Real Life vs. Online Relationships

These peonies are from a new friend I met through this blog. I received these in person...

Blogging and social networking is a peculiar part of the current ethos. Whereas relationship was once about sitting down over lunch with another person, friendship is now accessible through the written word, through blogging, through "likes" and comments. It could be argued that relationships formed online can be like pen pals of "old"...but with the airmail bird tweeting and instant messaging back and forth throughout a day. Some might consider these relationships disingenuous, lacking the substance of relationships in one's immediate circle and community. Still some, while in a season of being closely tied to home with young children, may find great community and encouragement with likeminded folks found through blogs and forums. Regardless of where you land on the spectrum, each one of us is connected at some level to relationships via the internet.

These are some of my convictions and how you might consider your time building friendships online:

1. Friendships are relational and not informational.

Simply observing someone's life doesn't make you friends. It's a friendship when there is a connection through engaging about mutually meaningful aspects of life. Inherent in any friendship is communication and exchange. People's lives are abundantly accessible in our day and age...but that doesn't mean that we actually know or understand one another better, truly. It takes walking with someone to really know their stride and the road they are on. This can absolutely happen through online friendships (I've met some wonderful friends through the blog!) but it's limited when you only see one side of a person's life.

2. Online relationships cannot replace real life investment within the church.

If online relationships and connections to others was simply made through the books we read and the podcasts we watch, then there really wouldn't be any need for the church. But we are meant to be in community, locally. Intimately. Vulnerably. Intentionally. Real people have real struggles, real idiosyncrasies, real conflicts, real sin. It's difficult to truly carry one another's burdens if we are not living life on life in real time.

3. Providing a meal does matter.

Serving one another in real life relationships takes sacrifice. It sometimes requires rearranging a schedule, setting aside money, doing someone else's dishes, visiting at the hospital, taking a dinner when someone is in need. Love shown through kind words and faithful prayers are absolutely real acts of love, but caring for physical needs and tangible acts of service are the privilege of real life relationships.

4. Online relationships should serve to encourage us to be more present, not less.

If you find that you're more apt to sit in front of the computer for hours rather than invite a friend over for a visit, you are probably experiencing some imbalance here! There is blessing through online encouragement--whether it be through trusted sites of favorite pastor-teachers, or through a cherished blog--but that nourishment should always point us toward greater faithfulness in the life the Lord's give us--right where we are in real life. Not the life we wish we had. Not the life someone else has. Not the life we hope to have someday...but faithful in the very people and circumstances of our daily lives.

...I had the unique privilege of welcoming a new blog friend into my home. We had visited one another's blogs long before either of us realized that she and her family recently moved to the city I live in. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that we were in each other's community. She and two of her little ones came over for breakfast and a visit. How natural it feels to begin a friendship when you already know little pieces of each other's lives. And yet, no photograph or video blog can truly capture a person's laugh, personality, or way with their kids. It is a privilege to be real life friends. To pair a thought read with a life shared. To remember a struggle described in the light of a trial disclosed. To observe more than sweet images of one's children, but to see a real mom in action.

Each relationship in life is purposeful and significant in unique ways. All true friendships require time, energy, and vulnerability. For those of us who make a home online, let's cultivate those relationships wisely...nurturing the ones that spur us on, but planting ourselves intentionally within our real life communities.