One of my closest friends at college voiced her marvel over the fact that I seemed to be genuinely concerned as a genuine friend to a group of people I refer to as “online friends”. I can’t say that I blame her. After all, the caution with which one must proceed when in cyberspace cannot be taken lightly. And yet, here am I, of all people, being genuine friends with people I’ve never met and have only known as a screenname and avatar.
And yet, for all the caution and concealment of personal details, I am blessed to call these people my friends — a word, by the way, I don’t bestow lightly. Most of these online friends I’ve met and maintained through a very particular website, populated by fans of a particular fandom and most of these members are Christians. That’s a double commonality right off the bat. Through the well-monitored and very safe forum threads and chat system and private messages, we all get to know each other, build relationships. We talk about the randomest things, we ramble about things we have in common (or, conversely, about ways we differ), we tease and banter and goof off, we listen to each other, and we pray for (and even with) each other.
Need I say we’re a unique community?
I think it’s amazing that we can have such close-knit family. Of strangers. Spread even across the globe. Over the internet. And all of us attentive to preserving our privacy. These factors aren’t obstacles for us. Sure, it would be nice to know my friends without their various masks (as some of them do), but I’ve found that I don’t really need that with them. We can still know each other very well without once knowing where the others live, what their lives are like (to some point or another), or even, in the case of a very few, what genders they are!
I’ve had the opportunity to be a genuine friend, a good friend, to a few of these members. I don’t just log in to distract myself or cure boredom. I log in to be a friend. I’ve listened while others have poured out their problems in long private messages. I’ve added their prayer requests to my list. I’ve encouraged, simply talked to, and had all sorts of totally nonsensical fun with them.
Just as I do with my “real-life friends”.
But I’m not the only one giving. They pray for me, encourage me, have fun with me too. Sometimes, it just takes a small gesture – a wee bit of text on a screen – from one of them to boost my spirits, even if they never know what problem I have beyond a simple sentence like “I’m frustrated” or a very vaguely-worded prayer request.
Just like my “real-life friends” do.
The Lord has blessed me with all my friends – both the ones I’ve met and the ones I haven’t – and has given me the unique opportunity to love more people than I’d have otherwise. I love and am thankful for each and every one of the friends He has brought my way. Be they the friends I made face-to-face the traditional way or the strangers-but-not in cyberspace.
(Disclaimer: I am in no way advocating a lack of privacy over the internet. It’s both a tool and a weapon. Please use with caution.)