Unfriended in church

Unfriend.

Sounds, well, unfriendly. It’s the new word of the year (as proclaimed by the New Oxford American Dictionary) and one that shows how much influence Facebook and its like have on English vocabulary.

I “friend” you on Facebook with a simple mouse click. I regret that action after reading your status updates (detailing your futile attempts to teach your pet poodle to sing like Barbra Streisand, complete with video links of Fluffy trying to read music). So I “unfriend” you. It’s quick and simple and with a click of a mouse, Fluffy and your hourly updates disappear from my newsfeed. Best of all, you don’t have to know. You’ve lost me as a friend (a tragic loss, I know) and because you have 100+ friends, you won’t miss me (probably).

(By the way, I’ve never friended anyone like this in real life or in the Facebook version of real life.)

But seriously, hasn’t “unfriending” happened for centuries?

I’ve unfriended people before. There have been people I was friends with—real friends, the type I considered to be sisters—and for whatever reason, I dropped them.

It may have been something as simple as losing touch because of a relocation or change in life circumstances, our inability to connect with each other, and a gradual drifting apart.

Or it may have been an ugly fight: the vocal, scream-your-lungs-out-and-throw-shoes type.

Or it may have been the unspoken fight between us. I’m angry and too prideful to attempt reconciliation. My resentment brews like coffee, black and bitter and so hot that it scalds both of us when accidentally spilled.

Or it may be something altogether different. I wasn’t ever friends with you. Acquaintances or strangers: you disappeared from my world and I didn’t notice.

I’ve seen all four situations in my own life, in others’ lives, in every group I’ve been in. Each of the situations is sad, yet the fourth seems the saddest. If we were actual friends to begin with, then the loss of that friendship is apparent, and there’s still the potential for forgiveness and reconciliation.

But if the friendship wasn’t ever there—if I never knew you as my friend—never sought your friendship and you dropped out of sight—that’s a different kind of loss. What could have been? I’ve unfriended you by never being your friend.

I’ve watched this happen in churches. Two examples:

  • Guy came to church, sat near the front. He had that obvious “I’m new here” look on his face: studied the bulletin, glanced up and around, reverted his gaze to the bulletin. People walked past and no one talked to him. No one noticed him, really. Too busy chattering with friends to glance at the guy sitting several rows back on the piano side with a lost expression on his face. One woman greeted him after the service. It was probably too little, too late. I haven’t seen him since.                               
  • Couple came to my Sunday school class. Again, the painfully obvious newcomer look plastered on their faces. I watched from across the room as they sat in metal folding chairs while others hovered around the coffee pot, joking about sports or commiserating over busy schedules. I mustered my courage, walked over and introduced myself. They were a really nice couple: both professionals, had a little girl several months younger than mine, recently moved to the area. I was the only one—I watched closely—who talked to them that day. I’m not sure my feeble attempts to make them feel welcome were genuine or guilt-driven. They never came back, either.

I venture that these three people didn’t feel connected at church, like the trivial small talk we engaged in was a Facebook friend request that we both knew wasn’t a request for a real life friendship. Or that it was the friend request that would be accepted to avoid hurt feelings, only to be undone a day later.

What’s going on here?

We’re pretty casual about referring to people as “friends.” On Facebook, I can have hundreds of so-called friends and still feel unfriended, disconnected and alone in real life.

  • We’ve substituted internet surface-level friendship for real life depth and haven’t even noticed.
  • We’ve sent “friend requests” with no intention of following the person’s status updates (as in my one-inch-thick conversation with the new couple).
  • We’ve ignored the tacit friend request of the lonely people who show up at church and study their bulletins because no one talks to them.

That isn’t how the proper order of things should be; we were made to be connected to each other and to God in deep and honest relationships that go far beyond the Facebook definition of friend.

Just something to think about.

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One thought on “Unfriended in church

  1. Great observations. It really makes me reflect on how I treat others. I know I’m guilty of not being a part of the welcoming committee. I really need to push beyond my comfort zone. Thank you!

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