A Cautionary Trail: Social Media & the De-Construction of Relationships

This past week, country music artist Joey Feek lost her battle with cancer. I had never heard of Joey Feek until a few months ago and likely still wouldn’t know her were it not for a widespread social media campaign surrounding her illness. I struggle for a better word, because campaign sounds so strategic and exploitive. But it’s clear that her husband, Rory, was both transparent and intentional about sharing their struggles and victories. A jaded media professional might see this openness as an attempt to sell records, to garner fame. But I believe it was a grieving husband’s desire to see his bride encouraged, celebrated, and, yes, healed. Joey Feek lived her last months well. Her struggle was painful, beautiful, and inspirational. Her husband’s love and attention, noble. She leaves a legacy that the public is allowed to share in because of the power of social media.

But this post isn’t really about Joey Feek. It’s about the power–and pitfalls–of social media. We’re all aware that social media allows us to paint the sort of picture we choose, realistic or not. I have no reason to believe what we witnessed in the Feeks was anything but genuine. Their love was real, but hard. And if I’m being honest, I would rather read light-hearted, funny, or even–dare I say–bumptious posts from my social media friends. Whether it’s gushing over a child’s achievement or sharing photos from a picture-perfect romantic getaway, I’m a sucker for a positive spin.

But there’s a darker side to social media. It’s often where we first learn that our favorite celebrity has died. Or we’re made aware of someone’s suffering, as in the case of Joey Feek. And sometimes, it’s where we have a front row seat for the destruction–or “de-construction”–of a relationship.

It can take on many forms, this cautionary digital trail. Maybe a sudden uptick in posts linking to articles on marriage. A few extra “Girls Night Out” photos. Cryptic posts about love, trust, betrayal. Selfies of Dad and the kids, minus Mom. Urgent requests for prayer with little or no explanation. A sudden decline in mention of husband or wife. Perhaps even silence. Or, most telling, a change in relationship status.

Please understand that I don’t mean to be flippant about this. Rather, this post is a call to action. Recently, our pastor was speaking from Philippians 2, and expanding on what it means to encourage one another and look out for the interests of others. He made a bold, poignant statement: “Be nosy for the right reasons.” Yes. This.

When you see something troubling or amiss on social media, step up and speak out. Show your concern. Offer a friendly ear. Not so that you can get fodder for gossip. Not so you can live vicariously through someone else’s drama (’cause we all know someone who thrives on drama, am I right?). But so that we can encourage each other, carry each other’s burdens, and yes even hold each other accountable.

I recently learned of the death of one of my high school classmates. It would be an exaggeration to say we were friends, as I hadn’t seen or spoken to her–other than on Facebook–in over 25 years. She didn’t leave a decipherable trail of digital clues…only a few posts over the last year or so…growing concern over her father’s failing health. Nothing too telling. But it does make a person wonder…Did anyone reach out? Take an interest, shown concern? Did anyone know the depths to which she was sinking? I certainly didn’t.

Don’t ignore the cautionary digital trail. Let’s all start being nosy for the right reasons. Let’s follow up and check in with our friends, maybe even face-to-face (novel idea, I know!). Let’s encourage one another, spur one another on. Ask the tough questions, point each other to the Scriptures. And let’s remind each other that now matter what we’re facing today…it will get different.

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” –Philippians 2:1-4




Why You Should Have a “Way to Go!” File

Motivated by the impending invasion of middle school girls that will be upon us tomorrow, I spent the morning de-cluttering the room where said girls will be sleeping this weekend. (It’s not as treacherous as it sounds. We will be hosting a sweet group of girls from our church for an in-town discipleship weekend.) When one begins the task of stripping away weeks, or perhaps months, even years of clutter, one finds that she might have dug herself into a deeper hole than expected! One might also discover a few hidden treasures.

I’m not gonna lie, there were a LOT of very old files that could be classified as basically useless–remainders from my years in publishing from an industry that doesn’t play by the same rules it once did (e-books, texting, social media…none of that existed when I was writing press releases and keeping paper files of everything). But one benefit of this never-ending paper trail is that I also have a hefty file of notes, articles, and printed emails from an array of sources that I like to call my “Way to go!” file.

Whether it’s a hand-written note from a member of my church choir, thanking me for “leading with excellence,” or a third-party email via an author’s agent, praising me for the jacket copy that “might be better than the book,” these scraps of paper are a reminder that I have skills…that I am talented…that I have done and can continue to do worthy work.

So why is that so important? Perhaps it’s a weakness, this incessant need for approval, but I believe it’s a weakness we all share to some extent, and perhaps no one more than the no-longer-working-outside-the-home mother. We need to know that we are more. More than the mother of our children. More than the sum of their accomplishments and accolades. More than the woman behind the other people. You see, most of us have been in the workforce at one time or another. We had a past, a job, a career. And most of us, at a time defined only as someday, will need or want to return. And that, my friend, is a daunting realization for this SAHM.

When I force myself to answer the big question of my hypothetical future, it creates anxiety and leads to more questions than answers. If I had to go back to work tomorrow, what sort of work would I do? Would I even be qualified? Would anyone hire me with no recent experience? But this. This “Way to go!” file reminds me that I am capable of doing great things. It shuts down the naysaying voices and empowers me. It says that I am accomplished. And so, I think that maybe I can accomplish a few more things in my life.

So gather those slips of paper. Don’t be afraid to print out an email that pays a compliment. Save that text that thanks you for being a stellar friend. You might not need the encouraging word today when you’re living the dream. But someday…well…yep…it will get different.

P.S. Be an encourager too! It only takes a little extra effort to let someone know when they’ve done something with excellence. And your compliment might be more needed than you’ll ever know.