I had an awkward encounter on Facebook this week with my friend Beth. It went something like this:
Ouch. Beth is one of my best friends and I’m so sorry we had such a public disagreement. In our passion over colored nose dots, we forgot to put our clothes on.
You know, the clothes Paul talks about in Colossians.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3:12-14 (NIV)
I’ve seen a lot of naked people on social media recently. Without our covering of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, we have exposed our ugly sides.
It’s easy to do when we spend so much time on social media. We become comfortable and say things we may never say in person or in a crowded room. We don’t have to see each other wince when a tender spot is jabbed. Or sneer while dismissing an opinion. Or any of the other non-verbal cues that might tell us we’ve stepped over the line.
The next time we are tempted to post something controversial or opinionated, or respond to what someone else has posted, let’s remember to wear these clothes.
People hold opinions for all different reasons. Their beliefs and behaviors are shaped by their experiences and we may not know what has brought them to their deeply-held principles. If someone lashes out hurtfully on social media, choose to believe the best of them and remember these words from Will Bowen in his book Complaint Free Relationships:
Hurt people hurt people. We are not being judgmental by separating ourselves from such people. But we should do so with compassion. Avoid the reactive response of believing they are bad.
Kindness takes Compassion a step farther and accepts people for who and where they are. Kindness deals with others in the here and now, not the way we think they should be in our version of the future. It seeks to understand the other person’s view and how they came to hold that view because we value the person even if we disagree with the view. In her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions for Writing and Life (highly recommended read for all writers), Anne Lamott says
You can either practice being kind, or practice being right.
My friend Nicki Koziarz taught me what humility means. She says
Humility is laying down my agenda to serve God.
Sometimes that means I need to be quiet when I want to speak, because what I say reflects on my family, my ministry, my church and other places I serve. Beth and I both volunteer for a large women’s ministry. While most people understand that our personal opinions don’t necessarily reflect back on the beliefs of that ministry, our behavior does.
If someone scrolling through their newsfeed sees my encounter with Beth, would she think twice about engaging with the ministry we serve? Would she say
“If that is the kind of attitude they allow to serve, do I really want to be a part of what they are doing?”
“If they treat each other that way, how would they treat me?”
Clothed in humility, we protect those around us from suffering the unintended consequences of our behavior.
Be careful about the sneaky barbs. Most people know that #BlessYourHeart, #smh and #TSTL are internet lingo for “what you just said is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” Hiding behind cute hashtags (and smiley or winking emojis) doesn’t make it okay to say things that are hurtful or disrespectful.
I think it is safe to say that no one has been swayed to change their opinion by a social media rant or arrogant putdown. No, if someone’s heart and mind needs changing, it is more likely to come through a relationship developed over time and built by trust.
Let me give you an example. There are two guys on my Facebook timeline who have views very different from my own. I care about my relationship with both of them and enjoy keeping up with their lives and families. One of them posts with a dry sense of humor, maybe a little snarky, but the humor is usually directed at the issue, not the people. I feel safe engaging with him because I know he values our relationship over his opinions.
The other one is arrogant and condescending and seems to enjoy making people feel stupid. I’m scared to death to respond to one of his posts. Now, if I ever want to explore one of the ideas they believe in, which one do you think I will contact? The one that makes me feel safe and valued, or the one that makes me feel dismissed and stupid?
The short-term satisfaction of showing how right you are shuts the door on future openings to influence. Be patient and wait for door to open.
I’m not making light of the very serious issues we are facing today. We as Christians have a responsibility to stand up for what is right. There is even a place and time for righteous anger. And a way to privately engage in difficult conversations. But we can do it in ways that are inclusive, not divisive. Honoring, not disrespectful. Cloaked in love, not disregard.
However, sometimes even when we’ve done it the right way, we bump into someone else’s raw nakedness as they respond with ridicule and shame. In those times, we just forgive. As the Lord has forgiven us for our own rawness. We may need to restrict our interactions with that person to keep our hearts safe and our response blameless, and that’s ok.
If Beth and I had remembered our clothes that day, our conversation may have looked like this:
Then, when Beth starts to question her commitment to orange dots, she might be willing to come to me so we can explore it together. But instead, now I need to work on repairing our relationship and keeping the communication open.
Have you been running around naked on social media? Are you holding a grudge against someone you need to forgive? Or ask someone to forgive you?
It’s never too late to put on the love that binds us all together in perfect unity.