FORT LEE, Va. (March 17, 2011) -- This past Christmas, I went to a church that told the Christmas Story through a contemporary media - Facebook. Mary reached out to tell her boyfriend, Joseph, that she was pregnant, and the audience saw the story of Christmas unfold using online social networking.
It was an impressive way to tell an old story through an updated method. Someone sitting next to me asked, "What is Facebook, and why is it in church?" My explanation took some time and, as you might guess, was not received well.
I, frankly, do not know too many people who do not use some form of online social networking! We connect and communicate with others in ways that was only dreamed about just 20 years ago. But, just what does all this mean to our primary relationships? As one chaplain friend of mine said, "If you are looking for a mate, the ‘hunting field' has now been expanded to the whole world." How true! Through the technology of today's Internet, we can connect with thousands of people around the world. This is both exciting and dangerous!
So, how do you take care of your relationships in an online world? The answers to this will seem simple and straightforward, but nonetheless true. Here are my suggestions:
1. Be open and honest with those you care about in all that you do online. Secret online relationships have a tendency of being exposed (I will explain later in 3).
2. If you are in a committed relationship or marriage and things are bad, don't attempt to "fix" things by engaging someone online who promises to listen, but potentially could draw you away from your marriage partner. Many times our attempts to "fix" things only makes things worse by creating a secret life, and thus a bad marriage is made worse through deception.
3. Don't "hang out" on online social networking sites looking for someone who will listen to your relationship problems if you are in a committed relationship. My guess is you will find someone, but they might be in a similar situation. Doing this is equivalent to going to a singles bar every night and letting others know you are available or just want someone to talk to. So how does one's partner "find out" about all these escapades? It is my belief that relationship energy is diverted from the primary person in your life and is directed to that other person who "listens" and seems to "care" about you. Your spouse or significant partner can tell "something is wrong" and starts to probe and ask questions. It does not take long before all the secrets are out in the open.
Taking care of your relationships requires the following simple tips:
1. Get help early when things are going bad. Seek professional counseling or ask your chaplain to include you in the next Strong Bonds Retreat.
2. Use the Internet in a way that respects its power as well as its benefits. As in all powerful tools, using them appropriately can make our lives exciting and rewarding or failing to use them wisely can bring heartache and pain.
3. Always remember that open and honest communication with those you love will foster trust and intimacy - two foundation blocks of a solid relationship.
God wants you to have good relationships. From the beginning, God designed us for relationships, i.e., not to be alone. I would encourage you to couple these brief suggestions with your faith to create lasting and rewarding relationships. This can be the best way to care for your relationships in an online world.