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Virtual World, Real Friendships

  • Whitney Hopler Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • Updated Jul 12, 2011
Virtual World, Real Friendships

Editor's Note: This article summarizes the practical applications of Lynne M. Babb's recent bookFriending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World(IVP Books, 2011).

Technology offers so many options for contacting friends, from texting and social media updates, to talking by cell phone or using video conferencing. But connecting with people through technology is much different than interacting with them face to face. If you’d like to enjoy close friendships using virtual communication, you need to be intentional about how you build and maintain your friendships virtually.

Here’s how you can enjoy real friendships in a virtual world:

Make your friendship with God your top priority. Participating regularly in a relationship with God, the source of all love, will empower you to be the very best friend you can be to other people. Look to Jesus as your role model for what kind of friend you should be – someone who loves people unconditionally and reaches out to help when people are in need. Let the friendship you enjoy with God through Jesus serve as the foundation for your friendships with other people.

Focus on the characteristics of good friendships. The qualities that make good friendships are timeless: loyalty, affection, respect, sympathy, empathy, and understanding. Let these characteristics be your goal for the relationships you build with people you interact with virtually. Focus on the content of your friendships rather than the type of technology you’re using to connect with each other.

Take stock of the current state of your friendships. Do you have as many close friends as you’d like? Are your friendships healthy or unhealthy, and why? Are your friendships helping you and your friends grow closer to God together? Are you able to be a good friend to others most of the time? If not, what challenges are threatening that goal for you (not enough free time, difficulty being vulnerable with others, etc.)?

Pray for wisdom. Ask God to show you how He wants you to invest in your friendships going forward, such as how much time you should spend on relationships with friends who live far away and can only communicate via technology versus how much time you should spend visiting friends you can see face to face. Pray to understand God’s purposes for each of your friendships, and what steps you can take to fulfill those purposes.

Focus on content first, and technology second. What matters most is what kind of messages you want to communicate to your friends rather than the kind of technologies you use to convey those messages. Make sure that technology serves your friendships; not the other way around. For instance, if you love spending time on Facebook but some of your friends don’t, then don’t insist that they join Facebook. Be willing to communicate with them in other ways. Consider whether writing or speaking is best at various times. Speaking may offer a more personal touch when you don’t have much time, since you can quickly hear each other’s voices. But writing allows you to reflect on what you have to say, which can make it possible to express deeper thoughts and feelings than you can while speaking.

Let love be the goal of all of your communication. Be careful that you communicate in loving ways whenever you’re using technology. Think before posting comments or photos online; do everything possible to avoid embarrassing your friends. Encourage your friends whenever you can, such as by responding to their blogs with positive comments and thoughtful questions, and by letting them know that you’re praying for the concerns they’ve shared with you in messages.

Take initiative. Take responsibility yourself for keeping up your friendships; be willing to reach out to your friends over and over, consistently. Check in with friends when you haven’t heard from them in awhile. Pray for friends’ needs until God’s answers come. Even if some of your friends don’t respond to you as you’d hoped when you reach out to them, it’s still worthwhile to take initiative, because doing so will make you a more loving person who mirrors the way God relates to people: constantly reaching out to them.

Listen, remember, and pray. Let your friends know that you truly care about them and their lives by listening carefully to them when they share their thoughts and feelings with you. Even though a barrage of information comes toward you through multiple technologies every day, do your best to pay attention to what your friends have to say. Ask God to remind you often of what’s going in your friends’ lives, and whenever you remember, follow up in appropriate ways – including praying for them in specific ways as the Holy Spirit leads you to intercede for them.

Ask, give, and thank. Whenever you need something that your friends can help you with, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Keep in mind that when you give your friends opportunities to help you, you’re blessing them by giving them a chance to use their talents and skills to do something positive, and you’re strengthening the bond between you by being honest and vulnerable with them. Be willing to give help to your friends whenever you can, as well. Thank each other for the practical support that you each give each other. The more you continue the cycle of asking, giving, and thanking, the stronger your bond becomes.

Pace and choose both together and apart. Pray for the wisdom to discern how much time to spend engaging in activities with your friends versus discussing your independent activities with them, and be responsive to friends’ concerns about how to best spend your time together. When certain friendships have run their natural course, go ahead and let them go so you can better invest in more active friendships.

Accept and forgive. Rely on God’s help to forgive your friends after they hurt you, ask your friends for forgiveness after you’ve hurt them, and work on reconciling and rebuilding trust after conflicts between you.

Adapted from Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World, copyright 2011 by Lynne M. Baab. Published by IVP Books, a division of InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill., www.ivpress.com
Lynne M. Baab is the author of multiple books, including A Renewed Spirituality, Sabbath Keeping, Fasting, Sabbath, Personality Type in Congregations, Embracing Midlife, Beating Burnout in Congregations, Reaching Out in a Networked World: Expressing Your Congregation's Heart and Soul and Friending. She is also the author of three LifeGuide Bible Studies. A Presbyterian minister, she completed a Ph.D. in communication at the University of Washington in 2007 and moved with her husband to Dunedin, New Zealand, where she is a lecturer in pastoral theology at the University of Otago. Visit her website at: www.lynnebaab.com.

Whitney Hopler is a freelance writer and editor who serves as both a Crosswalk.com contributing writer and the editor of About.com’s site on angels and miracles (angels.about.com/). Contact Whitney at: angels.guide@about.comto send in a true story of an angelic encounter or a miraculous experience.