I’m a detail-oriented, task-driven person. I must clear the red at the top of my Facebook profile. And I can’t only clear my notifications. I must take action quickly with anything that requests my attention because that’s how I roll with productivity. Except there are occasional times when I get tripped up by certain friend requests. I celebrate inside when I see a request from someone I like. Admittedly, I’m also a bit let down when it’s some guy from Indonesia with whom I have no mutual friends. And then there are the requests I dread but am equally intrigued by—those from my high school bullies or, really, from anyone whom I associate with that unpleasant experience.
Some of you know what I mean. The requests that make you scowl in confusion or just flat-out say, “Yeah right!” There are probably a few glaring memories that invoke your response—the hurtful nickname he gave you, the scene in the cafeteria, the rumor she spread. The kind of stuff that forever impacted you and makes you wonder what the heck does this person want?! It’s easy to let anger resurface. You might even take satisfaction in saying aloud, “DE-lete” as you impulsively execute the function. Then there are those of us who end up confirming these invitations because, deep down, we’re curious about what, if anything, is on the other side.
Perhaps this kind of thing comes as no shock to Millennials and younger. But I’m an early 80s baby—amongst the last wave of people who finished adolescence without social media—and I find myself in this weird space, not entirely relating to how any other generation rejects or embraces social media. I still prefer reach-out-and-touch-you relationships, but they’re so difficult to come by nowadays. Everyone is too busy to do much more than “like” and scroll. So I’ve accepted it, but I still sometimes struggle to balance my old-school desire with the impersonality of cyber friends. I’ve definitely experienced the pros of social media, reconnecting with people whom I may never have known their whereabouts otherwise. It’s interesting to take a small glimpse at who people became, what their children look like, and to catch up with old friends. Still, I’m wary of allowing my social media to turn into a regular class reunion, considering the largest share of most peoples’ Facebook friends are high school classmates.¹
My first scratch-my-head moments came on MySpace. Why on earth were some of the girls who had been mean to me in high school wanting to reconnect? Then, I didn’t hesitate to find out by sending private messages. Then, I took the term “friend request” literally. I believed if a person wanted to be “friends,” I deserved to know why. I was willing to open myself back up because I was forgiving, but darn-straight, we were gonna talk about some stuff first. Eventually, I realized while that attitude was a step toward healing, it wasn’t forgiveness.
I took a different approach on Facebook and other subsequent platforms. By then, I no longer needed to interrogate connections when they resurfaced. Who was I to keep them locked into adolescence? But to this day, one request from an old schoolmate instantly sounds an alert in my head. I have to work hard to see them as more than kids up to old tricks, perhaps collecting new information only to criticize me like they used to. I breeze through their connections to make sure they are as safe as possible (whatever that means). Then wonder if they’ve only come back to snoop? (It seems like a logical explanation for those who I accept then turn around and delete me or delete and block me only a few days later). Do they have any idea how their simple friend request triggers skepticism and pain? Do they care? Do they even remember? Because I will never forget. Even if these people don’t remember the details as I do, I believe people know right from wrong. They remember the big picture of whether they were mean or nice. I know one woman who, forty years after high school, received an apology from a former mean girl. This mean girl couldn’t remember what she had done. She only remembered she was mean. She wasn’t the biggest bully, but she left a lasting impression. And now, she was brave enough to reach out and make another impression that better represented who she had become.
Those are the kind of requests with which I find myself most torn—the ones that come from people who weren’t necessarily my biggest bullies but who were teetering on the edge of my conflict. Like the former teammate who sat on a locker-room bench and did nothing more than stare as our teammates screamed at me. Hers was the first request I mulled over for more than a month. I wondered if she had forgotten what had happened. Was she still playing the popularity game? She already had a thousand friends on her list. Was I just another number? Or did she want to say something to me? Now, I sometimes see her images in my newsfeed. It doesn’t matter how many selfies she posts. I still only see that girl in the locker-room who said nothing, and I have to stretch to look beyond because I know she has to be so much more than that. I’m still not quite sure why she requested me, other than having tagged me in a few throwback photos and liking a few of my statues. I know why I accepted her, though.
People have told me how they would respond to these friend requests. “DENY!” they say. I understand. That was my initial reaction too—when I was fresh into adulthood and social media. Why would I re-expose myself to them? What are my boundaries? What happens when I accept one? Would there be others? Would there be repercussions? Every time I shared my thoughts with others, I only came up with fear-based solutions. While I appreciate those who want to safeguard my emotions, I am not created to live in fear. My downfall was in taking my issue to man before God. Now, I know if I want to make the best decision, I act solely upon the guidance of the Lord.
All of the times I’ve struggled with a friend request, He helps me see how I’m holding on to anger and resentment. The sooner I recognize and deal with this, the better. I devote thought and prayer to each request. God always takes the weight off my shoulders and shows me what to do. More often than not, I arrive at acceptance. Sometimes that means sharing my full profile with the person. Other times, God allows me to take baby steps by selecting the restrict option. Over the years, I’ve accepted friend requests that go nowhere. Some give my posts a few “likes.” Most say nothing. I’m guilty of occasionally thinking things like, “What’s in this for me?” “Is she ever gonna say anything?” “After all, she’s the one who requested me.” But when I recognize my selfish thinking and renew my mind in Christ, I remember it doesn’t matter if I ever receive answers. I’m confident in my faith and how the Holy Spirit guides me to live my life. Every bit of that seeps into how I operate on social media.
If my social media served as a billboard for my life, I know what I want it to promote. I want it to be an honest representation of who I am and how I live my life, albeit a snapshot. I want my message of healing and forgiveness to inspire others to heal and forgive. Perhaps, I use social media differently and more intentionally than most, but I use it for a purpose. If people would like to come alongside me on that journey, no matter how they choose to engage with me, chances are, they’re probably welcome to do so (the exception being anyone who would put my family or me in danger).
So why should you re-expose yourself to your bullies, betrayers, and bystanders? Maybe you should. Maybe you shouldn’t. The decision is yours. Your boundaries might be different from mine. Perhaps some of the same steps that help me will help you too.
Ask yourself why you’re on social media in the first place. What’s your purpose there? If your social media profile is a billboard promoting your life, what does it say about you? What do the pages and profiles you like and follow represent? Do they honor God?
When you receive a friend request from a bully or not-so-good connection, examine your heart. What do you feel inside? Do you present those emotions to God and listen for His direction? Or do you take matters into your hands and make decisions based on fickle feelings? Do you arrogantly think, “Fine, I’ll let you see how good my life turned out,” or “Okay, so-and-so, I forgive you, but…” What does “but” mean and what kind of residency is it taking up in your forgiveness? Does this sort of response truly have a place in your rationale? Or is it a defense mechanism, driven by fear? Does it represent the piece of you that still desires to be heard? If so, why is that important? Are your thoughts and actions in line with scripture?
Ask God if social media is the best way to re-engage with this person at this time. Listen for His response. Some meetings are better-left in-person. Some need a softer, more casual approach. Could social media be the way? Try putting yourself in the other person’s place. Is it possible asking you to be a “friend” again was difficult for them? Could they have feared your backlash and rejection but took the risk regardless? If the request is important enough to you, you’ll take the initiative to find out what it means. It’s also okay for you not to respond. You aren’t required to “like” any of their posts, wish them a happy birthday, follow them on your newsfeed, or even accept their request. You can still love a person from a distance.
We never know for what people are searching or what’s in their hearts. We cannot be certain what’s on the other side of a friend request until we engage it. Maybe it’s their best attempt at an apology. Maybe your simple act of acceptance is enough to free them from the regret of how they mistreated you. Maybe they remain on your friends list for years without ever exchanging a word with you. Maybe they never say, “sorry.” Maybe they never acknowledge your pain. Maybe they don’t remember what they did, at least not like you remember. I don’t know about you, but I’ve made peace with that.