the best books of the year are as attested to by total strangers. I care about my mother, and what's happening, and about the seriousness of an ill mother who is outside of Christ. That's a distraction to my social media viewing, and I think it's probably the good kind of distraction.

Tuesday
Dec102013

Lessons from the Ringmaster

When I was about nine years old, the Shrine Circus was in Winnipeg where I was living. My father took us for an afternoon performance. It was, of course, thrilling. There was the typical offering of women standing on horses as they galloped around the arena, fire-eaters, lion tamers, and highwire acts.

The ringmaster I remember as being a very exciting fellow. Dressed in his tails and top hat, it was unlike anything I had ever seen. He had a booming voice, with just the right intonation to get one's attention and keep it. I left my seat that afternoon suitably impressed.

As we left the building, my father took us through a rear exit which was very close to the door where the circus members had exited the main ring. As we filed out, through an open curtain, I saw the ringmaster talking to another gentleman. I was horrified.

First, he had removed his top hat to reveal his complete baldness. Clearly, the black hair I thought was on his head was actually part of his hat. He had also removed a lot of the make-up he'd been wearing and it was smeared on his face. But that wasn't the worst part. As we shuffled through with the rest of the crowd, I heard him in a very clear, distinct voice say curse words. You know what I mean; the kind your mother doesn't let you say. It was an offense to my nine year old sensibilities.

My fascination with the ringmaster fell, because in my childishness, I held the fact against him that he was first, human, and second, an actor. He wasn't really that exciting ringmaster. It was put on for the show. Since that moment, I think I have gone a little to the other extreme and been suspicious of celebrities. I'm sure I had my obligatory fascinations with the Famous Pretty Boy of the day when I was a teenager, but I think the ringmaster ruined it for me.

The lesson from the ringmaster is a good one even when it comes to the famous Christian people we enjoy reading about, and because they are so accessible with social media, occasionally interact with. We need to remember that they are just regular people, too. We should not expect that since they have done something well enough to gain attention that they are more virtuous than the next person. When I was first converted, in my ignorance, I watched Jimmy Swaggart. He got attention did he not? And look at what he did. No, fame and virtue are not synonymous.

We are not obliged to give famous Christians blind loyalty. We can read their books and enjoy their preaching, and maybe we'll get weak-kneed if one of them tweets at us. But we don't owe them anything other than the exhortation Christ gave us to love our neighbours as ourselves. We owe them kindness and consideration, and treatment fitting a brother or sister in the Lord. But we don't have to follow them, constantly applaud them, or in contrast, constantly castigate them when they do the unthinkable and act like humans. And yes, we should expect them to act with integrity in their dealings, and no, we should not make excuses for them when they do not.

My husband and I had a pastor many years ago who was the most godly man we have ever met. He confided to my husband that he found pride such a terrible temptation when people told him week by week how great his sermons were, or how he blessed them. He was on constant guard that he not evidence pride in his life. This is one thing we can help a "celebrity" pastor with: we don't have to lay on the accolades for every word they say. Believe it or not, every word they utter is not a nugget. Even famous Christians can be a little dull.

I've been amazed over the past couple of weeks, in this season of Advent, how reflections on the coming of Christ have been eclipsed by stories about famous Christians. These men and women are just regular people, just like the ringmaster was. Let us do them and ourselves a favour and not treat them as if they are perfect, or above reproach. And let's remember that this is the Christmas season, and only Christ is worthy to be praised.

Thursday
Oct102013

We may not be the change

This week at Karis, there was a good article about social media and confrontation. The author gives some solid, biblical advice about how to respond to things on social media. 

I would add one more strategy to her list, and that is to simply ignore things. 

You know what I mean. You see someone link a post that you find irritating. Someone you know posts something you find objectionable. You comment. Someone else comments. It escalates. And before you know it, you've re-created an adult form of the childish "my dad is better than your dad" scenario. Sometimes, social media makes us forget our manners. 

I think our first line of thinking should be: do I really need to address this? If it's something very agitating, that should be our first clue to ask ourselves if this is better left ignored. My husband tells me regularly: there is great freedom in ignoring.

We tend to think we are responsible for correcting others, but we may be mistaken. It is ego and pride for me to think that it is my job to change someone's mind, convict someone, or set them straight. It may not be. We may grieve for serious issues, and we may offer encouragement or a word of exhortation, but ultimately, our words may fall on deaf ears. To continue to debate only puts us at risk for saying something equally foolish.

The ease with which social media allows us to comment makes us think we have a right to respond, or a need to respond, or that everyone and his dog is waiting for us to respond. In all likelihood, they don't care what we think.

Some things are worth addressing, but I would say that given the limitations of social media, ignoring it ought to be our first reaction to irritating content. Someone who is willing to rant online is most likely not someone who is going to be quick to listen, anyway. I have found frequently that most most vehement people are the least approachable.

Sometimes, adults have to be left to make foolish choices. Sometimes, they'll listen to a word of encouragement, and sometimes they won't. Sometimes, the mature thing is to just move on. These are lessons I continue to learn.

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