Editor’s note: “Matters of faith” is a column that provides local religious leaders a place to write about how their respective faiths provide hope, courage and strength in these modern times.
The popularity of social networking sites like Facebook has exploded as people, especially kids, try out new identities for others to see.
In the old days known as PC (pre-computer), most of us made friends face-to-face by moving in next door to someone or beginning a conversation on the playground or in the classroom. It wasn’t called “social networking” back then; it was called “making friends.”
Today, we can now make a “BFF” (best friend forever) with a 4G data network and a touch of a finger. Your average teen now has access to a worldwide network of “friends,” acquaintances and information that can impact their lives — for better or worse.
Facebook is a site where anyone can “post” information, pictures, preferences and musings by and about themselves. The network is designed for people 16 and older; however, increasing numbers of preteens have been logging on, declaring (or manufacturing) their identities for the world to see.
Therein lies the problem. The appeal for teens and preteens (and the problem for parents and officials) is that you can never know who a person really is on Facebook. Laura Kastner, a Seattle-based adolescent psychologist, says that the popularity of Facebook among young teens, “makes perfect sense developmentally because of their burgeoning identity. They can try out different identities and make them up along the way.”
“It’s like going to the mall times a hundred.” LOL!
Yet, we do not need to invent or reinvent ourselves. What we need to do is discover our true identity. Unfortunately, our culture tends to teach people to invent or reinvent themselves rather than discover their own identity. We discover who we are when we know “whose” we are. It’s when we move from Facebook to God’s book that we discover who we really are. In God’s book we discover that through Jesus Christ, we are the beloved children of God. Our identity has already been established and we belong and can participate in the “abundant life” God has for us.
Little is recorded about Jesus’ life between His birth and the age of 30. But there is one story from the Gospel of Luke where we read:
“After they had already traveled a full day’s journey toward home, they began searching for Him (Jesus) among their friends and relatives. When no one had seen the boy, Mary and Joseph rushed back to Jerusalem and searched for Him. After three days of separation, they finally found Him — sitting among a group of religious teachers in the temple — asking them questions, listening to their answers. Everyone was surprised and impressed that a 12-year-old boy could have such deep understanding and could answer questions with such wisdom. His parents, of course, had a different reaction.
Mary: “Son, why have You treated us this way? Listen, Your father and I have been sick with worry for the last three days, wondering where You were, looking everywhere for You.”
Jesus: “Why did you need to look for Me? Didn’t you know that I must be working for My Father?”
This text helps us understand a couple of things about Jesus. First, Jesus’ childhood was no different than any other child in his time. Second, as Jesus enters young adulthood, He begins to explore His sense of identity.
This sense of call and identity marked the childhood of Jesus. Remember, Jesus is twelve. If you know anybody who is twelve, you won’t be surprised that he or she didn’t spend every minute with his parents. This helps us understand why Mary and Joseph assumed that Jesus was with friends or relatives.
When the parents finally find their son in Jerusalem, He is acting like a young man instead of a little boy. Even at that young age, Jesus had a sense of who He was and whose He was. God’s call was already being enacted in His life.
While it’s true that most twelve year olds today are smarter than I will ever be, it is also true that wisdom comes from experience. It is also true that parents are still the primary influence in a young person’s life.
If you have children or grandchildren who are Facebooking, I would suggest you log on and send them a friend request. You will discover a lot about your children’s hopes and dreams and who your children are and who they want to be. Plus, your kids will think your cool and will appreciate your willingness to participate in their lives.
If we are not willing to make ourselves available to listen and really hear what our kids are telling us face-to-face or on Facebook, we could miss the opportunity to encourage and nurture them in God’s calling.
This doesn’t mean everyone should become a minister or pastor. It means that if you want to be a fireman, or a nurse, or a teacher, or a country and western singer, or a mother, or a business executive, whatever you do, do it to the glory of God.
Most of our children are not aware that God made them for a purpose. That includes us older folk, too. We have compromised our calling, the very dreams God gifted to us. We are not feeling God’s pleasure in our daily lives. We have forgotten, or perhaps we have never been aware, that our purpose is to bring God glory by simply working at being who we are to perfection.
When we know God loves us and wants to partner with us in the work Jesus began on Earth as in heaven, it changes the game. We are no longer seduced by what the world thinks we should be. We have discovered our true identity: a beloved Child of God! Now that is something worth “posting!”
Rev. Paulsen is pastor at Tooele United Methodist Church.