The other day, I was sitting at my computer when I was struck by the enormity of what I was doing. What was I doing? I was looking at a timeline, in real-time, of status updates that had been typed by friends around the world. From the comfort of my own kitchen table, I was watching the lives of hundreds of friends unfold, a few words at a time. And even more amazing, I could correspond with them instantly via my computer or my phone. And this was something that I have been doing nonchalantly for months, via the social network site Facebook.
There are a lot of opinions about social networking. I have to be honest and say that it has been an amazing help for me in what it allows me to do. Having moved a great deal with my family when I was younger, I have friends and acquaintances all over the United States. The Facebook platform allows me to stay current in what is happening in friends' lives, from the trivial ("Bologna for lunch again") to the exciting ("I'm going to be a mom!"). But as I sat there considering the amazing potential of just this single social networking tool, I started to compare its potential with how it is actually used.
Technology has been a blessing and a curse, possibly as far back as when man first bent some force of nature to his will. Television, with an amazing capability for instruction and enlightenment, is so often misused or used for wrong purposes. The computer age has both helped us and, sadly, made life more complicated. The Internet is a source of both good information and bad. Now pundits express a variety of opinions on what social networks might be doing to our relationships with real people, face to face.
It was while I was thinking about this that a friend shared a heartfelt plea via another social network. "There seems to be no shortage of discouragement and whining and arguing," she said. "You positive encouragers, speak up!! Share your awesome!" Her comment got right to the heart of what I find to be true of so much of what we say to one another, whether we're online or face to face. Given the power to speak to others--sometimes hundreds of others—we so often choose to whine. We complain. We make snippy comments about other people. We vent about our pet peeves. We argue and debate about topics that are barely worthy of conversation, let alone heated arguments. There are some days when it feels like every interaction with another person loads one's heart down with negatives.
Godly speech online
Of course, we all have times in our lives when we need to share the bad, hard things. That's what being real and vulnerable to one another is about. After all, in Galatians 6:2, we are commanded to “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” We can't bear a burden that we don't know about. On the other hand, a few verses later we read, “For each one shall bear his own load” (Galatians 6:5). This, too, is true. We all have a burden to bear. We can't possibly help anyone else with their burden if all we are doing is frantically unloading every burden we have onto them.
It does seem that one accomplishment of ready socialization via the Internet has been the breaking down of social boundaries. We have become much more open. Who hasn't heard of people who have been too open, at the cost of jobs and relationships? With the resulting casual approach to what we share, and when, and with whom, perhaps we have become people who are convinced that every thought is worth sharing...with everyone. Are we remembering to think before we speak, even if that "speaking" is done with a keyboard?
James said, “…If anyone does not stumble in word, he [is] a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body...But no man can tame the tongue. [It is] an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh [water] and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh” (James 3:2, 8-12). Christ, said that, “…out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). What do our words tell the world about us? What effect do they have on those who hear or read them?
In Philippians 2:4, we are instructed to look not only to our own interests, but to those of others. Communication is not just about the speaker, but also about the hearer. How will someone come away from talking with us? Will they feel encouraged and motivated, or just melancholy? Paul instructs us to “...encourage one another and build one another up...” (1 Thessalonians 5:11 English Standard Version).We are instructed in Ephesians 5:18-21 to, “...be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God.”
Proverbs 12:25 puts it plainly: “Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad.” We all have our share of depression and anxiety. It takes a resilient heart to battle against the bad news that fills our world. How are we doing at looking to the interests of our fellow walkers? Are we singing to them, encouraging them, or are we just adding to the flood of negativity that swirls around us all?
We need to reflect on the incredible power of our words, whether shared online, in a letter, or spoken. We need to carefully consider how many of our words are encouraging and how many are negative. When our heart speaks through our mouth, what sort of abundance is shown? When we share our burdens, do we do so carefully, considering the weight we put onto another's shoulders?
I was so thankful that my friend's message caught me at a time when I was willing to listen. It was the spur I needed to see my words and their power anew. Who is waiting for you to "share your awesome"? Who needs you to be a positive encourager?
For more information on what changes God expects from us, read the Bible study aid Transforming Your Life: The Process of Conversion.