How to stop letting social media dehumanize our relationships

Photo by  Timon Studler

Photo by Timon Studler

Sometimes, my own selfishness slaps me in the face.

I spend so much time thinking about myself and my needs. This quickly translates into thinking of others—including God—in terms of how they can fulfill those needs.

It’s not surprising, really, when you think of how easy our virtual connections have made it to stop digging deeper into our own humanity, and the humanity of others.

We build collections of humans, basing our value on the number of inch-deep relationships we have to show for our existence.

We have access to hundreds of “friends” on Facebook and followers on various social media platforms. But because of the sheer number of them, we can use these people as expendable commodities without even thinking about it. We reduce them to faces and social media handles.

Will they share my article, like my new video, follow my Instagram account?

This self-serving attitude extends to how I treat God. Daily, I ask him to heal my aches, bless my plans and give me what I want or think I need. It’s almost always about me.

Of course, we can never out-give God; we will always need him. But, as a friend of mine put it, that doesn’t mean we can go on treating God like a gumball machine. For one, this grossly limits God’s character. He’s unspeakably more generous than a gumball machine—giving not only when we ask, but often when we do not.

He gives us what is truly best for us, not always what we ask for; he grants us our requests even though he knows we so often mess up and destroy his gifts.

Anything we try to give back to God will always pale in comparison to what he gives to us. But it’s not about trying to pay Jesus back, it’s about trying to become more like him. Pursuing his interests above my own completely reshapes how I seek to follow him.

And the Bible is full of stunning examples of this.

Daniel is just one of them. Even though he was an exile in a foreign country, Daniel pleaded that God would listen to him, not so that he might be saved, but so that God’s name would be honoured.

Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.
— Daniel 9:17-19

What a reversal of how I tend to interact with God! Of course, we can’t earn a right standing with God. No amount of good works can make us worthy of the grace we receive through Christ.

But once we’re forgiven, we then begin a process—enabled by the Holy Spirit—of becoming like Christ. And that means desiring and pursuing what God wants, even if it isn’t always what we want.

In the same way, we can’t connect deeply with those around us if we don’t see past our own agendas.

Sadly, this is where the growth of social media has taken such a bitter toll. There are simply too many humans at our fingertips; we have less time or energy to invest in the lives of our closest friends.

What is even more worrying—we don’t have to.

We can afford to be lazy. If a certain relationship builds tension or awkwardness, we can simply move on to someone new. It’s overwhelming how many options we have for human contact.

We have all this amazing technology designed to connect us and bring together. But that contact is becoming less and less valuable because we no longer have to put in the grunt work of learning how to work through our differences.

We’re no longer stuck with the same set of friends because our geography doesn’t limit us the way it used to. Now, if one person leaves your life, there are a hundred more where they came from.

Whether we realize it or not, this knowledge changes our attitude towards the people in our lives. It becomes all about us and how these transient people can benefit us.

But this isn’t sustainable long-term. When difficulties arise, we need friends to rely on. In fact, we are designed to rely on each other.

As humans, we long for deep, meaningful contact. But in our attempt to get it, we’re spreading ourselves too thin.

It’s time to stop and dig in. It’s time to open up and be vulnerable. It’s time to stop moving on when disagreements arise.

Some of the most beautiful and valuable relationships in my life are the ones that have survived life’s pain, hurt and misunderstandings. The only reason I still have these friends is because we both chose to stick it out and stick together. It’s because we chose to set aside our pride and put the other first.

So, after reading the passage above, I’m adding Daniel to my list of role models. His selfless desire to see God praised rather than to better his own circumstances is awe-inspiring. I’m not even close, but I know it’s worth aiming for.

For me, a practical starting point has been re-framing more of my prayers to ask Jesus how I can serve him before I bring up my concerns or requests.

From there, I believe God can change my heart to “rehumanize” how I view others — whether they are in my life only briefly, or here to stay. This is so important because if we care more about what Jesus wants than what we want we’ll be more courageous and effective followers of him.

If we care more about tending to the needs and welfare of others we’ll be better friends, neighbours and humans.

And we desperately need more people like that in today’s closed-off, individualistic and social media-obsessed world.

So let's start right now. We can't fix everything, but we can begin with you and me.