Recently, I took myself on a little break from Facebook. I’d originally joined at the request of my mom. Over the years it has prompted me to talk more to one of my brothers and I get pictures of my nieces and nephew. But a recent comment by an acquaintance after the birth announcement of our youngest daughter caused me to pull back. The familiarity of her words was not born of connection but of access and it gave me pause.
For tweens and teens to have tangential connections to each other based on proximity is to be expected, but for adults, presumably, we should desire something more than a Facebook profile that says Status: “So and so is in a relationship.” However, we are and were created to long for communion and for community. We can have a class or a campus or job or home or even a world full of people and feel lonely because we lack or have damaged a singular or intimate connection. What we are really observing in that achy moment of loneliness, is an awareness of our need for love, both to be loved and to love, and on a deeper level, that disconnect we have from the One who is love.
Being fallen, we often lack the energy or the courage to do the hard work of creating long term fellowships that hold weight and meaning. Long term permanent ties mean there will be sacrifice, suffering, growth, failure, struggles we cannot imagine, joys we cannot anticipate. The process of encountering others requires we surrender ourselves to the process. Sublimation runs counter to the worldly view of relationships. Because we are fallen, we do not hold faith in our own or others capacity to remain true. Original sin was our failure to be faithful to God, author of all Love. Absent trust that God can make up the difference between flawed creatures such as ourselves, we set up barriers to intimacy even in the most important of relationships. It is why we don’t go to mass; it is why we don’t seek confession; it is why we allow ourselves to sin and to rationalize our sin. It is why we busy ourselves like Martha rather than allowing ourselves to be drawn into contemplative prayer like Mary. In our vulnerability, we seek to be sought, but never fully captured by love. We want all the feelings but none of the consequences, because all consequences of love are eternal; they require we invest ourselves forever. But we still feel that ache and need for connection even if we seek to avoid being challenged and transformed by that desire. Being fallen, we see substitutes and shortcuts.
This is part of why Facebook I suspect is so popular. Having 323 friends and 21 updates makes one feel noticed and connected, even if the messages are “Need diet coke.” And “Indigo! I hope we win.” While some of these friendships are with those with whom we long to have deeper connections, most are acquaintances with whom we have a tangential relationship, like a shared high school, or preference for Princess Bride quotes. What the neat column of thumbnail pictures and little throw away lines and “likes” cannot do however, is establish or promote true friendship. We like having the large number of friends, but do we love these people we claim to like?
True relationships are based on intimacy. If none of those friends can be phoned or invited over or are allowed any connection other than a controlled message –we never experience true friendship or the opportunity to develop a sense of the other person’s presence through the sharing of stories, joys, sufferings and hopes. We are never pushed to connect with them, and vice-versa. We remain chatty islands in the cyber ocean. Facebook and virtual friends keep people at a safe and controllable distance. It means we are never challenged in our relationships to grow, to be more, to do more, to listen more or to give of ourselves beyond our own comfort level. Being made in His image, face to face, we cannot help pushing and pulling people to be more. Real relationships, be they husband and wife, mother and daughter, friend or co-worker, require something of us.
The relationship we have with God through His son is frightening in part because we want to keep God at a safe distance, for a rainy day or an emergency. When we come to mass, we are invited to have a true friendship with Jesus. I admit to being uncomfortable with the phrase, “What a friend we have in Jesus.” It sounds corny and overly familiar. It implies a connection and intimacy that I both welcome and find uncomfortable acknowledging. The disconnect is all my own. I know we cannot be too familiar with Jesus because He Knows us intimately. Jesus didn’t just tell people what He thought. He fed them. He healed them. He was moved by their presence and their needs. He walked amongst them and sat in their midst and took pleasure in their conversations and hospitality and homes. He connected far beyond what any who encountered Him expected, and that personal intimacy transformed every life He touched. The woman at the well said, “Come and see this man who has told me everything I have ever done.” She is transformed from the woman who came to the well alone, to a person who reaches out fearlessly publicly and personally to invite everyone else in the town to come and experience that Connectedness, that intimacy. We all have that opportunity to be the woman at the well.
Jesus is a tender friend; He cannot be otherwise if we seek him. To become connected to Christ is to allow an ocean of love to crash over and envelope one’s self. To seek to develop one’s friendship with Christ’s is to ask to be transformed from someone who is trying to keep God and others as Facebook status type acquaintances to a person who creates and seeks to build true community, true connection. And when we finally seek Christ and allow Him to transform us, we will not just “Like” other people, we’ll Love them.
Copyright 2011 Sherry Antonetti