There is one question I’ve been asked more frequently during the past year than any other question that’s ever been asked of me: “Are you on Facebook?” For those of you who are interested in knowing the answer, it’s… No.
As I am with everything else, I’m very curious about the whole Facebook phenomenon, but at this point in my life, I would have to steal the time from more important activities in order to get up to speed on how to use it. After that, I would have to steal more time to go online every day to see what’s new with my “friends.”
While I do believe that Facebook has some worthwhile features and benefits, I am growing more and more concerned about how it’s being used by the younger members of our families.
Last Sunday while I was having lunch with my family, one of my daughters told me that it has become a common practice for people to write letters to inanimate objects on their Facebook page. Here’s an example of one such letter:
“Dear snow. Although I’m happy to see you have returned just in time for the Christmas season, I’m troubled by the fact that you have made it more difficult for me to drive safely to and from school. In addition, you have unfortunately brought with you extremely cold gusts of wind which prohibit me from enjoying my usual winter outdoor activities. Sigh. Next time you visit the earth, please be considerate of my needs and desires. I hope to see you again soon.”
I was dumbfounded. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I told her. “People aren’t really doing that are they? I can’t believe they would waste their time by posting such meaningless comments.”
My daughter actually started defending this bizarre practice, and then backed off because I think she realized that if she continued to argue her case, she would live to regret it.
She was right. She did live to regret it.
Later that day when someone brought up the fact that the microwave oven in the kitchen was acting up, I told my daughter that she needed to immediately go on Facebook and write a letter:
“Dear microwave. You have been faithful to my family for many years now and I want you to know that I will always appreciate what you have done for us. Please understand that if my dad ever decides to replace you, there will always be a special place in my heart for you. Rest assured that I will always remember you.”
Later in the evening I saw one of my other daughters drying her hair and I told the daughter who had defended the practice of writing letters on Facebook that she needed to show her love and affection for the hairdryer by writing another letter on Facebook:
“Dear hairdryer. I can always count on you to provide me with great warmth and comfort after I have washed my hair…”
She cut me off in midsentence: “Um, dad. You can stop now. I GET THE POINT!” For some unknown reason, it appeared from the look in her eyes that she was starting to get slightly irritated with me.
I really didn’t want to stop talking, but I humbly (and prudently) decided that it would be in my best interest to shut my mouth while I was ahead. But it was fun while it lasted.
Something else that I learned that day during lunch was that a lot of the high school and college age girls use Facebook as their own personal diary, writing detailed descriptions of their problems and innermost desires. They talk freely about how they are lonely and in a deep state of depression because they don’t have a boyfriend, or because their parents don’t understand them, or because happiness has somehow eluded them. It’s as if they don’t really realize the magnitude of what they are doing – exposing their hearts and souls to all of their Facebook “friends,” which can number in the hundreds or thousands (as well as “friends” of their “friends” who, in most circumstances, can gain access to their Facebook page).
Instead of seeking the wise counsel of a true friend or advisor, these girls open themselves up to shame and ridicule. Worse than that, whatever they write on their Facebook page can be copied and saved as a digital file by anyone who can see the page. Once copied, the digital file can never be retrieved by the person who wrote it. (In other words, once the genie is out of the bottle, it can never be forced back inside.)
What these girls fail to realize is that their Facebook “friends” really can’t help them with their deep-seated problems. By posting their personal feelings and problems, they not only open themselves up to shame and ridicule, but they run the risk of scaring off the people who would otherwise be interested in developing meaningful relationships with them.
A former mentor and spiritual advisor of mine, Fr. John Hardon, once recommended a very effective process for dealing with my own personal problems. He told me that any time I am confronted with a serious problem or concern, I should do the following: (1) go to an adoration chapel, say a prayer for guidance, and then sit down and write a letter to our Lord explaining my problem or concern; (2) after explaining my situation in writing, write down whatever questions I have for our Lord. An example would be: “Dear Lord, you know what’s best for me. What should I do to deal with this problem? What would you do?”; (3) then write down the following: “I think this is what you would tell me to do,” and then proceed to write down what I think the Son of God is telling me I should do; and (4) before leaving the chapel, say a prayer of thanksgiving to our Lord for helping me out.
I have followed Fr. Hardon’s letter writing advice on numerous occasions. There have been times I have continued my written dialog with our Lord for several days (in the chapel while in His Divine Presence), and it has worked every time. There have been times He has led me to another person for assistance. Other times, He has given me the grace, wisdom, humility, and courage to deal with the problem on my own. The letters I have written have been between me and my Savior and have never been shared with anyone else. Isn’t that the way it should be sometimes? There are certain problems only He can fully understand and solve.
This coming week we have the privilege of celebrating the birth of a King. An all-powerful King. An all-wise King. An all-loving and merciful King. A Divine King who willfully and voluntarily came to this world as a vulnerable and innocent child, and remained vulnerable and innocent until He was put to death by some of the same types of people who may happen to be Facebook “friends” with our children.
Do you want a real friend who you can turn to? A friend who has known you from the moment of your conception? A friend who has all of the answers and can help you deal with the overwhelming and unbearable cross that you are sometimes required to carry? A friend who will never betray you, never ridicule you, and never let you down?
The friend I’m referring to will not force you to come to Him. You have to choose to go to Him. Is it too much to ask of you to give up an hour of your Facebook (or Internet) time every week to pay a visit to the King of Heaven, who is waiting for you in the adoration chapel?
Do you think you can you find the time today to call and set up some weekly “face time” with the Son of God?
I agree that, just like the printing press itself, web 2.0 social media is a double edged sword. Sites like facebook make it so much easier to maintain relationships and re-connect with old friends, but users need to take the time to understand privacy settings and control who has access to what information. I kept many journals as a young man — which still to this day have been read by only One — as I myself have not had the courage to re-read most of it. I think that is where young people need to purge their feelings — in a journal to God. When I die, I do plan on letting bequesting my journals to my two sons, but if I ever get the strength to re-read about some of my youthful struggles, I may actually black out some of that record too. After all, healthy journaling between ones self and God can be very healthy. Young folk should think twice before extending their readership beyond that one Audience.
I think Fr. Hardon gave you the best advice! I have been wishing that I had a spiritual director for some time now to try to help me with my problems. A priest once wrote and told me that he recommended that I look for a spiritual director (particularly from among the Jesuits), but I couldn’t imagine where to even begin finding one.
Is your Fr. John Hardon the same Fr. John Hardon who went to heaven on December 30, 2000?
Yes, Fr. Hardon died in December of 2000. Unfortunately, it’s extremely difficult to find a good spritual director. The best place to seek out counsel is an adoration chapel where our Lord is present. If you follow the technique I layed out in the article, our Lord will guide you. I would also suggest that you pray a daily Rosary and pray the Litany of Humility every day. You need humility in order to really hear and understand what our Lord and Lady are trying to tell you.