Social Media Theology: The "Un-Friending"

"I hope I didn't offend you."

I looked up from my plate of okra, tomatoes, and black-eyed peas to see "Joe," an acquaintance in the community. He looked strangely repentant. Mouth full, I raised an eyebrow in question. He sat down.

"I tried to tag you in a photo on Facebook, and you weren't there."

I smiled as Joe looked down at his hands, even more repentant.

"I thought maybe I'd offended you, and you'd uh --"

"Un-friend-ed you?" I interrupted him.

Joe looked directly at me.

"I didn't un-friend you, Joe," I said. "I deactivated my Facebook account. That's why you couldn't tag me in the photo."

Joe's face lifted. "So, you didn't un-friend me?"

"No, but if you read my blog, you'd have known that." (Now ends this brief public service announcement) :)

I understand Joe's sensitivity. The first time I realized that someone had deliberately gone to my page, clicked on "un-friend," and sent me into their Facebook past, I was irritated. How dare someone who had requested to be my friend take back that request! Was I not good enough for the company of their 1000 other friends? Did I post something offensive? Had I done something wrong? Frustration quickly gave way to self doubt and eventually to acceptance that the un-friending was not all about me.

In the world of social media, the internet, and email, we are a very connected people. Some of those connections are good, and some of them could benefit from a little un-friending. Sometimes strong friendships can take a turn for the worse. An argument. Long-held grudges coming to the surface. Growing pains. Life happening. Jealousy developing. Common ground wearing away. We find ourselves needing space from each other. Such conflicts do not necessarily mean we cut all ties to each other. We know that conflict is a part of life and often strengthens relationships. However, as the writer of Ecclesiastes sings about life's seasons, we recall "a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing." (Ecclesiastes 3:5, New Revised Standard Version)

Sometimes we need to hash out our stones together, and other times we need to deal with the weighty stones of our lives separately. Sometimes we need to tell each other everything, and other times we need to hold back in our words. Does this mean that we're harboring unforgiveness or avoiding reconciliation?

I don't think so.

Un-friending in real life, or changing our connections, is sometimes the space needed for forgiveness. Once we search our own hearts and invite God to show us where we need to give or receive forgiveness, reconciliation becomes a possibility. I applaud Joe for having the courage to inquire about a changed connection. That conversation turned out to be a humorous blog promotion. However, if there had been a problem between us, his humility would have created a wonderful opportunity for conversation!

The longer I'm away from Facebook, the more clearly I see that un-friending in social media or in real life is not necessarily a bad thing. It simply indicates change. Healthy questions can arise from that change. Why has this friendship changed? Was this ever a truly healthy connection? What about me, with God's help, needs to change?

May this Lenten journey continue to change us from the inside out as we draw near to the cross that changed all of us into eternal friends of God.

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian

P.S. Friends, this musing is intended primarily for friendships, not marriages. If you and/or your spouse are struggling more than usual, please contact a licensed counselor or family therapist to work through the changes of your lives.