In Praise of Facebook and Fridge Friends: Where is God when I feel alone?

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I have a dear friend who is 91. She raised four children, as I am doing now. A few months ago, eating dinner together, she said to me, “You’re lucky to have Facebook.” I stared at her. Did she just say I was lucky to have that thing I have a love-hate relationship with, that I feel guilty about spending too much time on, that people use to say things they would never say to someone’s face? Furthermore, I’m used to old people criticizing my generation for wasting time on the internet, not praising the wonders of technology.

“Why do you say that I’m lucky to have Facebook?” I asked.

“Raising children can be so lonely,” my friend said. “It’s amazing that you can share the experience with others without leaving your house.”

Our reading this week is the story of Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, who is six months pregnant with John the Baptist. We don’t know exactly why Mary went to see Elizabeth, but we’re told early in Luke 1 that when Elizabeth became pregnant, she “remained in seclusion for five months” (vs. 24). Whether this was for a medical or spiritual reason is unclear, but I think that after five months, it’s safe to say that she was lonely. Mary, too, having just received the news that she would become pregnant with Jesus, must have wanted to connect and confide. She shares a beautiful song with Elizabeth as they rejoice over the coming Savior. That song is now called “The Magnificat,” which means “an utterance of praise.”

Mary’s song could have been composed on her own, sung in solitude to God in heaven. Having personal quiet time with the Lord is important, and many great compositions of prayer and praise are experienced without other people. But this song, at this extraordinary gathering of two women whose children would change the course of history, was shared with a friend. Mary and Elizabeth encouraged each other, confided in each other, praised God together, and shared their unique and lonely circumstances with each other. Chapter 1 closes with Luke saying, “Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home” (vs. 56).

If Mary had Facebook, would she have visited Elizabeth in person? I think so, because an important part of friendship is bodily togetherness, which doesn’t happen when you connect with someone on Facebook. I have an aunt who always tells us when we visit, “We consider you Fridge Friends. Open the fridge and eat anything you want.” Fridge Friends are people who you’re comfortable enough having in your home that they can open the fridge and get something without asking. Mary and Elizabeth were Fridge Friends (cue the comment that they didn’t have fridges). Everybody needs Fridge Friends because physical presence is so important: it grounds us in our own bodies, in our geographical place, and with the people God has given us to live and grow with—and probably to be irritated with as well. It is far too easy to get lost in the anonymity of the internet. The internet gives us the ability to curate our lives and character, sharing only what we want people to see. But our Fridge Friends—the people we invite into our homes to know us and love us—see us as we are.

And yet. I still remember the time I was in a two-hour disciplinary standoff with my daughter, and I got on Facebook to ask what I should do next. Within minutes I was overwhelmed with ideas and encouragement, and my battle with a three-year-old soon fizzled. I remember announcing pregnancies and births on Facebook: the congratulations and joy were so palpable that it almost felt like people had come to visit.

I wish that in pregnancy, in motherhood, and in every other lonely and joyous season in life, I could easily be with my roommates from college, my aunts and uncles and cousins and parents, and all my other Fridge Friends. I wish I could hurry across dusty roads to the next town, like Mary did with Elizabeth, and settle in for three months—or at least one month, and then via status updates on the days when it is hard to leave the house. God created us for connection, and often when we are lonely, we find God in the connections we have with others. While acknowledging the limits and even dangers of Facebook, may we also celebrate its ability to bring us together in a world where many families and friends are much more physically distant than the world that Jesus was born into. And may we also continually make the effort to host and to visit our friends in person—both Fridge and Facebook.

Challenge: Pick a Facebook Friend whom you would like to shift into the Fridge Friend category, and take the initiative to be with them besides on a screen.

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