Several weeks ago, I opened my Instagram feed and noticed some weird activity on a video I had posted many months earlier. Forty-six thousand likes! Have I been hacked? As I clicked on the post, I realized that a fifteen-second video I had made of our neighborhood’s summer block party had unexpectedly gone viral. Wow! This is cool.
The video wasn’t anything special. Just a quick pan of the street from my front porch. Neighbors gathered around folding tables we had set up in the street and kids roamed in packs like happy wild animals. It was my attempt to share a glimpse of our neighborhood magic, and I wrote a quick caption with tips and encouragement to help others engage their neighbors too.
With over two million views, this was obviously striking a chord with people. Again, my first reaction was, “How cool!”
Except it wasn’t all cool.
Most of the comments rolling in were from complete strangers. Some of them were encouraging, but as the video went more viral, the comments became anonymous and cutting. For the next several days I had to be really vigilant to delete spammy comments like “DM me and I’ll send you $3,000 tomorrow!” and biting comments like “Must be nice to live in an all-white neighborhood.” My gut reaction was to spew back defensively that my husband is the first Filipino homeowners association president the neighborhood has had and that my Asian kids are the ones on the scooters there to the left. I want to point out Ms. Christina, who goes to the Asian market and brings us special candies and tiger balm every week.
But as I scrolled through nasty comments and messages about our neighborhood, our race, our demographic, all the unimportant and untrue things being assumed as fact on a post that was meant to stir up kindness, I realized I had to decide how I wanted to treat this dumpster fire.
I could defend myself and add fuel to the blaze. Or I could take a beat and let my pause extinguish the flames.
It seems like more and more, anytime we open our phones and computers, we see someone’s extreme opinions about the latest hot topic — which appears to be almost everything. What a time to be alive, when you can communicate your inner thoughts to pretty much anyone with the click of a Send button!
Chances are you’ve also experienced this phenomenon of the unfiltered response.
I miss not being anxious about relational stress as we approach yet another election year, yet another global health issue, yet another this side versus that side. And before I can even formulate language to describe this anxiety, my body responds for me: I wear my shoulders as earmuffs. My breath quickens. I wince. My brow furrows, blood rushes to my cheeks, my stomach hurts. If you watch the news or have social media or talk to a neighbor, you probably know what I mean.
I close the computer and think about it all day. And “it” isn’t just my video gone viral. It’s all the backhanded comments and jumping to false assumptions. It’s the tearing down and creating us-versus-them categories for every possible issue. It’s using our words as weapons and calling it normal. It’s all of it.
I can’t help but think, I wish she hadn’t mentioned that. I wish he hadn’t said it in that way. They make me so mad. Why are people like this? Why can’t we just stop treating each other like this?
And let me say, when I’m about to actively run into an argument after reading Cousin Fred’s entire comments section in his latest fire-breathing post, I instead take a deep breath and consume truth that comes from a living and active God. A God who loves me but isn’t afraid to ask me to check my perspective.
So I pray, I am the problem. Forgive me, Lord, for wanting to murder this person with my words, for believing I am more worthy of Your gift of grace than he is. Give me the supernatural power to love someone I think of as my enemy. I can’t do this on my own.
As believers, we should be people marked not by fear, hatred, or murderous words but by peace. We should desire unity instead of actively seeking out division with our words. We should have the markings of self-control and love, not unbridled tongues that have the power to set the world on fire (see James 3:5–6). I don’t know if I really believed that until the last couple years, but haven’t we all witnessed the destruction caused by our tongues and how they hold the power of life and death?
We each have personal accounts of our own fractured relationships and devastating losses. But lest this all start to feel a bit depressing, we actually do have great hope. Jesus tells us, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 ESV).
Hear Jesus speaking it to you: “In Me you may have peace. Take heart.” Notice how your body responds to the truth. It’s quite different from scrolling through a social media feed. Maybe, if you’re like me, your shoulders come down and your breath slows. As the words of Scripture settle into my heart, I can see things more clearly: We are too quick to scroll conversations and comment threads and assume we are the only ones who know the correct path. But God is our Good Shepherd. He actively searches to bring us back to Himself, reorient our hearts toward Him, and give us the peace of His guidance, care, and protection — even from ourselves.
We are not on our own when we face difficult circumstances and interactions or when we have to navigate complex relationships and complicated feelings. When we see ourselves and others with the right perspective, we remember that our words, whether written in a comment or spoken out loud, have the power to attest to a better word: God is our only hope in this world. And what good news that it doesn’t rest on our human shoulders!
Ask yourself: Where am I tempted to use my words to tear down or divide instead of to build up and bring peace?
Hey friends, if you resonated with my story, or if you are dealing with relational tension of any kind, you’re going to want to get a copy of Come Sit with Me. In addition to my story, you’ll find 25 other (in)courage writers going first with their own faith wrestling and hope wrangling. I love how this book helps us to:
- delight in our differences
- honor and value others even when we disagree
- connect before we correct
- trust that God is working even when people disappoint us
Discover how God can work through your disagreements, differences, and discomfort in ways you might never expect.
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