I have joined many parenting- and homeschool-related Facebook groups over the last few years, as well as groups for mom bloggers. Most of the groups I belong to were started by Christian women seeking to help others.
I think it’s fun to log on, see what people are asking about, give a short answer, and move on to the next item in my news feed, because I enjoy the apparent efficiency of digital communication. It’s on my time, and my terms. I answer what I want, when I want. I can think about what I want to say, write and edit and rewrite until I’m satsified. It feels good to think I might have helped someone work out a problem. So that’s a good thing—right?
Not when you realize the extent to which we can choose what we want to reveal and conceal, and the lack of consequences if we don’t exercise wisdom and discernment. I believe these are reasons Facebook groups offer an enticing alternative to personal discipleship.
Facebook is a place where you can control exactly what people can learn about you. Your profile, photos, likes—these all create a picture of who you are that might not be an accurate representation of how you really live your life.
You’d think this power would lead more people to create a fantasy life where their house is clean and beautiful, their children are wonderful, their husband is thoughtful and handsome. A few people do this, but what I’ve seen is mostly the opposite. Nearly every post, and every answer to a post, is a complaint. Some threads look like a competition on the My Life Is A Bigger Disaster Than Yours game show.
Because online relationships tend to be shallow or just flat out nonexistent, answers may be harsh and tactless, glib and thoughtless, or full of affirmation and sympathy. I can sometimes picture the women quickly typing out their answers, taking out their frustrations on a stranger, or patting themselves on the back for their sharp wit, or commiserating and feeling justified for their own discontent—none of which is truly focused on the benefit of the questioner.
Then in my mind I see the author on a rollercoaster ride over these answers, feeling by turns hurt, irritated, and then vindicated by the posts they choose to acknowledge, because they were looking for substantiation, not for truth.
Although we still have the opportunity to give an answer from Scripture to any question one might pose, true discipleship is based on relationship with, and knowledge of, the other person. So in spite of the fact that many share very intimate details of their lives in these groups, they are sharing intimacies with strangers.
Earlier I mentioned the “apparent efficiency” of digitial communication, but communication is more than simply conveying information. There also needs to be understanding, trust, and connection. Online conversations lack these essential elements:
- Knowledge of the details of the other person’s life
- Nonverbal cues like facial expressions, posture, eye contact, touch, and the use of personal space
- Tone of voice
- Instincts based on the consistency of a person’s message with their body language
- Immediate feedback
- Observing whether words match up with actions
If the goal of communication is understanding, then online conversations are seldom efficient, even if it feels like I’m doing a world of good with 15 minutes on social media.
I also think women are more susceptible to replacing spiritual mentors with Facebook groups. Women enjoy communicating their thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and we feel enormous satisfaction from personal connections. Even a simple question about buying a car seat takes several paragraphs of back story becasue we crave kinship. So online you not only tell your tale with no worries about being confronted with facts, you can fool yourself and everyone else, pretending to seek answers when what you really want is emotional gratification.
There are days when I scroll past question after question about serious family and health issues, and I wonder why these women place so much trust in strangers. Why aren’t they confiding in their friends? Why aren’t they being discipled in their churches?
True friends keep us humble by reminding us to be grateful for our blessings. They can rebuke us because they know our flaws and have our best interests at heart. They help us find clarity in our situation based on their personal knowledge of our lives and the possible repercussions of our actions. And true discipleship comes from the same place as friendship; a genuine investment in the well-being of another person.
There are plenty of questions that are great for a social media platform like Facebook, but those involving serious personal and family issues should be taken to the Scriptures for study and contemplation, to the Lord in prayer, and then to a spiritual mentor who possesses wisdom and experience.