A Guide For Evaluating My Online Interactions
by Shaunda Stoltzfus
This article first appeared in the Winter 2016 print edition of Daughters of Promise.
We as women have been created with a deep longing for relationship. Our capacity to connect in deep ways with other human beings is a gift from our Heavenly Father. Being lovers of communications, it’s no surprise that we’ve fallen hard for this knew phenomenon known as social media.
Social media offers us many delightful ways to connect with many different people. Thanks to Facebook, I currently have more contact with my out of state relatives than what I ever had in the past. I am able to maintain connection with friendships that were born years ago in many different places. I enjoy connection with my local friends throughout the week as I read their words and view their photos. I follow blogs of writers that inspire me and challenge me to grow in holiness. Blogs pertaining to photography, mothering, decorating, cooking, and gardening nurture creativity for my everyday responsibilities. The ability to connect with people from the comfort of my own home and the access to resources offered online are truly staggering.
We’ve probably all heard plenty of warnings about social media. While that is not my particular focus, I would urge us all to carefully consider the warnings that wise people have brought to our attention. We must not allow our love for connection to blind us to the destructive propensity of social media.
How should we, as Daughters of the King, interact and present ourselves online? How do we maximize the opportunities that social media offers to us and at the same time minimize the potential destructiveness of a cyber world?
While not comprehensive, I have a few questions which I offer as a tool to guide you in evaluating your online interactions. These questions are not meant for a one-time answer. These questions will be helpful only if you are willing to answer them honestly and with an openness to implementing change when Jesus convicts your heart of inappropriate online behavior.
Am I presenting a realistic picture of my life?
We have the capability of creating an online presence that is really far from reflecting the reality of our daily lives. I wonder at the motivation behind creating such an illusory profile. I think it is profitable to ask ourselves a few questions as we think about our online persona: Do I see myself accurately? Do I have an inflated perception of myself? Is this who I really am or who I wish to be? Do my words and pictures give an accurate window into my life? Are there realities of my life that I am purposefully hiding? Who am I trying to fool?
These questions are hard to answer and may require the input of another person. I find my children are usually willing to be candid in their perception of me. Their perspective, although not gospel truth, is valuable to me since they spend more time with me than anyone else. A husband, sister, parent, mentor, or trusted friend would likewise be competent in helping to evaluate the accuracy of your online profile.
Who am I promoting?
The absurdity of our online narcissism is deplorable. Having our own online space makes it easier than ever to turn the spotlight on ourselves. We’re so accustomed to this kind of behavior that we think nothing of it.
Jesus calls us to a higher way by persistently calling us away from ourselves and to Himself. As Daughters of the King our lives and words should ultimately bring honor to Him.
Jesus also calls us to honor others over ourselves. Preferring another over myself is a foreign idea in today’s world, but it is the natural overflow of a heart that honors Jesus. Neither constantly undermining myself or using flattery are viable ways of honoring Jesus.
Honoring Jesus and others means that I understand my own position and worth as His daughter. I also realize that I am not an only daughter. I have many sisters who are likewise loved and valued by my Father. And ultimately, I recognize that we all belong to a King who is worthy beyond measure of all my honor.
Our need for ceaseless self promotion is replaced with deep rest and peace when we come to know our King and realize that we belong to Him.
Am I using words online that I could not use to someone’s face?
Our words matter, both in real life and online. We are foolish to think that we will not have to give an answer for all the words we spew forth online. Social media offers us limitless opportunities to encourage, affirm, and bless others. Likewise, there are equal opportunities to criticize, judge, become entangled in trivial arguments and controversies or participate in gossip.
We must always remember that we are called to use words that build others up and make souls strong as we represent our King. Just because I do not need to reckon with another person’s presence or reaction to my words in the moment does NOT give me total freedom of expression. In fact, we need to be even more careful with our words online since we are not present with our audience. There is greater opportunity for misunderstanding and hurt in the absence of personal presence. I urge us to use our words carefully, with the intention to bless and honor others.
Do I know how to listen?
“Quick to listen, slow to speak…” The book of James (1:19) offers some pertinent advice for my life today. It is incredibly easy to become a very poor listener online.
It’s easy to completely ignore the presence of people I don’t respect. Scroll. Scroll. Eye roll. Scroll. Scroll.
It’s easy to tune out or un-friend those with whom I can’t agree. There may be occasion where this is the appropriate action, but we need to always be checking our motivations before glibly turning a deaf ear on someone.
How often do I comment in a reactionary way without first reading over the conversation that others have been engaged in already? In a real life situation, I would consider it rude to walk in to a conversation and air my opinion without first listening to get a feel for where the whole conversation has been and where it is heading. Why should I feel differently online?
Just because I think I have something important to add to a trending discussion doesn’t automatically mean I have the right to speak. I have no regrets from the times when I was slow to speak, especially times when emotions were obviously volatile.
There are times when I’m called to speak a word of truth. This must be done with humility, gentleness, and dignity.
I believe we would all save a boat load of emotional energy and would have more respect for each other if we would learn to listen well before speaking.
Where and when am I most honest, transparent, and vulnerable?
I care deeply about being transparent and honest as I present myself online. I care about it even more in real life. I have no business spilling out the deepest waters to the entire world if I am too scared to sit down with a real person and do the same. Online transparency and vulnerability are merely a facade if they are unmatched with the same level of authenticity in real life relationships. We all long to be known and to know others intimately. I call you to let yourself be known first and primarily by the people closest to you in real life.
What role does social media serve in my life?
Social media is a great forum for connecting with friends, relatives, and neighbors. It’s a fun way to watch a faraway friend’s kids grow. It’s an interesting way to follow friends as they travel all over the world. Sometimes a friend’s good sense of humor brings me the gift of laughter.
My encouragement to myself and you is to simply allow social media to serve its function and to drop any other unrealistic expectations. It’s a good place for connection, although not the primary place to turn for our deepest relational needs. It is not the place to seek affirmation. It is not the place to confess sins. It is not the best place to seek accountability. Social media will never meet all our relational needs.
Am I wasting social energy and time that would be better invested in the people around me?
We all face limitations to our social energy. I call us all to invest our best energy and resources in the people whom God has placed right next to us in our everyday lives. We should never be fooled into thinking we’ve done the real work of caring and serving and loving our sisters if we never move beyond a digital response. Online words are meaningful and they certainly have their place, but we’ve missed the mark if we fail to enter into each other’s messy lives and wash each other’s feet. After all, actions speak louder than words.
I trust that by now you’re not biting your nails and wondering if there is any place for social media in your life. I hope you are willing to take an honest look at your online interactions as you consider these questions. I hope that you will interact online with care and intention. However, these questions were not designed for excessive introspection that leaves you paralyzed.
My vision is that we would all find freedom in humbly expressing ourselves as unique and beautiful Daughters of the King in real life and online. May we each find deep rest and peace and joy in belonging to our King and to each other.