As a child, I learned quickly that jokes and nicknames were a part of our everyday life and identity as the Johnson family. The name that stuck with my dad, Leighton, was that he was “late-a-ton.” Many of my memories as a middle schooler were staying late at church, waiting in a parking lot, or sitting at the Dairy Queen waiting yet again as my dad carried on and on in conversation with someone. He would treat them as though they were lifelong friends and my dad would laugh and smile and give them a hug sometimes. Though I was often annoyed, I would ask my dad, “How do you know that guy?” or “Who was that man?” My assumption was that my dad had met them somewhere before and had just lost touch through the years. More often than not, Dad would explain that he had just met them that day and yet somehow, they had just shared their life story! He would typically pray for them and sometimes shed a tear or two when we left. Through the years, I learned that being late-a-ton wasn’t such a bad habit as long as it was because you were taking the time to know and love people like Jesus would.
One of the difficulties thirty years ago was that if friends or family lived across the globe, or even in another state, our connection with them was more difficult to develop than with people that lived near us. Yet today, with the power of technology at our fingertips, we can see a post on a social media platform and immediately connect with missionaries needing prayer in China, or chat on a video call with a long distance relative and see their face while they say, “I love you!”
We can make a Gospel connection with a stranger in the mall, through opening a Bible app to share a verse in a language that we’ve never even heard of before. The power of technology is undeniable! Yet it goes without saying that with that power also comes a great potential for danger.
Most people would agree that what we value the most is what we naturally give the most time to. When we give our time to relational connections through technology, we are often left wondering, “Why do I feel so empty and alone?” Similarly, the temptation to make comparisons with others and the proverbial whiplash we experience through our feed leaves our hearts and minds with far more than we signed up for when we logged in. It’s not hard to grasp what countless studies have demonstrated: Increased social media usage leads to increased feelings of loneliness, envy, anxiety, depression, narcissism and decreased social skills. In a like manner to drug and alcohol abuse, an addiction to social media drastically impedes our ability to interact with others in healthy ways.
As individuals, and especially as parents and grandparents, we are eager to see solutions to this modern-day challenge. The Psalmist says, “Your steadfast love is better than life!” Likewise, the apostle Paul mentions consistently throughout his writings that God teaches us to love one another, and that the Holy Spirit fills our hearts with this love. The only way we will truly be able to overcome social media and like addictions is to find a deeper satisfaction in God Himself. The satisfaction found in an ever-deepening relationship with God is the source of strength and power to overcome any addiction.
As we pursue the God who pursues us relentlessly, we must remember that the love we experience from Him is meant not just for us but also for others! The direct overflow of a growing intimacy with God is the desire to build a deep relationship with others. Friendship with God fills us with joy and satisfaction, which fills us with love for others. The secret that my dad learned was that true friendship is God’s design for life! Though my dad was always late, he was always on time for loving others as Christ would.
A new year has just begun, and with that comes a fresh start and opportunity to evaluate our personal use of time. In the Flood, our middle school ministry at Friendship Church, we will be spending time learning about how to be wise with social media. During the CONNECT-U sermon series, the youth will hear a call to connect deeply in relationship with God and others. Please pray for the youth as they face the challenge of learning how to break with addiction to social media and to grow closer to Jesus by being satisfied in Him alone.
We welcome all people of Friendship Church to join us in this challenge. Consider these things: How much time you spend building friendship with God. How much time do you spend on social media platforms and other technological devices? The deeper question is: Just how satisfied in God do we want to be, and can we put down the device out of love for others?