Your Online Cup of Tea
Social media has been both a blessing and a curse in many ways. Yes it helps us keep in touch and relate to each other like never before. But it can also distort how we view relationships. Left unchecked it can make us feel like we are the centre of a vast world where everything we say or do is just as important to others as it is to us. Even looking at the friends bar on Facebook, it can feel like, all these people are online but no one wants to talk to you. I know it’s silly, but I’m sure there are many such examples that many of us experience. This need for attention that we all have can cause us to twist and distort reality. As someone who is constantly aware of his attention-seeking tendencies, I know too well how true that is. I saw this post on Facebook which best illustrated the way some of us can feel when we over think and get panicked in this way:
“When people don’t reply to your messages..
Social Anxiety :
They hate you deep down.
They don’t respect you enough to reply.
You’re not important.
They think they’re better than you.
You said something wrong months ago and now they’re holding it against you, treating you passive aggressively.
They don’t care.
You’re a fool.”
An extreme example perhaps, but the point is quite clear. Attention from our fellow human beings is good. We were made for fellowship. Because ultimately, we were made in the image of the Trinity, an eternal fellowship. Satisfaction comes by joining them in that loving relationship forever. Flourishing and fulfilment is found by being persons, not individuals. We image this very love by relating to others the right way. And love requires giving attention to something other than ones self. A loving relationship requires receiving attention back. So having people give you attention is a good thing.
But like anything good, misuse will bring about bad results. This is something that I experience constantly. When I give other people, relationships or anything, a place in my heart that only God is meant to have, trouble starts. That thing, whatever it is, was never meant to bear that weight. Nor was I ever meant to be satisfied by it. Putting it there places the object out of the context for which it was designed, distorting the good. And it hurts me, since I’m no longer functioning as I should. Nobody wins. It’s lose lose.
I turn it into an idol. An inadequate substitute for God. “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water (Jeremiah 2:13).”
But God is the only one that can quench the thirst of our souls and free us to live as we ought. “Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty… If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water (John 6:35, 7:37-38).'”
In order to try and illustrate how idolatry distorts things, let me use a Space analogy.
The idol of attention puts me at the centre of the solar system. Replacing the true sun, God, with myself and expecting all to revolve around me. But in reality I’m like the moon, I don’t have the gravity to keep everyone in orbit. I cannot keep their attention forever and at all times. I don’t even have any light of my own. I’m meant to reflect. In this position, I am darkness. And since I don’t shine, I don’t see others rightly. They become just distorted as myself. The worse I get, the worse I see or experience them. That’s how friendships and good things are destroyed.
And when I persist and try to force everything to be about me, I become like a black hole. A star that has collapsed in on itself under the weight of its own gravity. Pulling and destroying everything around it. This is what the idol of attention seeking does. It makes us collapse in on ourselves, under the misguided weight of our own importance. Destroying those around us. Until we’re left alone.
But when God is the centre of our lives and we reflect him. We are all free. We delight in each other because of God’s light which we reflect. By Him, we see each other as we ought “in your light we see light (Psalm 36:9.” We become who we were meant to be. With God at the centre, my life and everything in it, revolves around the One absolute. Things may come and go, circumstances may change but I’ll still have my orbit. I’ll still have my warmth. My light.
To sum it up, if you make it about yourself, that you** which you’re presenting to others isn’t a you that’s worth being known anyways. But when Jesus is your life, your identity and when you’re worth comes from Him, things are set right. You will be a blessing to others. And you will be free to enjoy others without distorted expectations. Expectations which they could never meet anyways. Because the only One fit to bear that weight already does. He alone is the “friend that sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24).”
This idol can also leave us too sensitive and easily hurt by others. Believe me, I know. I’m not like I was in my teens (apologies to all who had to experience that). Nor am I the same as one year ago (I owe this to many people but one friend in particular who stuck with me). However, reading into things and being overly sensitive are still vices I face. I may react better, but I don’t always feel better.
So when dealing with others, remember: they are sinners too. Remember they are sinners. Don’t expect them to be perfect. We so often are shocked or act scandalised when others mess up. “Oh it’s over now,” I’ve often thought, “who needs them anyways!”. Making it all about me, puts unrealistic expectations on others and treats them like discardable objects. But they are not objects for my satisfaction. They are people. Persons. They think and have feelings too. They have worth. Value. I can’t treat relationships lightly. Like something that can be bought for cheap. Like something that can be switched on or off. Like something that can be erased completely at the click of the button. And most of the time, we don’t even throw away our clothes just cause of a stain. People do have off days. And some days, they just won’t get along with you. Even God, perfect as He is, keeps in mind that we are weak (Psalm 103:14).
Remember, they are sinners too**. Too. You are no piece of cake either. And if you can disappoint yourself, why can’t others get slack when they disappoint you? Or why can’t others ever be disappointed with or upset by you?
These issues aren’t minor. In fact the grand narrative of the Bible is the redemption of our broken relationships, with God, others, nature and ourselves. When Adam and Eve broke fellowship with God, they separated from life Himself. It killed their relationship with each-other, and it killed their relationships with themselves. Sin brought separation, which is death. It corrupted everything, returning us back to nothingness. To dust. It separates each of us from God, from each other and at death, from ourselves. That is why God sent His Son to earth. Jesus took on our nature, our fallenness, our corrupted humanity and healed it. He showed us how to live with others and gives us the power to do the same. He faced death and defeated it, granting Resurrection and immortality to all in the future. Uniting us back to ourselves. But he didn’t stop there. He ascended to Heaven, elevating humanity to God. To an even higher degree of glory and life than before. Offering forgiveness and reconciliation to anyone who wants it. When we are united to Christ, we aren’t being given just any old relationship with the Trinity, but the very life and relationship that they enjoy in themselves. It’s only here that we will be satisfied. It’s only from this vantage point that we can love others as we ought. And be loved as we ought.
We are to love one another as Christ loved us. This love doesn’t wait to be loved back in order to act. Nor is this its ultimate motivation. As scripture says “This is love: not that we loved God, but he loved us, and gave his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:10).”
Do I have the power to do this on my own? No.
Is it going to be easy? No. It will be a constant battle to bring my weakness and feelings to Christ, while asking for the strength to do what you know is right.
Will He be with me as I do it? Always.
This year, as I continue to battle with finding contentment in Christ, I am both challenged and encouraged by my one of my favourite verses. May God use it to help you too.
“When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,
I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.
Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.”