How I Balance Online Transparency and Discretion

 

How I Balance Online Transparency With Discretion // jessconnell.com
For my part, and I haven’t done it perfect, I’ve tried to do what felt most wise and honoring to God, honoring to others, and gave me freedom to care for myself, in each stage of online “life.”

Here are three questions/principles I’ve used to think through these things:

#1- HOW CAN I PUBLICLY SHARE IN A WAY THAT HONORS MY LORD?

For me, ever since attending the Suffering & the Sovereignty of God conference in 2005, where we encountered people who had experienced great hardship in their lives (Steve Saint, Joni Eareckson Tada, etc.), a  guiding principle has been to look at every situation in my life as part of God’s good plan for me, and a way that He will be more glorified.

So, no matter the situation (frustrating/hurtful/discouraging/exhausting), I want to strive to acknowledge God’s goodness and magnificence in it. So, I hold back public words until I can do so.

Privately, I work through hurts, pains, sorrows, struggles, in prayer, and with my husband and friends, but publicly, I try to wait to speak until I can speak in a way that rightly displays God’s goodness and glory in the situation. WHICH COULD MEAN that Facebook posts seem “shallow” or not as transparent while I’m processing through something difficult… but I’m OK with that because the people in real life, who are talking with me and living life alongside me, see and hear my heart until I am ready to put a stake in the ground about the particular circumstance we’ve walked through.

My goal is not to “be real” to the point that every person in any encounter with me, at any time, knows everything I am thinking and feeling, but to honor Christ.

So that affects what, and how much, I share at certain times.

#2- HOW CAN I PUBLICLY SHARE IN A WAY THAT WILL SHOW HONOR AND KINDNESS TO OTHERS?

At times when I’ve felt bruised by real life situations, I’ve pulled back and shared very little that was personal in the moment that I felt it. I wrote out articles but did not publish them until months later. I journalled. I shared my hurts privately with friends face-to-face, but did not put them on Facebook.

That is because, I believe that when our life particulars (yes, even great and bitter hurts– deep blows to my soul) include others (because of job, community, or family connections), the things that we publicly share need to prefer others above ourselves. 

We should not resort to underhanded bashing, implications toward people who have hurt us, or manipulative comments that put us in the best light and others in the worst light.

  • We need to give others the grace we ourselves would like.
  • We need to see them with the maximum amount of grace we can possibly muster (and in times of hurt, we will need to FORCE ourselves to give them EVEN MORE grace because our human tendency is to do the opposite). [This is what the 1 Corinthians 13 phrase “love believes all things” means… that we believe the best possible thing about others.]
  • We need to LOVE others through the ways that we share, and DON’T share. [1 Peter 2:19-25 holds up Christ as the example of how we should not revile in return, but instead, entrust ourselves to the One who judges justly.]

This may not always look like saying nothing publicly, but as a disciple of Christ, I am constrained by the desire to honor Him and seek peace and unity in the Body.

And it is my personal experience that, more often than not, that will mean that silence rather than a Facebook post, or saying nothing rather than writing half-sorted-out articles about a topic, may be the best way to love and honor others above myself. This does not mean that we don’t pursue honesty and communication in real life, but rather, that online places are almost never the best repository for dumping or working through our deepest, most bitter hurts… at least not initially.

#3- HOW CAN I CARE FOR MY OWN NEEDS & MY FAMILY’S NEEDS, via online and real life opportunities?

The truth is that the Body of Christ is meant to operate primarily face-to-face. And so for me, the internet can be a tool to fuel that, or occasionally a way to seek wise counsel from a friend who lives on the other side of the globe, but primarily, my life online is a tool I can use to FUEL REAL LIFE GROWTH, in my REAL LIFE with my family and local Body of Christ.

So, I may read articles, or write articles, or read Facebook, or share on Facebook, but my goal is never to “connect” or “be real” or “be known” fully online. Facebook can’t be my relational center; it can’t function well in that way. We humans are not made for the screen.

Instead, my goal is to use online interactions as a way to grow in wisdom, be challenged or sharpened in my thinking, etc… in order that I might personally grow, and help my family to grow and be nurtured here in real life. 

So, I may share online about things going on with my family… and I may not. But the dividing line between what I share or not is not to seek self-adulation (through “perfect pictures”), or to achieve “transparency” for the sake of transparency. I want to share things in such a way that my family is blessed and nurtured and cared for, and in order that I might grow relationships within the Body of Christ and my God-given sphere of influence (biological family, friends, etc.). I want to share things that are beneficial for others, but never at the expense of my family and local church  

 

These are some guiding principles that help me sort out what to share, and how much to share, online. But they are not absolutes… just some thoughts I have on this topic.

So, please, bring your thoughts to the table, in the comments–

  • Do you see flaws/gaps in my thinking?
  • In what ways have you grown in your online interactions?
  • How have you found a place of balance between transparency and discretion?

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

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6 Responses

  1. Candice says:

    This is good. I don’t blog anymore but I remember that tension well. I loved what you said about honoring Christ ABOVE ‘being real’. That doesn’t mean faking it, but often means being quiet (with the majority of people, possibly letting a few trusted ones know so they can pray and give counsel) and trusting the Lord as you process and wait on Him through difficult times. Good stuff, Jess! I’m glad you are blogging several times a week. I always look forward to reading!

  2. Rachel B says:

    This is really good, Jess. Thank you. We just went through a really sticky church situation and I’ve never felt so tempted to share details and justify my actions. I think keeping our mouths shut at times is one of the best ways to overcome evil with good especially when tempted to do otherwise.

  3. Allison says:

    I don’t blog, but I can certainly appreciate this dilemma, thanks to Facebook! Something that I have pondered though, is how open should you be with non-believing friends in person? For example, there are times when I have had struggles with my children, and on one hand, I feel drawn to discussing some of these struggles with my co-workers, but on the other hand, I get the impression they think I’m a little bit crazy for having had 3 kids so early in life anyway, and I don’t expect them to value the same things that I do. I want to be open and wise and point them to the Lord, and I don’t want them to get the impression that I don’t trust the Lord , but of course, even for a believer, there are days when such trust is a fight for joy. Although I only work part-time, we spend enough time together that that pretending everything is great, when it’s not, actually feels shallow, but I don’t want to ever give them the impression that the Lord is not adequate to carry me through trials, because even though there are days when my faith is small, over time, I have absolutely seen that the Lord is more than enough for me.

    On a positive note, this struggle certainly keeps me accountable. My co-workers have seen me at my best and also at my worst. The stress of our jobs will put anyone “on edge” emotionally, and they’ve seen me show incredible patience (which came totally from the Lord, because it’s not me!), but they’ve also seen me snap at people and have to go back and apologize. It really make me think twice before I post on facebook. I don’t want to sound more godly on Facebook than they know I am in real life, and that tension spurs me on to strive to honor the Lord verbally and by my actions at work so that when I post about the Lord on Facebook, they know that my faith is not just a Facebook faith, but a real and lasting trust in the Lord.

  4. Kondwani says:

    It’s always a tension with any social media – the ones I find really hard are the photos and statements some people put up on wedding anniversaries or of romantic dinners. Firstly, I think these are private things (unless it is something like a silver wedding celebration) and also, do they really mean, ‘I have been thankful every single moment for being married to such a marvellous man’? Because I certainly don’t feel that way – whilst thankful for our marriage I could not say that every single moment has been absolute bliss! So does that mean there is a problem in our marriage? Does everybody else in church have these peaceful loving relationships filled with champagne, flowers and romantic gestures? I don’t want to know about people’s marital conflicts or anything, but I suppose I want to know what is real! (And it can be so discouraging at times to see everybody else’s perfect life, even if you know it is not their life, it is just their ‘face’).

    But the other comment I have is that I find social media really helpful in breaking the isolation I can otherwise feel. I rarely have the chance for any kind of meaningful conversation in daily life, and by carefully choosing which facebook pages I ‘like’ and which groups I join, I have an encouraging network of encouraging people that I can relate to. Yes, it should not replace real life, but at this phase of life, it sometimes can be the most meaningful personal interaction I know!

  5. Ben says:

    This is a REALLY interesting conversation.

    QUOTE
    Privately, I work through hurts, pains, sorrows, struggles, in prayer, and with my husband and friends, but publicly, I try to wait to speak until I can speak in a way that rightly displays God’s goodness and glory in the situation. WHICH COULD MEAN that Facebook posts seem “shallow” or not as transparent while I’m processing through something difficult… but I’m OK with that because the people in real life, who are talking with me and living life alongside me, see and hear my heart until I am ready to put a stake in the ground about the particular circumstance we’ve walked through.
    My goal is not to “be real” to the point that every person in any encounter with me, at any time, knows everything I am thinking and feeling, but to honor Christ.

    I think the decision of what to post on FB is very tough. You bring up the issue of glorifying God. There’s two main ways I know this happens.

    1. Conscious. I think this is what you’re referring too. What we say with our words etc.

    2. Un conscious. These are all the ways in scripture where people and whole cultures are used to bring him glory and they have no idea how. Job, Joseph in jail, P/Saul killing Christians, etc.

    I want to do #1 but personally I’m really fascinated by #2. I have a tendency to appoint human heroes and want to be a hero. I think it’s the way of the christian culture I grew up with. It’s natural. It’s what people are looking for. There was a high emphasis on #1. Only say (and show) that which glorifies God.

    It’s been our belief that unless we are proactively honest people will appoint us as heroes in their life. That kind of freaks me out. Especially if it’s being a hero for the wrong thing. Things like strength, integrity, etc. I don’t mind being a hero but I would rather it be for the human traits that are treated heroically by scripture. Things like humility, desperateness, and faith. THOSE things do not look heroic or even positive in our culture, and by “our culture” I mean facebook.

    That being said, I have no idea what to post on FB or what not to post on FB. Here’s some stuff I’ve been thinking about in regards to what I post that I think you’ll enjoy. Obviously this requires an 8 hour conversation in person to get further.

    In regards to being “real”
    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/05/opinion/sunday/unless-youre-oprah-be-yourself-is-terrible-advice.html

    (contains swears)

    • Jess Connell says:

      I think we might be talking past each other, or having different situations in our heads.

      I definitely think Paul or Joseph in jail glorified God… I think they did it deliberately though. We never see either one disparaging God… and when they complain, it’s almost always to God. With Paul, perhaps, there’s some situational-awareness he does within the Body of Christ… telling people what he’s suffered/suffering. Paul lived more “publicly” in his sorrow than Joseph, but both were much more fully/publicly seen after the fact than during their suffering.

      For me, the awareness that not only the Body of Christ is listening in… and that baby Christians/immature people within the Body are too… limits my speech during the times when emotion would take over my words and rob them of either grace or truth. In those moments, I let my guard down to people I can trust with my “words for the wind” (http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/when-words-are-wind). But everyone doesn’t need to hear my despair. Kind of like Job, the people closest to me will. But I don’t feel an obligation to let everyone on FB know the particulars of my pain, or the keenness to which I feel it. People IRL, though, see it quite plainly.

      For example, when Doug publicly/painfully lost his job in TX, we were VERY open with people IRL about our hurts… openly wept with friends… talked through the details and difficulties…

      but there were people who either – thought they were close to us, but didn’t actually draw near to us during that time… or -interacted with us almost entirely/only through texting/social media (even if they were real-life friends). Those people did not hear our weeping, learn our perspective on things, see our hurts, or the depths of our dependency on God.

      Regardless, *when we were walking through it*, I opted to say almost nothing on social media or on the blog. I did not want to dishonor Doug, didn’t want to stir up dissension/division within our local community, and I did not want to say anything that could cause others to question God’s goodness despite our pain.

      So, to people who knew us in person, I was honest and raw… but with the general public, I did not feel that same obligation.

      I get what you’re saying about not setting myself up as a hero. Definitely don’t want to do that. But in those moments, we were just trying to get through the days… so big-picture questions like those were very very far from my mind. Just helping Doug get a job, getting the house fixed up so we could sell it and move, and doing all my normal mom things, took up our thinking and energy.

      The other element of this is that this blog is more polemic/less personal in nature, and I don’t think people come here expecting to peek in on all my real emotions in real time. Frankly, I’m not sure people expect that on FB either. If they do, that’s a pretty wrong expectation because I’ve almost never seen that done… and when it is, it’s almost never done well, and is often chalked up as “drama-booking”/etc.

      I think on your vlog, where you’re sharing everything in real time, you’ve had some interesting challenges of finding the balance between sharing “we’re going through something hard with our extended community”… and offering every detail (which I’ve not seen you do). For us, when that same sort of “hard” was happening in real time, in a very public way, involving most of our larger community, with people looking to us and I think almost expecting us to speak/complain, we opted to stay silent and trust God through the hardest months of our lives.

      We didn’t see that as dishonest, or as setting ourselves up as heroes, but as a way of finding our way through the muck in a way that honored Christ and promoted unity.

      But I suspect you and I are talking about different things? Or different degrees?

      thanks for the convo-

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