Jan 26, 2007

Internet Friends: The Heart of the Matter

"I met someone online."

I used to think that meeting someone online was the equivalent of outright evil, but I've since changed my tune. While there certainly are plenty of nefarious reasons for meeting someone online, I've found that the internet can certainly be used for the glory of God as well.

In a time when God saw fit to remove nearly all my real-life friends from my daily life, He also was so gracious to provide internet friends shortly thereafter. There is a verse that says that man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart. I think I am finally starting to understand a bit of what it means for the Lord to look at the heart.

When I meet people in real life, my eyes are immediately drawn to their clothing, their facial features, their hair, and various other aspects of their physical appearance. I am checking them out. And whether we want to admit it or not, we all do that. I really do try not to judge a person by their outward appearance, but that is simply human nature, after all.

So what I have found so interesting is "meeting" people online when I really have no clue what they look like. For myself, I have noticed that I am drawn to others who have a deep love for the truth of God's Word. First, I notice comments, or possibly blog posts, by others, and I consider whether I agree with their content, whether I like their attitude, and whether they have something stimulating to say. I do not have to agree with them at all to enter into a dialogue with them, but for me, the attitude is key. What good does it do to have a friendly debate with someone who has a chip on their shoulder or who is always right?

After a while, I notice that patterns start to develop with certain online personalities and some of those patterns are attractive to me. Perhaps I will read their blogs more often or be more inclined to comment. Sometimes I may even email them privately and often I have received private emails as well. This seems to move the relationship into a bit more personal stage and we are able to discuss matters that we may not say in front of the whole world wide web.

A few of these relationships have developed into phone relationships as well. I cherish these. I will admit that I am often surprised when I hear the voice of a "friend" for the first time. Sometimes the words that I read from them take on a whole new meaning, just because I hear in their voice what was really in their heart. I have developed some very meaningful relationships with my now-phone friends, often deeper than any real life friendships I have. I often wonder if I will ever meet them this side of heaven.

It was our great privilege, then, to finally meet some internet friends in real life last week. Mark had a class not too far from Brandon and Elizabeth and they had given us an open invitation to come visit them any time we were in the area, so we made all the arrangements. At the last minute, an ice storm was coming to San Antonio on the day we were to leave, so they invited us to come up a day early, which I know meant that they had to scramble to get things ready for us (thanks, guys!).

Although they had seen our pictures on the internet, I had no clue what they would look like. I had some sort of vague picture in my mind, but it didn't match at all. What was so odd to me was that I was looking at what seemed to be apparent strangers, yet we had talked so much that I felt like we were long-lost friends. We just naturally fell into conversation and had a wonderful three days together.

You know what really surprised me, though? We had previously only talked about a few areas of life on the phone and through email, so I really didn't know much about their values, their lifestyle, their convictions, their beliefs. I had decided ahead of time that I would just enjoy whatever things we had in common, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that nearly every topic of conversation that came up was something that we had in common. In fact, we found that we are more like them than just about anybody we know.

I was pondering this and considering some of my other internet friends, as I like to call them, who also seem to have more in common with us than I would have initially guessed, and I came to the conclusion that birds of a feather flock together. I know that's not real profound or original, but even through the internet it appears that like attracts like.

It is interesting to realize that if I were to have met certain people first, I may never have developed a relationship with them at all, or maybe not to the degree that I have now that I have been able to look at their hearts (on the internet, at least) without looking at the outward appearance first. I wonder if that is why our relationships seem to deepen so quickly. There are no outward distractions. We don't have to go through all the small talk first. We just start right off discussing deep issues. I can't imagine meeting someone in real life for the first time and immediately getting into a debate on Christians suing one another or whether or not slavery is biblical. It is just inconceivable.

Can't you just picture this scene taking place at church on Sunday morning?

"Hi, I'm Jen," I greet a new visitor.

"Hello, I'm Judy," she replies politely, '"Nice to meet you."

"What is your position on slavery, and can you support it from Scripture? My position is ..."

I sure do thank God for all my internet friends!


Prairie Momma said...

How true. Maybe there's also something to be said about how easy it is for us to pour out our true feelings without fear of being rejected. There is nothing like sharing what is really on your mind only to find the person you're speaking with give that eyebrow lift or slight pull back of the shoulders. Instantly, you realize you said something you shouldn't have (although you don't know why you can't say that), and you no longer feel as inclined to really share from the depths of your heart. Since you can't see someone's body language on the computer, it's sometimes easier to say what is really on your heart. I also find it's easier to sometimes confess areas of struggle or sin in my life on my blog page or in an email because I can pour it all out without feeling any condemnation. Maybe God is trying to give us a glimpse of the blessings we can have in relationships if we can get beyond our "man" eyes and begin to be imitators of Christ and start looking at the heart of man with mercy and compassion as He looks at us.


Lin said...

Jen, to me it harkens back to writing letters because of distance. Since, it was the only way to communicate by distance, people tended to discuss deeper philosophical issues.

I have been re-reading some of my grandmother's letters and am enjoying reading her discussion of the book of Romans with her friend.

The internet has been a tremendous blessing to me in meeting new brothers and sisters in Christ. (Like you)

Joyce said...

Dear Jen,
I found your blog in quite a round-about way. A friend of mine is going through a very hard time. She linked to a 11/14/2006 post on Women's Space/The Margins, on which you commented, saying that she could agree with much that was stated there. I read the post, Name the Patriarchs, Part I: The Truth About "Full Quiver" Families, and spent a whole morning reading all the comments. I'm hoping this will give me greater insight into my friend's thinking at this time, so that I can be an encouragement to her. I liked what you had to say, so now I'm reading your blog! Thanks for your comments on the Women's Space blog. Maybe the Lord will use your words to bless those hurting ladies.