Can I Forgive You, My Virtual Friend?

We sit here today in a silent conversation. I type out the annoying voice in the back of my brain onto a white screen, and soon you will be reading these words in between the pretty pictures. I may be sitting outside of a quiet coffee shop my local strip mall, or I could be hiding from the chaos (called bedtime) in my backyard under the orange summer sunset. You could be reading this on your phone while waiting in the air-conditioned minivan, or you could be contemplating at your comfy familiar desk with a warm cup of coffee in hand. We have a conversation, you and I, but such a strange one.

When I write to you, I imagine a few of my favorite faces. I think of their history, their kids, their journey, their fears. When I type out an argument, I imagine speaking to that passionate debater. I try to piece together where their thoughts originated, and what their next step may be. When I begin our conversation, you are my fictional cyber-friend, formed from my friends, my enemies, and my casual acquaintances.

When you read these words on the screen, you only can see a part of who I am. I have chosen to reveal some of my innermost thoughts. I’ll share hopes and dreams, frustrations and questions. But I do not always present myself as I really am. You do not get to observe all of my flaws. You can’t see the flash of anger in my eyes when I mention certain subjects, like the deaconess program. You can’t hear the sarcastic inflections when I bring up advice from our esteemed “parenting experts”. (OK, maybe you caught the sarcasm there? I tried hard.) You don’t catch my teary blinks when I am overwhelmed with too much and no answers. You know a very select version of my intentionally constructed self.

And so, we have a conversation. Something I write may strike a nerve, and you respond. Maybe you can empathize and you reply. Something in your comment causes me to learn a bit more about your intentionally constructed self. We have begun a conversation, and a foundation for our friendship.

Somewhere along the way, friends need each other. We battle together in the world, fighting for truth. Friendship includes those who can see beyond my intentionally constructed self. Friends are those who catch you crying when you don’t want anyone to see. Friends are still around after you say that stupid thing, that you always end up saying. And friends are desperately needed to pass on that word of forgiveness in the face of a shattered sinner, who is me.

So where does that leave us? How are we to relate to one another in our conversation, here? Are we simply avitars of our own imagination? Are we even friends?

Our modern vocabulary has really stretched the meaning of the word “friend” to mean a lot more than one whom I can count on, indefinitely. We use it for those acquaintances that we want to associate ourselves with, “This is my friend…” We use it in relationships to denote NOT romantically involved, “We’re just friends”. We use it in our virtual life to count the people that can openly stalk us, “Facebook friend!” I’m tempted to similarly apply the term to our blog relationship as well, my friend.

But, my friend, our conversations have limitations. Because I only see a shiny sliver of your person, I do not know where you are coming from. I do not know your kids, or your history, or your struggles and pain. You will learn only the parts of my life that I can muster the courage to disclose. We may type to each other for years, but never be able to recognize the person behind the words. Sadly, my friend, I will probably never see your brokenness, nor will you see mine. Because of the way in which we have chosen to relate, we will never be exposed so dreadfully. I am sad, my friend, that here we are constrained to talking about forgiveness, rather than breaking down and receiving Christ’s forgiveness from each other.

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