I spend a lot of my time going to meetings and conferences. The face-to-face time at these events is invaluable because of the connections made, interests shared, and information gained. I also spend a lot of my time online doing video conference calls, responding to email and Facebook, and culling through many online resources to find the good ones that are out there. Over the last few years I have gotten pushback from colleagues about online conversations and connections not being “real” or that things like Facebook don’t encourage “genuine” relationships. While this can be true at times, I also find that these online platforms have allowed me to be more fully present to some and maintain connection with others who I do not talk to on a regular basis.
In the past month, I have coached someone through doing their first hospital visit with a very ill teenager via a Facebook Message, responded to friends who have sent out prayer requests, reached out to those who I needed support from, helped connect thousands of people who are taking an online class on Christianity, planned liturgy with a group of teenagers who are spread across the country, introduced people who were working on similar things, and helped colleagues who were looking for resources. This is not unique to me, but is more reflective of how we are connecting to and with one another in different ways. Rather than labeling things as not “real” because they are happening over the waves of the internet, let’s hold up the ways in which they are making a difference.
Being online is more than about being there and sharing cat pictures on Facebook. I have found that what makes a difference is to be online intentionally and with a purpose. Sure we can all get sucked down the rabbit holes of information and cool stories only to emerge 30 minutes later wondering what we were looking for in the first place. If we are able to harness our time and our energy, however, we can be in certain places at certain times with intentionality and grace so that we are truly present.
I cannot tell you how to control your online time, but I will share what works for me.
- In the morning I scan email and Facebook to see what I need to flag for later.
- I then go to my “trusted” sites to check in on news, materials, and resources.
- As I work throughout the day, I take a break to check in on my email, but try not to get bogged down there too much.
- When I notice that I delete newsletters or emails that come from a group or company more often than I read them, I unsubscribe completely.
- As I see prayer requests or people having a hard time on Facebook, I add them to my prayer list that I keep with my journal.
- When I see something really good that I think will benefit people with whom I do ministry, I share it with them there and then so that it doesn’t get lost.
- I check in on certain Facebook Groups when I know there is a pastoral issue at hand.
- I step away from my computer at scheduled times during the day to give my brain and body a rest. Stepping away also gives me perspective and allows me to come back renewed.
We live in a virtual world that is very real. The question to all of us online is how do we do it intentionally so that we are enabling and fostering connection and communication so that when we have face-to-face meetings they are even more meaningful and grounded.