Friday, January 11, 2013

Make your Friends mean something

Make your online life mean something. It’s our thing, right?

A huge way you can do that is to make your online COMMUNITY mean something. Who are these people that you connect with? That you tweet to? That comment on your blog? Who are the women behind the words you read and the pictures you love? What place do they have in your life? Do they mean something to you beyond their tiny avatars and their brands?

As leaders of the Influence Network, we wouldn’t want to preach about online community if we didn’t live it. I’ll tell you totally honestly – up until a year or so ago, I was a very “real life friends are the only kinds of friends I want” kind of girl. I didn’t talk on the phone to my “internet” friends. I didn’t give them pieces of my heart or share my intimate thoughts with them. I didn’t really think a ton about them when I wasn’t online. But slowly, things have changed and I’ve found  that “internet friends” can just be called “friends” if you do community well together. Now my friend-life is very different. A few months ago when I landed in the hospital with pregnancy complications, my “internet” friends were the first ones I texted in the middle of the night for prayer. My “internet” friend Hayley and I did Thanksgiving together with our families. I’ve prepped my master bedroom for my “internet” friends to visit and bring their kids.

Everyday community is still very important to me, but the Lord has stretched my relationship boundaries to include women from all over the US and He’s made it clear that they very much MEAN something to me.

Women have asked how these ladies and I got so close and I think there are two answers that are most true for me. 
#1. Our common thread is the Good News. We’re not connected by cities or common interests. We don’t have similar lifestyles or budgets or homes or wardrobes. But somehow, we connected over the truth that we love Jesus and we want to leverage the internet for His glory. If you’re looking for those kinds of ladies, The Influence Network is the place to be.
#2. I don’t treat my “internet” friends like internet friends. I treat them like friends. And today, I’d like to share a few common mistakes that I think women connecting online make when they try to just be internet friends instead of REAL friends. I hope these are helpful for you!

common mistake #1: We care about statuses. If your mom or your sister or your best friend from high school doesn’t care about how many twitter followers you have or how many blog subscribers you have – neither should your friends online. If you have believed the lie that you are more valuable because of some false internet statuses or you are less valuable because of that status and therefore your online friendships are based on that hierarchy – you need to remind yourself where true value comes from. If you think your online popularity determines who you can be friends with and who can be friends with you, you absolutely cannot be being a good friend. To be a real friend, leave status out of it.

common mistake #2: We don’t get vulnerable. The best and worst part about online friendships is that we can present whatever truth we want to about ourselves. There is the same temptation in our physical lives, but it’s less easy to hide the closer you get physically to someone. If you want to build a true friendship with someone online, be real with them. Tell them where you hurt and where you struggle. You don’t have to let your heart bleed over the whole internet all the time, but you can select a small group of women to be REAL with. Ask for their help. Tell them who you are. Let them in. This is part of what I love about blogging conferences – if you do them right. It’s such a great opportunity to let people see the real you IF you choose not to stress out about coming across as the best (unrealistic) version of yourself.

common mistake #3: We don’t fight well. Are you ever even friends with someone until you’ve worked through conflict with them? I’d like to vote no. You remember that first big fight with your real-life-best-friend? It was awful going through it, but now you laugh at it and you’ve grown from it. I’ve noticed that “internet” friends tend not to fight well. They see things they don’t like in each other and they walk away. They stop talking. They talk about each other to new internet friends or they pretend like they weren’t friends in the first place. It’s not like your real life friend that you HAVE to see at church, school, or work. It’s easy to just back away slowly. I find that my online friends who became my actual best friends are the ones who I’ve gotten down and dirty with. I’ve told them when they hurt me and I’ve apologized when I hurt them. I have accepted that they’re not perfect and they don’t do or say things the way I would always, but some healthy confrontation is worth it to go the distance with them. I’m not walking away from them anytime soon. I am committed to them, even when they let me down and even when I have to walk in grace if l let them down.

In short – I truly believe we can build a strong community of FRIENDS and ALLIES if we will throw off the boundaries that keep our online friends from just being our friends. Are you in? Do you want your online relationships to mean something?

Let’s do this thing together, friend. 

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