Remember when your mama used to tell you, "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all?" It's mostly true, isn't it? Sure there are times when decency or moral truth cause us to stand up for what we believe in, and maybe even speak out against an issue or person leading the world astray, but at its most basic level, this little phrase is startlingly true.
Politicians seem to be the worst about this, slandering each other just to win the day. But it's the leaders, whether of our government, churches, schools, or communities, who speak the truth dunked in deep pools of grace that really win our hearts. They're the ones we want to follow because their graceful hearts cause our own hearts to pull back the wall we use to guard against the lies just enough to let some truth come in.
Unfortunately, the internet has made it incredibly easy to forget that little mantra our mothers taught us and another one that goes along with it, "do unto others as you would have done unto you."
What are we doing to each other, girls?
This morning I realized that an article I wrote a few weeks ago had gotten a negative comment. Having been a blogger for almost five years now (man, that's hard to believe!) it won't have been the first negative comment I've received (it's not on this blog, so don't go looking!), nor will it be the last. Over the years I've developed a bit in my ability to handle them, but at heart I'm a softy. It's just who I am, and words do hurt me (wait, isn't that another mantra...hmmm...I'm pretty sure that one's false).
Maybe they hurt me too much. If so, that's my issue to deal with, and anyone else's who chooses to put his or her thoughts and opinions out for all the world to see. Criticism is part of living a public life...there's just no way around it.
That being said, Christians on the internet should look different.
But we don't.
I'm not saying we don't have the right to share our thoughts and opinions on various things. Free speech, although I sometimes hate it, is a piece of our nation that makes it great. I'm just saying that the way we voice our opinions should look fundamentally different from the way the rest of the world does it. And it doesn't.
When Ann Voskamp released her best-selling book, One Thousand Gifts (which I loved, by the way) I watched her get slammed, hammered, and eaten up by people who were supposed to be brothers and sisters in Christ. It was ugly. Did those people have a right not to like her book? Of course! But did they have a right to trash her for all the world to see? I don't think so. It hurt my heart to watch that happen, because while I certainly don't claim to know Ann well, I've met her a few times and had the opportunity to hear her share her heart several times. And I can tell you based on this that knowing her heart changes how you might interpret her book. (And I might add, watching the grace-filled way Ann handled the firestorm was nothing short of inspiring for all Christian bloggers and authors).
Knowing someone gives us the basis for understanding what they say.
But we can't always do that on the internet, can we? In fact, most of the time, we can't. And unfortunately, the people who should be offering the highest levels of grace because they've experienced it from Christ themselves, are often the ones being the ugliest.
So here are a few things to remember as you navigate the internet world as a child of God:
1. Never respond in anger
I've done it too many times. I'm embarrassed and ashamed to admit that I've done this. It isn't pretty. And it can destroy relationships. Just don't do it. I know from experience. The words will still be there after you've had time to cool down.
2. Take time to cool down.
I can't count the number of times that my opinion of what someone said or did online changed after I gave it some time to settle, and gave myself time to get over my initial shock enough so that I could truly try to understand what they were saying. Did you hear that? My opinion changed. Therefore, whatever I might've said or typed in the moment would've left me with regret. It's not worth it. Give yourself time.
3. Don't be mean.
Before you speak meanness over someone's life stop and think about how you might feel if someone said those words to you. If you have the slightest inclination that they might be on the mean side, stop, and write something when you have grace to communicate instead of hate. Grace.
4. It is not our duty as Christians to be the internet police.
A well-known blogger wrote an article on a well-known site that caused me some discomfort. I didn't agree with what she said 100%. Her message was a good one, but seemed a bit off to me in certain places enough that I was uncomfortable with what she said. What made me even more uncomfortable though was the way commenters were voicing their concerns. They were mean, condescending, spiteful, and full of self-righteousness. It was just sad and ugly to see the body of Christ attacking each other and it hurt my heart for her. That "I HAVE to respond to this blog right now before I explode!" feeling might not be from the Lord. Just consider it.
5. Stop being so quick to cry "SPAM!"
I have a dear friend whose well-known site is having trouble on Pinterest because someone cried spam on her. What a shame. This particular site shares a wealth of good, solid articles that help its readers. And now one of the most powerful social media sites out there is marking almost every one of her posts as spam. Silliness. Give someone the benefit of the doubt even when you don't agree with how they've written an article. Spam is easy to see and call what it is. If you have even the slightest hint that the article you're toying with has sincerity at it's heart leave it alone. And please sisters, if you're jealous of the success of a site (we're all big enough to admit that, right? We've been there), don't let that fuel you to act against it. Search your heart before acting.
6. Love others.
This should really be the only helpful tip I need to write. Love others more than you love yourself. It's a truth I try every day to teach my sons—that loving someone else more than you love yourself always brings the joy. It may appear for a moment that getting your own way, or shouting truth from the rooftops (no matter how self-righteous it sounds or who you hurt in the process) will bring you joy because you feel compelled to not let truth be squelched. But true joy comes in laying down your life for your brother (or sister). Step down friends. None of us know it all. This internet space gives the appearance of knowledge, but in reality, I don't know what it's like to live your life, and you don't know what it's like to live mine. Extend an olive branch of love first.
7. Seek to understand
What if, instead of being quick to share our opinions or leave comments that disagree with an author, we reached out to them gracefully and asked them to explain what they meant in a little more detail? I can't really know your heart unless I know you, and if I keep that truth at the forefront of my head and heart while reading an article ugly words will get stopped in their tracks every single time.
8. Know yourself
I'm not a biblical scholar. Sure, I've read the whole thing, and feel like I know a good bit about it, but I've been proven wrong before on topics of debate, and over time I've changed my opinions on certain interpretations of scripture that I was passionate about before. I don't know everything about God's love and grace for me and for others that I will know next year. This knowledge leaves me with a desire to pause before "striking out with truth" when I think it's been done an injustice. I can be wrong. So can you friend. It's a good thing to remember.
The REAL Truth?
If you really want to change the world with your message, make your message one of grace. Choose to be different. Love someone instead of accusing them. Serve someone instead of spamming them. Get to know someone instead of criticizing them. Seek to understand someone instead of slandering them.
Love Christian, love.