A New Gift from an Old Friend

I try not to get too involved with Facebook. Sometimes this is difficult, because using and understanding Facebook is part of my job, and because Facebook has also been a great way to keep in touch with friends and family on opposite sides of the country. And yet it is not difficult to see how Facebook has fostered a rampant societal narcissism, filled with people who are publishing online fictions of their “lives,” portraying themselves as they wish to be seen, rather than who they truly are. It is a false interaction, and a spiritually dangerous place for those who are not careful.

For this reason, I tend to share very little about my personal life on Facebook. Apart from occasional prayer requests and the odd re-share of goofy pictures and videos and whatnot, most of my Facebooking is passive: viewing pictures of my nieces’ and nephews’ latest antics, reading news about friends’ job searches. Things like that. I do my best to ignore the grandstanding, politics, whining, and announcements about one’s latest bowel movement or trip to the grocery store. I make judicious use of the “hide story” option and customized feed lists to keep this detritus out of my main feed. (I’m not trying to thump my chest and brag about my own Facebook self-control or technological prowess–far from it. By all means, everyone who uses Facebook should learn how to use the site’s tools to shield themselves from unwanted content, and I’d be happy to show anyone how if they would like to know.)

But something happened to me recently on Facebook that has unnerved me a bit. In truth, it has unnerved me far more than it should have. I have discovered that someone I know–one of my best friends, in fact–rejected my recent Facebook friend request. Not only did they reject the request, but they did so by blocking me–utterly obliterating my name from their Facebook universe, and becoming totally invisible to me on Facebook in the process.

I know that this should not bother me–and it really shouldn’t, as I’ll describe in a minute. But in truth, it has bothered me. A lot. And after a bit of reflection on this, I think that the fact that it has bothered me so much is just as troubling to me as the fact that the block happened in the first place.

There are many perfectly legitimate and mundane reasons why this old friend might have chosen to refrain from connecting with me on Facebook. I have not seen or spoken to the person in question in more than 15 years. I have no idea what has happened in this other person’s life since 1996, or what is going on in their world today, or with their family, or their health, or their state in life. No idea whatsoever. This person and I may have been really good friends in 1996, but that was 1996, and I was an idiot in 1996. People getting drivers’ licenses today weren’t even born in 1996. A lot has happened since then.

So why I am I so tied up in knots? Isn’t it obvious? Someone doesn’t like me! My online sensibilities have been offended! And isn’t that really it? Isn’t that why I am so upset about this? I think so… and the thought of that is humbling, and frightening, because it shows me just how far I still have to go in my growth as a human, and as a Christian. It shows me that, despite my best efforts, I remain caught up in the same stupid narcissism that I see all around me, caught up in my own reflection. Instead of concern for this old friend of mine and hope for the person’s well-being, I’m more concerned about myself, and of the person’s impressions of me. As the old joke goes, “Enough about me, how about you? What do you think of me?”

In truth, this person has a perfectly legitimate reason to steer clear of me, and I know it. This friend was one of only two people to stand up to me and warn me many years ago when I was about to embark on a very major and very stupid change in my life. Everyone else in my life–friends and family alike–were patting me on the back for my decision to engage in this new endeavor, no doubt believing they were helping bolster my self-esteem by their encouragements. But this person had the courage to let me know that my decision was ill-advised, and dumb, and that it would cause pain–all of which ultimately proved true. Yet at the time, I persisted in my detour into what Dave Ramsey might call “the land of stupid.” In fact, I made it a point to boldly announce to this old friend that was embarking on my new adventure and that I was actually quite proud of the fact, the friend’s objections notwithstanding.

It was, without a doubt, one of the most dumb decisions and regrettable moments of my life. I finally came to my senses several years ago, glory to God. But for all I know, this old friend may believe that I’m still wandering in that same land of stupid. Maybe that’s the motivation behind the “block”; that would certainly be understandable. But maybe not. Maybe it’s something else entirely. And at the end of the day, I know in my heart that it really should not matter. It really cannot matter.

What should matter, if my head were screwed on properly, is that this old friend gave me a tremendous gift, even if it did take me many years to recognize and appreciate the gift for what it was. This old friend helped to save me from my own stupidity, because that lone word of caution truly did echo through my head for fifteen long years. I am sitting here today, comparatively safe from my prior stupid, in no small part because this person’s courage. I should be rejoicing for this old friend, thanking God for sending him to plant that seed exactly where and when it was planted. That is where my heart should be, and that is where I am trying very hard to redirect it now, rather than at the shame and hurt of offended online sensibilities, or at the fear that others may not perceive me in the way that I might want them to.

The more I think about it, the more I see this friend’s “block” as yet another gift. My mistake long ago might mean that I’ve lost this person as a presence in my life in 2014, or at least as a presence in my Facebook timeline. As Roy Hobbs would say, there are some mistakes that you never stop paying for. But this new gift from this old friend has also shown me how attached I still remain to others’ perceptions of me. It has highlighted more rough edges in my life that still need filing down.

But this time, I won’t take fifteen years to acknowledge the gift. Old friend–and if you are reading this, you know who you are–thank you very much, both for your true friendship so long ago, and for this new gift you’ve given me as well. May God grant you many wonderful years, and many, many happy days.

[Note: I do still intend to keep this blog relatively dormant, notwithstanding my prior post, but as this post shows, I do on occasion have something to say that won’t exactly fit elsewhere. I’ll try to keep my blathering to a minimum.]