How Should We Respond to Facebook “Friends”?

Image credit: DigitalTrends

Image credit: DigitalTrends

Something weird happened recently. Well, maybe it wasn’t weird. Maybe it was serendipitous. I’m talking about my Facebook feed. Social media­–­that nebulous electronic siren that pulls our attention toward all manner of idiocy and information like perpetual exploding impulses of light flashing in front of our eyes­–so central to contemporary life that its effects deserve some critical thinking. At least, that’s what I’ve attempted to do following a recent encounter with digital serendipity. Think.

What happened?

Nothing that probably hasn’t happened to you before. But for me, this tiny (or huge, depending on how you look at it) event spurred me toward analysis of my own behavior.

It was during my morning routine. After brewing coffee and packing lunches, I sat down in my corner chair, flicked on a lamp, covered my feet with a blanket, got up to find my reading glasses, sat back down again, sipped my coffee and began to read the daily news on my phone. This is the time of day I scroll through social media much like I used to read the morning newspaper. I read news stories, blog posts and watch the occasional cat video. I also skim what’s happening with “friends”. But here’s the thing about Facebook friends. Facebook curates our news feeds. So we see posts from the same sources most of the time. You could have hundreds or even thousands of “friends” but only see posts from a small fraction of them on a regular basis.

Of course, I could always do a search on each friend’s name to discover what they had for dinner last night. But I don’t. You don’t. We simply scroll.

So I was scrolling. And for some reason, up pops a post from a woman I only know peripherally (like most Facebook friends). Her post announces that her young son has recently finished eight months of treatment for leukemia. The post went on to thank all those who’d been praying for their family, bringing meals and helping to schlep their older kids to activities. Her youngster will now embark on years of long-term maintenance that will include a regimen of medicines and therapies that don’t sound like a joyous childhood adventure.

First, I’m stunned. This woman’s child has been gravely ill for months and I had no idea. People are commenting on her recent post praising God for her son’s improved health. They knew. They’ve been praying, possibly bringing those meals she talked about or in some way helping this family.

I had the nerve to click a button and become “friends” with someone on Facebook only to discover that I know nothing of her daily life. I am not a friend. I am a voyeur. And now I know something. Something big. Do I have an obligation to respond?

I could have kept scrolling. Convince myself that it would be weird to comment on something that’s been going on for months and that I’m only now learning about.

But I couldn’t do that. A friend wouldn’t do that.

So I commented on her post. Admitted to not knowing and to feeling privileged that now, as a result of the digital gods and algorithms, I’m able to be a part of those praying for her son. I should probably make more of an effort to support this family beyond typing a few nice words and tossing up a momentary prayer. But will I? Would you?

This leads me to more thoughts about social media connections. A friend once commented that it seems so many more people are experiencing tragedies or health challenges. But then another friend responded that it likely only seems that way because of social media.

Think about it.

Our circles of “friends” are exponentially larger than the social circles our parents travelled in. People were once connected only to those in their neighborhood, church, kids’ sports team or social club. If you moved away, that was typically the end of your connections to certain groups of people except for maybe an annual Christmas card. You’d often never know what was going on behind the scenes with people you’d only met a couple of times at your kids’ preschool fundraiser.

But these days, we’re “friends” with all kinds of people all across the country. People we barely even know. And we get to know things about these people that we’d never have known without social media. Thus, we get the feeling that more people are dealing with tough life issues. Not necessarily because that’s true. But because we “know” more people!

This could be depressing to think that our electronically expanded social circles simply bring us a barrage of bad news. But flip it on its head and consider the blessings of Go Fund Me pages and Caring Bridge sites. Without our ability to connect to larger audiences, we’d have smaller pools of folks contributing to good causes and fewer people praying for miracles and less donated meals to families with a sick kid.

Yes. Our social circles are larger thanks to social media. We have more “friends” than ever before. But what is our responsibility to respond when social media alerts us to the hardships of these friends? I’m not sure I’ve figured that out. But I know for certain I’m not supposed to just scroll.

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This Little Light of Mine

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Day two of dreary dampness here on the tundra. Folks in my neck of the northern plains can’t really complain though since we’ve been dodging the cold and snow more typical of this time of year. And yet, a sadness looms. Hearts are heavy as grief tries to inch some folks closer to despair. The world fallen. Cruelty, anger and suspicision create a fog that can be difficult to see through.

At least this is how I feel at the moment. Sad for lives lost. Frustrated by injustice. Fearful for the future.

I do not like to feel this way. I search for joy. For hope. I hug my kiddos. And admittedly, I am more excited than ever, at least since I was a child, to prepare my heart and home for Christmas. Truly a season of hope. Seriously, what is taking Thanksgiving so long to get here? I’m ready to get this holiday season started!

I will not grumble about dragging the boxes of decorations from storage. I will not lament a crowded grocery store. I will bake cookies and wrap presents and shine a light in the darkness. I do have power to be a joy-bringer. I may not be able to end the cruelty of hardened hearts or eliminate injustice. But I can offer hope, comfort and kindness to those living near me on this little patch of earth.

I can write notes of encouragement.

I can visit the lonely.

I can prepare food for the hungry.

I can do that thing where I offer to pay for the take-out order of the guy behind me in the drive-through line.

I can be forgiving to family members who irritate me.

I can be gentle with my children.

I can stop wishing for things to be easy and pray for the strength to tackle what is difficult.

I can pray for peace.

I can speak truth in love.

I can write a blog post that says you are loved. Because you are.

I can sing songs to God because I’m reminded of something so profound in a section of Nadia Bolz-Weber’s terrific book, Pastrix, where she says, “Singing in the midst of evil is what it means to be disciples. Like Mary Magdalene, the reason we can stand and weep and listen for Jesus is because we, like Mary, are bearers of resurrection, we are made new. On the third day, Jesus rose again, and we do not need to be afraid. To sing to God amidst sorrow is to defiantly proclaim… that death is not the final word. To defiantly say, once again, that a light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot, will not, shall not overcome it.

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Be a light for someone today my friends.

 

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Say No to “FOMO” Parenting

fomoRecently, I had the privilege of speaking to a local MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group. I guess they invited me because they assumed I’d have something inspiring to say since I was once a mother of preschoolers and have survived to tell the tales. I also initiated the launch of a local MOPS group approximately 10 years ago. There was a great need in our area for the type of nurturing support MOPS provides to mothers and their offspring, and that program continues to be attended by hoards of harried mamas each month. Praise the Lord.

So, what would I talk about with these young mothers whom I feared would look at me as if I could impart some great wisdom? Well, I attempted to talk about the universal mama burden of worry. I talked about how worry seems to begin in pregnancy when we fret about our blood pressure, glucose levels, prenatal vitamins, birth plans and getting registered for a car seat that ranks near the top of the Consumer’s Report.

How once the baby is born, we worry about its breathing, sleeping and eating. And then how worry can morph and grow like the blob oozing through a fictional town in a campy horror movie. We worry about crawling, walking, falling, screen time, vaccinations, bicycle helmets, bullies, environmental toxins, developmental milestones, swallowing quarters, swallowing Polly Pockets, swallowing Legos, toilet training, finding Legos in the toilet, homework, sports, piano lessons, voice lessons, swallowing beer, throwing up beer, ACT tests and college applications. This is only a basic list of typical mom worries but you catch my drift.

And what I’ve discovered over years of trying to manage my mental state when it comes to parental worry is that parents today have the added burden of abundant choices. Yes. Just as an immigrant mother once told me how she’d stood frozen in an aisle of canned tomatoes in an American grocery store unsure which to choose, so can American parents develop serious FOMO (fear of missing out) when considering all of the options we have for our children. Families are inundated with parenting options about everything from fitness to nutrition to education.

I think back to when I started kindergarten. It seems my mother simply found the school bus that came nearest our home and put me on board. I’m not sure she even knew exactly which school that bus took me to. But all of the other moms were doing the same thing, so I’m sure this gave her some confidence in making and sticking by her decision.

Contrast this simplification to today. In our hyper-competitive educational atmosphere, where parents seemed terrified that little Jane won’t get into the best college if she doesn’t attend the most dynamic and leadership-focused preschool, we have the added burden of choice. So many choices. Language immersion schools. Religious schools. Montessori schools. Classical education schools. Global learning schools. Play-based schools. Farm schools. And the worst part is that unlike when I was little, many parents seem to be doing something different. And they often want you to do what they’re doing because either they feel so strongly about their choice (bullies) or are secretly unsure of their choice and want you along to validate their decision (wimps).

Those who have a bit more sanity and who are less obsessed with making the “perfect” choices for their children in the arena of education may look around and wonder, “Is something wrong with me that I’m not freaking out over which school to send my 2-year-old to? Maybe I don’t love little Brenden as much as I should. I’m a terrible mother.” Then you flip through Instagram photos of moms who lost their baby weight in two weeks while you eat a box of SlimFast bars.

Now don’t get me wrong. Choice can be a good thing. I understand that not all square pegs will fit into one round hole of a single type of instructional method. But when we lack the community support provided by peers who are all pulling in the same direction, we can get caught up in second-guessing our decisions and this can make us miserable.

That’s why groups like MOPS are so important. We crave community. We crave reassurance and support. Now, of course not all the moms in whichever type of community group you choose are necessarily going to be making the same parenting decisions as you. But hopefully, you find a group of friends or mentors with whom you can talk through important parenting topics and gain a sense of confidence in your personal choices.

Like my international friend who was just looking for some canned tomatoes, maybe ask yourself if some of the decisions you’re afraid to make are truly going to ruin your sauce. Unlikely.

The things we worry about as mothers can be important but are rarely the most important. The most important thing is to raise moral and ethical children who love the Lord with all their hearts, minds and souls and who love their neighbors as themselves. When I was pregnant and really worried about the health of my unborn baby, my doc said something like, “You could have a perfectly healthy baby who grows up to steal twenty bucks out of your purse.” I think she was saying, there are no perfect children and no perfect parents.

If you’re going to worry about what they’re learning, this is the most important thing we need to teach them. And community groups for parents or circles of friends whose lives are rooted in biblical principals can help redirect our focus toward what’s most important. You may also find that learning to reduce your own anxiety when it comes to pursuing perfection for your kids may result in more confident, comfortable children who worry less about performance and pursuing perfection just to please you. Something to think about…

 

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Giving Myself Permission to Procrastinate

Photo Credit: theweek.com

Photo Credit: theweek.com

I knew I had a blog post scheduled for today and I had time to write it over the past week. But I procrastinated. I waited until the very last possible minute to spill my thoughts onto the page about… procrastination.

Allow me to illuminate my thought process on this particular topic. Because I tend to procrastinate and so the reasons behind my procrastination and whether I should try to correct this habitual behavior have occupied a fair amount of space in my brain as of late.

What I’ve come to believe about myself is this–I would not procrastinate unless I know I can get the task done. Eventually. And in a timely enough manner to satisfy whatever needs I have for control, accomplishment and not getting fired. For example, I’d already been noodling this topic and what I planned to say about it. So, I was not super concerned about how much time it would take to write about my conclusions. And what I’ve concluded, in addition to the fact that I would not procrastinate unless I had some confidence in my ability to perform under pressure, is that procrastinating and then stewing over it during the period of procrastination is a waste of time that I’ve gifted myself by procrastinating in the first place. Did you get that?

Typical procrastination for me goes kind of like this: I have a task that I don’t particularly feel like doing at the given moment (reasons for procrastination vary and I’ll address that shortly) So I put the task off. Then, in the free time I’ve just allotted myself by procrastinating, I wring my hands in shame and self-flagellation that I should be doing the task instead of say, taking a nap or reading a novel or shopping for a new outfit. Ultimately, I end up completing the task but have ruined any free time allotted via procrastination. The whole endeavor makes me think I should have just done the task earlier and saved myself the travel expenses associated with my guilt trip.

Same could be said for other lifestyle choices, like exercise, housekeeping and eating cake. If you’ve established a routine for regular exercise, cleanliness and healthy eating habits, (this first part is very important by the way) then why beat yourself up if you take a day off from the gym, scrubbing toilets or eat a piece of cake? We ruin what could be enjoyable experiences by shaming ourselves while we indulge in doing nothing or doing things that aren’t considered productive.

So when it comes to the temptation to procrastinate, I’ve decided to examine my reasons for doing it and then, if I conclude that I can indeed accomplish a given task later, I’ll refuse to ruin my freed up time with worry. If I determine that I can’t accomplish the task later without feeling overwhelmed or stressed, then I’ll just do the task earlier rather than wait. So once I’ve made a conscience decision to procrastinate, I’m gonna stand by that decision without agonizing about whether I should be making a different choice.

And so, why do we choose to procrastinate in the first place? Author and evangelical pastor Rick Warren suggests we do if for one of five reasons: indecision, perfectionism, fear, anger or laziness. I’d like to add my own category and that’s mood or inspiration. Sometimes, I just don’t feel like doing something. I’d rather take a nap, go for a walk or watch The Voice. But Warren’s reasoning seems legit, especially the first two–indecision and perfectionism–which seem to be two sides of the same coin if you ask me. But when one of these two behaviors plagues me, I’m reminded that indecision is a decision complete with its own set of consequences and need for accountability.

I don’t think I procrastinate out of fear or anger, although I love how Warren says that procrastination is sometimes a way of passive resistance, like a child sloooooowly picking up their toys. Any parent or manager of people might want to take note of this procrastination motivation.

And then there is plain ‘ol laziness. You may think this is synonymous with my “mood or need for inspiration” excuse, and you may be right. But guess what? I’ve considered the consequences of my actions and accept them with my head held high. I will not spoil my occasional desire to be lazy with guilt over not always being productive. Especially, if I’ve proven to myself that everything that needs to get done eventually gets done.

Hopefully, this post helps you process your own tendencies toward procrastination and that you’ll also stop beating yourself up for sometimes putting things off. And if this post made no sense at all, it’s likely because I wrote it in haste at the very last minute.

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