Friday, December 10, 2010

I Ignore “Friend” Requests.

I loved Jimmy Kimmel’s “National UnFriend Day (NUD).” Go out to your list of friends, and drop anyone who you don’t actually know. I say, be really daring and drop anyone you aren’t actually glad you know. I didn’t see the results – was there a substantial drop in Facebook “Connections” November 17th? Why is it that people are racing to build bigger friend lists, instead of better friends? While I love reconnecting with old allies and enduring my aunts’ harassment through the medium, I worry sometimes that future generations – or possibly all of us – won’t be willing to contemplate ideas that can’t be expressed in 40 characters or less, and that our drive for “networking” is going to undermine our right to privacy and ability to form genuine relationships.

So – some people already know this, because they “friended” me and didn’t hear back – I frequently ignore “friend” requests. The fact of the matter is that I post photos of my kids, share highlights of my vacations, sing off-tune birthday songs, and occasionally mention body functions on my Facebook page. Facebook isn’t a “virtual town square,” it’s my “virtual living room.” So the length of my friend-list doesn’t correlate with my self-esteem. If I don’t want to invite you into my living room, I don’t. What’s more, I get frustrated when my “friends” don’t show more discernment, because I feel angst every time I choose the “friends of friends” setting, knowing that some of my friends are indirectly opening up my virtual living room to 650-2000 of their closest loved ones. I only wish I could selectively open things up to “friends of friends who have less than 200 friends,” so my husband’s friends could view photos without letting in whole villages in Paraguay, or whatever other strangers someone’s “friended.”

But, especially for those who have been cast out of my virtual living room, I thought you should know that withholding my friendship isn’t just for the virtual world. I do it all the time in the actual world, as well. I find myself turning down “friend” requests nearly every time I go out in public. Last night, it was closing time at Target, and I found myself in an absurdly familiar situation.

The checker was somewhat younger than me, and exceptionally gracious and friendly while she beeped my goods, despite it being 15 minutes to close and her looking quite obviously pregnant. Grateful for her good nature, I proffered a friendly comment, commiserating about the late hour and our need for rest while gestating. This small kindness quickly mushroomed, as her eyes brightened and she began to share with me about her kids, her military-induced cross-country moves, the names they are considering for their new son, etc., etc.. I engaged in friendly chatter with her, finding out our due dates are just a few days apart, and smiling at her young kids’ reactions to having another brother. By the time the transaction was complete, I was ready to go and they were dimming the lights, so I gathered my bags and tried to end the exchange on a caring note, offer my hope that everything would go well for them and God would bless their growing family.

Her friendly demeanor turned serious, and she looked a little stunned, reengaging me into the conversation to tell me about the recent loss of their infant son while he was at daycare, the hardship of working alternate shifts with her husband, because they are petrified to put their kids back in daycare, how she had become pregnant with this baby despite her husband’s vasectomy when the last son was born, and how amazing it was that they were having another child after their huge loss. I don’t remember what all I said to her, except that I tried to be compassionate and acknowledge the gravity of what she was sharing, even while feeling the extreme awkwardness of the closing store and her stunning revelations to a stranger. Maybe I should have taken her out for a coffee, invited her to church, or given her my phone number. Her deep and obvious need for a caring friend tugged at my conscience, but I wasn’t prepared to make friends at Target at 11pm, with a full bladder, sore feet, and a burden of bags. So I called her by name, told her my name, and told her that I hope we run into each other again, which is somewhat likely, because we live in the same town and she works where I shop.

I really do hope I run into her again. And I really have prayed for her family and the healing that is still ahead for them. But I already have 108 friends I struggle to keep up with, and I just wasn’t prepared to add a new one last night. Maybe God will put her in my path again to remind me that she could use a friend – or maybe last night God just wanted her to hear it from the mouth of a stranger that her family is in the tender care of the Divine. Maybe that was enough.

So don’t get mad if I don’t “friend” you. I’m a heartless, emotional recluse who won’t even “friend” a sweet, young mom who’s enduring the hardest trial this world has to offer and melted at a stranger's casual offer of a blessing.

When others are happy, be happy with them, and when they are sad, be sad. Be friendly with everyone. Romans 12:15-16a

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