Thursday, 24 March 2011

Halfway there but a long way to go

Well, Lord, any time now I think Lent is about halfway through.  Is that right?  


Are we half way to Easter?  It seems like ages since I last looked at Facebook. I've channelled all Facebook related email into one email account and although I haven't checked the messages the little icon on the screen told me how many there were and when the messages were arriving; but after a few days they seemed to dry up completely, so I suspect that my little corner of FB world is quiet and desolate.  


If you don't talk to people, they don't talk to you.  I guess that's fair. It was quite sobering to note how quickly the gap I left healed up, mind you.


I never had any idea that giving up Facebook for Lent was going to be so controversial, Lord.  When I said I was going to do it a few people said that I'd never manage it, others objected because they didn't want to have fewer people to talk to, and I do believe a few people really thought they'd miss me. While being reluctant to give up my online support network and major daily source of entertainment, it didn't really cross my mind that I might not be doing the right thing.


You see, I saw it as the temporary removal of an obstacle; something that got in the way of the me-and-you-ness that should occupy the number one spot in my life.  Sometimes, though I'm embarrassed to admit it, Facebook was the first thing I checked in the morning before I read my Bible, and the last thing I checked at night before I put the light out (or indeed just after that, sometimes). 


Since it was available on my phone as well it was easy to have a quick look when waiting for an appointment, or at the school gates, or even a bit of a browse while watching TV.  A beep alerted me to a new post, and so I was always only a couple of clicks away from my Facebook buddies.  That's how committed I was; or obsessed, or addicted...whichever way you want to look at it. 


I wanted to put you back in your rightful place at the beginning and end of the day, and if I wanted to fill my head with something, I wanted it to be you.  


Also, as I found Facebook to be such a wonderful support network I'd become accustomed to posting something if I'd had a bad day, or was worried about something - and my first call should have been to you.  I know that the support offered by friends on FB has been great; I don't for one moment think that it is wrong, or bad, and that's why giving it up for Lent isn't something that I think everyone should be doing.  I don't believe that for a minute.  


But for me, it's about getting things in proportion.  Re-ordering. Remembering life before Facebook and making sure that my emotional crutches are the right ones.  I do need something to lean on, and that someone should first and foremost be you.


I'll be back on Facebook after Easter, and I hope I won't immediately go back to my old ways.  I don't think I will as I've noticed the time I have gained by keeping away and I've been spending more of that time with you.  I've spent more time reading the Bible, reading things that wise and devout men and women of God have said about the Christian life and thinking about you, and about me, and about you-and-me.  


I've spent more time in prayer (perhaps not as much as I should - am still working on this) and more time writing here.  I feel as if this time is some use to me.  


It's like a mini-retreat; retreating from Facebook.


I was concerned lest I became a news addict instead of the FB addiction but I have to say that I've found it too depressing and so it's been easy not to click the news icons when I'm surfing the net or fiddling with my phone.  


I've run out of 'coins' to play my favourite online game and since you can only get more by logging on to Facebook that's been packed away for the duration too.  


I find that a Bible verse or a thought from one of the devotion apps might stick in my mind all day and in those moments waiting for the children outside school or lying in bed I'm mulling it over.  Facebook never quite gave such food for thought. Pondering my next status update never fed my soul in the same way.  Funny, that. 


So I'm glad that I'm doing this, and at the same time looking forward to coming online again and sending out a few virtual hugs, should anyone still want to talk to me.  I'm missing the ease with which you can catch up with someone; with a few words you can offer support, love, sympathy - share joy or humour or sadness with someone.  That's harder to do without this medium.  Indeed, I know that there are some people who've been wanting support that hasn't been forthcoming because of this.  I don't know what to think.  Can it be the case that in doing something that's good for me, I'm hurting someone else?  Surely not.  It isn't the only way someone might ask for help, is it? There's still email, the phone, the mobile, a postcard, the doorbell?  


But these last few weeks I have felt moderately guilty on several occasions.  I've had criticism for this thing that I'm doing. I'm perhaps not picking up the slack as I should; maybe I've whipped away another person's emotional crutch, albeit temporarily, and I haven't replaced it with something else.  Should I have?  Could I have known? 


In church I've been finding that I've wanted to stay longer; to linger after services to chat to people, whereas I've always thought, 'Ah well, I can catch up online later'. Maybe the replacement of virtual chats with real ones is something special!  But if someone isn't at church, it was so easy to send a quick message to say, 'hello, are you alright?' but to make a phone call seems that bit more trouble and is easy to find that you've timed out and it's no longer appropriate.  


Some people have argued that Christians should not be giving up Facebook at all as their voice should be heard, and especially heard in this run up to the most important Christian festival of the year.  We should be proclaiming our faith, broadcasting what we believe, instead of retreating from the scene to look inwards.  What do you think, God?  


I feel mildly convicted that I don't very often make reference to my faith in my status reports on Facebook.  I do honestly try never to say anything that I feel is incompatible with my faith, but having the Vicar and several other clergy-people as Facebook Friends tends to help with that.  I never get involved in the odd online bickering session I've come across and have been known to decline an offer of friendship with someone that I know would be a negative presence. I hope that I have an integrity which is in keeping with what I know you would want. No reason to behave online any differently from the way you would face to face.  


I'm learning. I'm learning lots about communication, about hurt feelings, and support networks, and how one person's actions affect other people like ripples on a pond.  


I'm learning that you can do something with the best of intentions, and yet still find that other well intentioned people oppose you.  


I'm learning that technology can indeed facilitate relationships, and not impede them. 


I'm learning that some people find online relationships much easier to manage than real ones, and can be far more open and honest when not face to face.  


I'm learning about my own somewhat addictive personality and my tendency not to do things in moderation. 


I'm learning that people care and are missing me. 


A learning curve indeed. I found the first few days hard; my fingers were itching to check Facebook. I missed the humour and wit that often made me smile on a grim day. I missed having my four penneth on many and varied subjects that I knew something or nothing about. I'll be glad to be back. 


But you can see in my heart, Father God, and you know that this little exercise is all for you. 


I'm learning that you honour any effort made to spend more time with you. If I don't waste time, you don't waste time. I'm learning more and more about how you love me, how you want me to learn, how you want me to experience you for Real, and not in a virtual way. 


I'm halfway there. Still seems a long way to go.

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