What I Want More Than an End to Porn

A friend told me recently about a kid in third grade who was having behavioral troubles: saying and doing weird stuff, relating oddly to his peers. A little sleuth work from adults who love him revealed why: he’d been exposed to—and nearly devoured by—porn on his phone. He is eight years old.

EIGHT.

This story was shocking because of the age of the person involved, but sadly not because of the content. More and more I hear from pastors and friends and wives-of-husbands and mothers-of-teens about the soul-destroying , imagination-crushing, joy-sapping and trust-smashing effects of pornography. In their homes. Classrooms. Churches.

And, more recently, I’ve had young men (and women, because this is not just a men’s issue) tearfully confess to me how they feel like they’re drowning in this addiction. They know they shouldn’t, but they just don’t know how to stop. They can’t unsee what they’ve seen, and somewhere deep inside them there’s an insatiable visceral growl to see more, and more, and more.

I feel their despair and some of their hopelessness: addictions are so hard to break. Will they ever be able to have healthy sex lives? Is it really that bad? If they’re Christians, will God forgive them? Will they ever be able to go to sleep and not be assaulted by mental images that tantalize and torment them?

Of course, there’s all the research out there that says STOP, JUST STOP using porn. It’s bad for you: it’s rewiring your brain, wrecking adolescentsdestroying your capacity for intimacy in relationships, underpinning human trafficking, and more. Heck, even manly man magazine GQ has a list of reasons why you should stop watching porn, including that it declines arousal rates, increases rates of erectile dysfunction, and leads to all-round lower energy and productivity rates.

Stopping such high-sensory-feedback, addictive habits is notoriously difficult, particularly when there’s the cloak of shame that makes community support and encouragement (often the bedrock of any addiction recovery plan) all the more difficult. But the good advice and necessary steps to stopping remain important and true:

  • find a buddy/community who can help you identify when you feel weakest/most likely to indulge.
  • take practical steps to make access more difficult for you: alcoholics purge their homes of alcohol. Porn addicts  need to get their screens the heck out of their bedrooms and enclosed spaces. Put your phone and laptop in the living room. Keep the office door open. Install software that flags porn and give someone else the passwords to check it.
  • Look for the encouragement from people who’ve walked this road before you, whether in person or online. There are stories of people who’ve come out on the other side. These are important for the wisdom they give as well as for cultivating hope. We *need* to hear stories of people who will say “I used to have these images in my mind ALL the time, but it’s been a year and I’m not so haunted anymore. It gets better.”
  • Celebrate little victories. A year without porn doesn’t happen until you’ve had a day, two days, three days, a week without it. Each of these is worth celebrating.

But the more I listen and read and pray over this situation, the more I realize that I want more for people than for them to stop using pornYes, I want them to be free of the entrapment and shame and damage that it does – but I want more for them than freedom. Just like I want more for a caged animal than for it to be let out of its cage: I want to see it run free in its habitat. I want to see it flourishing in the areas it wasn’t able to before.

This is what I want for a generation trapped in porn addiction: I want them to be free, but I want more:

  • I want for you to have a network of healthy, rich, rewarding relationships with men and women of different ages. I want you to be able to laugh, work, partner, play, and grow with men and women in friendship and companionship, without it being weird or erotic. I want for you, young men, to have female FRIENDS you enjoy and admire and respect. I want for you, young women, to have male FRIENDS you enjoy and admire and respect. I don’t want you to be afraid of your own psyche or taunted imagination: I want you to be able to share a story or a project or a hug or whatever with freedom and joy with men or women around you.
  • I want you to kindle your creative imagination: to use your time and energy to devote to something you love and can do well. Hours of addiction, particularly addiction which rewires our brain with (terrible!) narrative plots, kill our imagination. I want you to invent something, build something, write something, chase after an ambition, run a 10k race, take up rock climbing, adopt a puppy and train it to do amazing tricks. Whatever. I want to see you experience joy and fulfillment in something you put your energy into.
  • I want you to experience your sexuality – your maleness or femaleness – as something good, beautiful, and true – not terrifying or debilitating or depraved. We are not androgynous personalities, we are male and female in all our relationships and endeavors, and I want you to know that being a woman is good and being a man is good and to think and pray and explore what that means. Our sex-crazed society has eroticized all of our gendered conversations and I want us to reclaim that good and holy ground: what does it mean to be a BROTHER and not just a sibling? What does it mean to be a DAUGHTER and not just a child? How is it unique that you are a GUY-friend or a GIRL-friend to your community? How do we experience being sons and daughters of God, and brothers and sisters in the church?
  • I want you to know the powerful and healing good of non-sexual, physical touch. Greet one another with a holy kiss, the Apostle said; and Jesus—while totally able to heal with a word—repeatedly TOUCHED people in his dealings with them. I want you to be able to give and receive hugs, handshakes, and the laying on of hands in prayer in life-affirming ways.
  • I want you to know, both in conviction and hopefully one day in experience, the richness that married sex can bring. It’s so much better, so much more rewarding, so vastly different from the sex that is peddled online. I want you to know that it’s possible and doable, even for broken people. I know, because I’m one of them.

Thinking through this list gives me courage, though. Because while there’s not a lot I can do to help people STOP using porn, there’s a lot I can do to help be part of a redeeming and healthy community of men and women. I can invite men and women over and be a healthy female friend to them. I can ask questions about people’s interests and hobbies and encourage them in them in creativity: attend that art exhibition, cheer them on in their first race, post a picture of their cool art on instagram. I can notice and affirm healthy relationships where I see them – for someone who’s internally feeling that they are not a safe or worthwhile person to be in a relationship with the opposite sex because of their internal shame struggle with porn, perhaps it could be life giving to have someone else affirm: “you were a good friend to her when you said/did x,y,z.” And, of course, we can be healthy touchers. I’m a believer in hugs and handshakes and words of affirmation. And, as readers of this blog know, I’m a believer in sharing hopeful, redemptive stories about marriage and sex.

There’s a battle going on for the hearts, minds, and imaginations of this generation. I can’t be the 1am gatekeeper or take down the porn industry; but this much I can do:

I can pray.

I can encourage.

And I can help be part of the forgiven and flourishing community of women and men that God intended for us, and keep inviting people to experience True Life there.

This much, I can do.

 

 

Ask Me: “Should I go to grad school if I want to be a mom one day?”

should-i-go-to-grad-school-if-i-hope-to-be-a-mom-one-day-2

Dear Bronwyn,

I finished college and have been working for a few years. I love my job, and pursuing graduate school feels like the logical next step for me and had been a part of my original plan. Yet I strongly feel that if I have children, I want to raise them. My question is this: is it wise to continue to go to school and invest time and money in advancing one’s career if one’s eventual hope is to be a mom? Advancement may make scaling back hours or taking a few years to raise children difficult, and taking time off to raise kids may result in slacked skills/practice upon re-entry into the working world.

There’s a second part to my question: if one isn’t even dating anyone and not currently bearing children, is it wise to make decisions on something that may never happen? I feel that we as women are not supposed to sit back and twiddle our thumbs until/if we get married, yet there is a reality to consequences from decisions made.

Do you have any thoughts?

Sera Sera

Dear Sera Sera,

As the old song goes: “Que Sera Sera; whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see.” That’s all fine and well, but the question remains: so, if I don’t know the future, what should I do now?

My advice: make the best decision you know now based on the information you have now. We don’t know what we don’t know, and when we do know better/more, we can adjust accordingly. Or, to put it in Christian parlance: be faithful with the opportunities and talents you have now, and entrust the future to God.

It sounds like God has given you the ability and resources to serve him and others in your career, and if you have a desire to pursue that more, I want to encourage you to pay attention to those desires. Jen Michel’s book Teach Us To Want is so helpful in this, as it teases out what life and ambition in the life of faith could look like. For us to learn how to name and ask for what we want—acknowledging that our interests and longings and skills are part of who God created us to be—and to prayerfully and faithfully pursue those while simultaneously holding outcomes with an open hand (“thy will be done”), is a mark of deep maturity in faith. If you feel a calling to specific, further training in your profession; I’d encourage you to press into that and see where it goes.

The second part of your question has to do with the bigger issue of whether (and how much) to pursue a career if you hope to be a full-time, or most-of-the-time mom, in the future. To this end, I want to highly recommend Katelyn Beaty’s book A Woman’s Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the WorldBeaty spells out that as image bearers of God, women are called to be flourishing culture-makers alongside men. That deep need we feel to make an impact for good on the world is part of the way God has wired us, and the hundreds of women (including homemakers) she interviewed bore out what my testimony is, too: staying at home to raise children can be exhausting and fill every second of every minute of every day… and yet somehow we still feel we were “made for more” influence than just the walls of our home.

So… all of that to say, I would want to encourage you to think about the fact that even if The Guy walks into your life right now—the one whom you will relate to face-to-face, and then also side-by-side in service of the Kingdom— and even if you have a whirlwind wedding and a baby within a year (go ahead, snicker. But these things happen)… I’m betting that the longing you have for developing your passions and serving in your area of training and gifting is not going to magically vaporize should you become a Mother. Even as a Mom, you will still be you, and you will long to make a difference and you will still be interested in the things that interested you before… and the task then will be figuring out how to pace your interests and responsibilities for each season of life.

So I want to encourage you to take the next steps to living out your calling as you have opportunity now, whether that be taking a career risk and trying something new, or pursuing grad school, or whatever. Sitting around and waiting feels a lot like the servant who buried his talents to me. My one caveat would be this: if taking this next step involves such a huge financial commitment (like medical school, for example, which is not only a commitment to 6 or so years, but a further commitment of 10 years at least to pay off the debt that most people incur!), take more serious counsel. That’s a BIG commitment, and not one you could walk away from 2 to 3 years down the line. But if the opportunities before you have a much shorter commitment in both time and money, then maybe consider that this might be God nudging you to be and serve just as He intended you to be.

Oh, and one more thing: just a reminder that even in the absence of an exclusive dating relationship with marriage potential, all of us are always called to a life of increasingly deep, intimate, loving and others-centered relationships with the people around us. No matter whether you study or stay or marry or move… committing to loving those around you better and growing in depth of relationship is something you will never regret.

All the best,

Bronwyn

 

Got a question you’d like to ask me on my virtual couch with a virtual hot beverage in hand? Contact me here….

 

 

 

Ask Me: How can I know if he’s the one? And are we too young to get married?

Am I too young to get married? How can I know if he's the one?

Dear Bronwyn,

My boyfriend and I are both 20, and have been dating for 4 years. We have been talking about getting married for a few months and I’m getting scared. I’m scared that he’s not the one for me because I don’t have that gut feeling and part of me is saying run away and that were both pretty young. I really want to be with him and wake up next to him. I’m worried I’m just in love with the idea of getting married and he’s convenient so I should just marry him. But we have a fuzzy electrical feeling when we kiss or touch and I don’t want to let that go. He says he knows I’m the one for him, but I just wish I had that feeling too. He’s everything I didn’t know I wanted in a husband. I’ve prayed and asked God for a sign to let me know if hes the one for me. The first time He sent a shooting star. The second time I felt like He was telling me through particular songs that kept coming up on the radio. After that second time you would think “Okay, God, I get the message,” but I still can’t shake the gut feeling of wanting to run. Is that the devil at work? Does the Bible say anything about this? Please help.

From,

Dating but Doubting

Dear DbD,

I hear three questions in your letter: Are we too young to get married? How can I know if he’s the one? And, will God give me a sign that I’m making the right decision? I’ll try to touch on each of these:

Firstly, on the question of “how old is old enough to marry?”: A hundred years ago (and probably for centuries before that), a couple who were twenty and had been together for four years may well already have been married! It is a strange feature of our modern world that it has become normal to delay marriage for ten, even fifteen, years later than our ancestors did.

But there is still much to be said for marrying young. In her excellent article The Case for Getting Married Young, Karen Swallow Prior talks about the difference between seeing marriage as the cornerstone, rather than the capstone, of your adult life. I was one who married a little later, but am now in a position where I have a group of friends who are my age but many of them have been married ten years longer than we have (and have kids going to college already!!), because they married in their late teens and early twenties. When these friends of mine talk about their marriages, they talk about how they and their husbands had to grow up together: they figured out how to “adult” (as it now seems to be a verb) as a team… and they are the better for it.

But this is not the norm with most people in their early twenties. I hear more people talk about first wanting to reach certain career and financial milestones before thinking about marriage, and while this is the conventional wisdom of our age, I don’t think the Bible has anything to say about seeking first career and financial stability, and then marriage being added unto you. Certainly, those who delay marriage and land up making poor sexual choices as a result have not chosen well. (In fact, did you know that in the Westminster Catechism, in the discussion of ways in which the seventh commandment is infringed, they list “undue delay of marriage” as one? Qu 139 over here.)

The health and maturity of your relationship matters so much more than your age. I would encourage you to try to rely less on your feelings and more on the wisdom of your community in taking stock of whether you and your boyfriend’s relationship is healthy and mature enough to move towards marriage. Ask your parents, leaders around you at church, trusted friends, and people who have been married a while: ask them about their experiences, ask them what advice they’d have, and then ask them if they would help you to identify any red flags they might see: do you have patterns of co-dependency that you might not be aware of? how do you handle anger, disappointment, and conflicts of interest etc? Also, if you are seriously thinking about marriage, I would strongly encourage you to do pre-marital counseling. Take your time and take it seriously: pre-marital counseling doesn’t “solve” any issues up front, but it really does a lot to help you walk into marriage with your eyes wide open and your expectations adjusted towards reality. If you can—and this is gold—stay in relationship with those counselor’s and ask if you can check in with them every couple of months after you are married. That kind of mentoring makes the world of difference.

As to the question: “how can I know if he’s the one?” I’ve written about the idea of finding the “one” and how much we can trust the tingly feelings of dating chemistry here, so I won’t go into too much about that more. I do want to add this, though: that you are dating in a millennial climate where we all like to keep our options open, but the downside of that is that sometimes keeping all our options open means also watching them all go by without having taken any. The desire to optimize all our experiences—to find the best deal, or the perfect vacation destination,  or the dream school, or the perfect mate—leads us to the deluded belief that if we just do enough internet research, we will make the perfect decision and then life will be easy. But it is a delusion. And sometimes, wisdom says that we would be happiest if we picked the GOOD option and worked with that, rather than indefinitely delaying deciding because we’re waiting for the best.

I mention this just to express some sympathy for the cultural climate we live in: the fear we have of “making the wrong decision” and “settling for second best” is horribly amplified by the world around us; and it is undergirded by the false premise that the “best” decision (or “the one”) really is out there, and that if we would just find that one then we will all live happily ever after. But life is not like that, and no matter how wonderful you and your partner may be (or how long you wait), marriage is still one between sinners and you will have seasons of deep challenge and mutual refining… and in the process, grow together.

Now that’s not to say we should go to a dance and “take a partner by the hand and doh-se-doh into happily ever after” with the first available single guy. Obviously, we need more wisdom than that: finding someone who loves God, who loves you, with whom you can grow and serve together, and (I think this is a deal breaker), with whom you can laugh at both triumphs and disappointments, goes a long way towards making marriage smoother. You say in your letter “he’s everything I didn’t know I wanted in a husband.” I think that’s a really encouraging start 🙂

Finally: will God give me a sign so I can be sure? Probably not. Will he give you wisdom if you ask? Yes. Will he give you guidance as you prayerfully try to figure this out? Yes. Will he make the decision for you? Usually no. Not unless you’re Gideon. But take heart, dear friend: just because God hasn’t put an appendix at the back of the Bible with the list of who you will marry (wouldn’t that be a trip?) doesn’t mean he isn’t leading, guiding, and providing, or that he won’t work in good and amazing ways through this process of questioning you’re going through. If I think back on the discernment process through my own dating and deciding-to-marry relationships: I felt so unsure at the time, and really wished God would just TELL ME WHAT TO DO ALREADY, but as I look back I can see his faithfulness in answering every one of my prayers, for being with me through the breakups, and in landing up where I have. I have ever confidence He has no less than abundant plans for flourishing for you, too.

All the best,

Bronwyn

Got a question you want to send my way? You can ask me anything here…

What Marriage Isn’t

The marriage had its troubles in it, which is easy to say. It had something else in it too, which is not so easy.

The fresh-faced and totally-in-love newly weds sat at our dinner table, eager for our advice. They wanted to start a website for newlyweds, they said, and share their story to encourage people. “Marriage is awesome”, they beamed, “and we think people should know”. I chewed my dinner slowly and considered what to say, being five years further down the road than they.

Yes, marriage is awesome.

Except when it isn’t.

But how could they possibly know that yet? And who wants to be the Debbie Downer of Domestic Bliss? Marriage is absolutely awesome and also absolutely hard: both these things are true, and not in the sense that they cancel each other out in the midway to make marriage lukewarm or “mostly harmless”. Both these things are true in deep, shocking measure. Like the little girl with a curl in the middle of her forehead, when marriage is good it’s very, very good; but when it’s bad it’s horrid. And sometimes both these things are true in the same week. So to those newly weds I wanted to offer some words of perspective: Marriage between sinners can never be wholly good, but it does a holy good in us.

The longer I am married—and the longer I write—the harder I find it to write about marriage. Not because I’m disillusioned or unwilling to share, but because the mystery of marriage seems to me to deepen with time. Perhaps this is why this reflection from Hannah Coulter—Wendell Berry’s beautiful novel with an elderly woman’s reflections on her life—is so profound:

“The marriage had its troubles in it, which is easy to say. It had something else in it too, which is not so easy. As I go about quietly by myself in my days now or lie awake in the night, I hunt for the way to speak of it, for it is the best thing I have known in this world, and it lays its peace on everything else I know.

The longer I am married, the more I understand why St Paul, in his famous description of love, started out by trying to say what it was, but then was pushed into saying what it wasn’t. Love is patient, love is kind. That’s what love is. But love has a mysterious element too: defined as much by what it isn’t as what it is: it isn’t jealous, nor self-seeking, nor rude. It does not boast, nor does it tally others’ wrongs.

Love is known by its presence and its absences. By the giving of grace and the withholding of judgment. By what it is and what it isn’t. And so is marriage.

Marriage is a friendship, but it isn’t just that. Marriage is family, but it isn’t the only way we experience family. Marriage is hard, but often for very soul-shapingly good reasons. Marriage is good, but that good isn’t always easily won. Marriage is a firm resolve to keep the covenants we have made, and yet it isn’t just that; for marriage can also hold an easy camaraderie and a comforting togetherness and a desire to be together and come together which are so very hard to put into words.

Marriage isn’t salvation, but at its best it models grace and mercy.

Marriage isn’t life’s ultimate goal, but done well it can point us in that direction.

Marriage isn’t the be-all-and-end-all of relationships, but it is the most intense and refining and rewarding one I’m called to right now.

Personally, I am wary of marriage articles that begin with “5 ways to…” and “31 days to…” The longer I am married, the more I feel like a list of bullet points will not hit the target I’m aiming for. We need to read—and write—words and lyrics which tell the truth about marriage: how we will trip over our own egos and griefs, how again and again we will need deep grace, how sometimes daily life gets boring and yet we need to seek togetherness… and how, somehow, finding that togetherness of partnering through life in God’s service together, despite all our faults and failings, remains the most deeply comforting and joyful things I’ve known in this world.

It lays its peace on everything I know.

 

Image Credit: Sweethearts / Patrick (Flickr Creative Commons), edited using Canva.

The first year of marriage

 

Why is the first year of marriage so hard?

“So, how’s married life?”

It was a question we were asked hundreds of times in that first year. It was a question that always left me feeling a little bereft as to what to say.

The truth is, our first year of marriage was hard. Very hard. Not because we’d made a mistake, not because I regretted the decision, not because I wanted out. Even though I was sure we’d chosen right and wanted in – it was still hard.

We may have been in love, but we hadn’t yet begun to learn how to love one another well. We hadn’t yet begun to learn that beyond the declarations of love and commitment comes the daily study of learning what your spouse likes, and deeper than that – how your spouse thinks.

I cried. A lot. Tears of frustration. Tears of pain. Tears of despair. Tears of martyrdom, spilled out on my pillow before sleep finally came: “Oh God, I promised to love him even if this means feeling this way fore-eh-eh-eh- (sob)-ver…zzzz”

There was no particular sin or problem that made it hard. It wasn’t that we were mismatched. It was more just that it was painful to figure out the changes. I think the most honest thing we were able to say about that first year was that it was “a big adjustment“. Here are some of the things that were hard for us to adjust:

It was hard to change our expectations of how time together was spent. When we were dating and engaged, our time together was spent “TOGETHER”, and then we went home to our respective houses and did our alone-time things alone. But once we were married, was time at home together time, or alone time? How did we figure that out? I expected marriage to feel more like an extended low-fuss date. I think he expected it more to feel like alone time, except with me in the house. It was painful for both of us to figure that out.

We suffered from decision-making fatigue. Before we were married, we had to decide on a few things together, and we figured we were pretty good at making those decisions. But once we were married, we discovered that every part of every day and every routine in every chore needed now to be decided on: we didn’t want to presume to do it “his” way or “my” way, so that meant having to have conversation after conversation about what “our” way was going to be. When should we eat dinner? what to eat for dinner? Who will do what prep and cooking for dinner? How long after dinner is it acceptable to wait before doing the dishes? Should washed dishes be dried and put away at once, or left to drip dry until morning? None of these questions was important, but much like the fatigue of a group of friends all trying to decide on a place to go for dinner and the conversation just goes and goes and goes because no-one wants to decide for the group, or the fatigue of a 4
-year olds’ “why”…. we were tired.

Another complicating factor was that it was hard to figure out our social obligations. While dating, I had a large circle of (mostly single) friends, with whom I spent about half the nights of the week. Once
married, what happened to those friendships? I wanted to keep those friendships and not be the friend-who-dropped-off-the-face-of-the-earth once she got married, but I couldn’t leave my hubby alone at home 3 nights a
week, and I couldn’t always just invite my girl friends to our house: they were my friends after all, and while they liked him they didn’t exactly want to bare their souls to my new hubby.

And so I did what all nice-girls-in-a-bind do: I cried. In private.

Would telling the truth about it being hard that first year have been understood? Would it have been seen as betrayal? Betrayal to my husband, or to the idealized notion of marriage? At the time it felt like it might be both.

And so one night, when an older, wiser friend asked: “So, how’s married life?”, and then followed it up immediately with, “It’s hard, isn’t it?”, I just about sobbed with relief. It was hard. It was such a relief to say it. And you know what? It got better. That first year wasn’t all terrible, but to be honest – it wasn’t all great.

I have friends who have had most wonderful first years of marriage. I’m so happy for them. But I just wanted to put in writing that it was not so with us. Just in case there’s anyone out there, whether in year 1 or year 4 or year 14, who feels this marriage gig is HARD and I-didn’t-expect-this and am-I-doing-something-wrong? and will-I-always-feel-like-this? and I-don’t-regret-this-but-I’m-still-crying-all-the-time…

Just in case that’s you, I wanted to say: “So how’s married life? It’s HARD, isn’t it?”

I know. We struggled through it, and we came through the stronger for it. You can too.

You might be interested in this post over at Start Marriage Right: Why we ditched the “young marrieds” groups

10 Tips For Making The Most of Twitter

When I have a question about Twitter, I ask Aleah Marsden. As it turns out, I’m not alone with my questions about the why, how, and what-the-heck of Twitter, so I asked Aleah to please write us newbies a post. Enjoy, and tweet it to a friend!

Top 10 Twitter Tips

I get comments from people occasionally wondering why Twitter is my hands-down absolute favorite social media platform.

I tell them it’s because there are people there.

Real people with real lives who, if they are using it well, are also looking to interact. I don’t think any other social media platform offers that as simply and effectively as Twitter. Facebook comes with a lot baggage; some people would be better off limited to 140 magical characters. Instagram is visually stunning, though I find its lack of links and difficulty sharing stunt its ability for deeper connection. Pinterest—my least favorite platform—is just flat-out void of people. It feels like I’m walking into a museum alone and I’m looking for someone to discuss the art with and all I can find is more art.

Now, to be sure, being a writer and lover of words, I am biased. Still, wasn’t the original point of social media to connect with, well, people? My biggest writing opportunities have ALL been somehow related to Twitter. I have made friends and connections with people that, frankly, I shouldn’t even know.

As a means of publicly declaring my Twitter devotion (and having a convenient link to send to the person who weekly contacts me about my “Twitter strategy”), I’ve made a list of my Ten Twitter Tips for you to get the most out of this platform:

1. Don’t act like a celebrity. Stop and consider your motives. For many of us a reality of our Twitter use is to increase our social media presence for our platform. I do not have a problem with this, up to a point. However, a trap I fell in when I first began tweeting was being overly concerned with my follower ratio. I wanted to make sure I always had more followers than people I was following because I wanted to look popular. I was the queen of my tiny Twitter-kingdom, and you know what? It ended up stunting my overall growth. This is Twitter people, not prom.

2. Follow-back real people. My general rule: if they have less than five thousand followers and seem to be interested in interaction, or I perceive them as being in my target audience for my writing, then I follow back. There are always exceptions, but I’ve found this to be effective. This does take about half a minute of actual research; clicking on someone’s profile to see what they’re about. But if you’re here for connecting with people and not just looking like a celebrity, then it’s more than worth your time. Often, not always, I’ll use the first profile look to engage someone: I notice you have a lot of kids and like coffee: me too! Or, reading anything awesome right now? Following back is probably the number one way to show you value people above your platform. It says I see you and I care about what you have to say.

3. Invest in slow, sustainable growth. Yes, many of us are here to cultivate a platform. Personally, I do this by daily following a handful of people that I think would benefit from my message, instead of following a thousand people per week who are also just looking to gain followers. I do this by following people who follow people with similar interests. For example, I know that a lot of women who follow the Redbud Writers Guild account (@redbudwriters) are looking to connect with Christian women who are influencing culture. I fit that category, too. I know that women who follow Christianity Today’smeneutics blog (@CT_women) enjoy news and cultural analysis from a feminine evangelical perspective; I want to know what these women have to say. People who follow IF:Gathering (@IFgathering) or Propel (@PropelWomen) are looking to empower women in leadership; I’m interested in that, too. There’s nothing wrong with seeking to follow people, just be genuine in how you go about it. Your numbers will increase more slowly, but you’ll have built an affinity group that actually cares about your message.

4. Be genuine. You should be the same person offline that you are online, and that goes for any social media platform. This does not mean you need to tweet your deepest, most private thoughts. I think of Twitter as a virtual work cocktail party. Would you walk into the room and loudly begin reading your diary? Now, I think there is a place for transparency in any relationship, but I also think in our culture of praising the “brave” and “vulnerable” that we need to consider whether we are sharing to encourage others or to get attention. Figure out where you draw the line between being genuine and over-sharing.

5. Be quick to listen, slow to tweet. One of the coolest things about Twitter is that you can listen in on conversations people are having. I love watching people I admire interacting and engaging difficult topics. It’s not every day (or ever) that I can sit in on a conversation about current events with such a broad scope of voices represented. Twitter can be an excellent tool for better understanding where people are coming from on all sorts of issues. Here’s the thing: YOU DON’T HAVE TO INSERT YOUR OPINION. I mean, if you have something constructive worth mentioning, by all means jump in! Unfortunately, what I usually see happening is a lot of people who feel they need to declare what side they are on as if we’re choosing teams. Tweet-debate is not a team sport.

6. Don’t feed the trolls. There are always those people who struggle with number four. These people are not only looking to join a team, but they’re trying to become team captain. Your best strategy is to ignore them. If they’re particularly bothersome utilize the mute or, as a final resort, block feature. Be aware, though, that just because someone doesn’t agree with your opinion, this does not make them a troll. Twitter is a great place to gain a diverse understanding of issues, so follow people who don’t see the world as you do, but be humble enough to listen without provocation.

7. Love your Twitter neighbor as yourself. I have had numerous people ask me what the secret is to get people to interact with you. Well, if you want people to tweet you, why don’t you start by tweeting them? I set a goal of interacting with five people every time I log on. Do you want people to retweet your posts? Well, go ahead and do some reading and comment and retweet other people’s work. You want someone to tweet about your book? You get the picture.

8. Don’t be a link or retweet spammer. While I appreciate when people share their own or other people’s work, this should not make up the bulk of your tweets. I follow you because I genuinely want to know what you have to say. Please don’t add to my already congested feed by auto-tweeting a link to your most recent post hourly for a week. Certainly do not be one of those people who have a Twitter account for that sole purpose. If you want to promote your work without interaction a better platform choice would be Pinterest.

9. For the love of hashtags. A lot of people hate on hashtags or the newly coined hashtag-activism. Hashtagtivism. Like all of Twitter, I think this has potential for good or evil Personally, I’m a fan of the witty hashtag at the end of a tweet. #thestruggleisreal #hatersgonnahate #procrastinatorsgonnaprocrastinate Some people find them annoying, especially long ones, so use them sparingly. #itshouldnotakeyoufiveminutestodecipherasinglehastagthatisridiculousyouonlyhaveonehundredandfortycharacters. In theory, the purpose of hastags are to gather like content into one place. An especially practical way I’ve seen this used if for book launches. A unique hashtag of your title can help create buzz. (Be sure to check your hashtag before using, though. You wouldn’t want to be linking your work to something sketchy). Also, there is something to be said for hashtagtivism getting a powerful message out, ex: #blacklivesmatter. This is also another way to find people of similar (or respectfully dissimilar) opinions. There are even some excellent communities that gather around hashtags, check out: #amwriting #wholemama #fmfparty.

10. NEVER EVER AUTO-DIRECT MESSAGE This is one of my biggest pet peeves. You follow someone and whatever app they use to manage their account automatically sends a generic direct message. This is a surefire way for me to immediately unfollow or mute you. I don’t know what social media guru teaches people this is the way to go, but if you want people to engage with you, act like a person and personally tweet them. To me this is akin to being handed a gospel-tract from a stranger. Sure, it can sometimes be effective, but I’m much more likely to take an interest in your message or ministry if I have a relationship with you.

Oh, Twitter.

How do I love you? Let me count the ways.

I love you on your very best,

And very worst of days.

This is a somewhat adapted version of one of my sons’ favorite board books How Do I Love You? By P.K. Hallinan. The premise is that a parent steadfastly loves his or her unruly son, no matter what he does; be it coloring on the walls or playing contentedly.

And that pretty much sums up my Twitter experience, as well. For everything wonderful and exciting about this platform, it certainly has its petulant toddlerish side as well, but, oh how I love it!

Yes, for every genuine connection there is an exponential number of trolls and bots, but I believe if you have a heart for connecting with people, then it’s well worth the investment.

Aleah Marsden is a writer, editor, and Social Media and Communications Manager for Redbud Writers Guild. She blogs at DepthoftheRiches.com about life, faith, and Bible study. Connect with her on Twitter: @marsdenmom

 

Ask Me: How Do I Choose A New Church?

new church

I’ve received two letters from readers in the past month asking for advice about finding a new church. Here are excerpts from each:

We were part of a church plant for a couple years: a wonderful experience of everyone being on the same page, but it has now disbanded. Now that we’re on our own looking for a new church, I feel totally lost. I realize we have to compromise… but there doesn’t seem to be a church that has everything in line with what we want.  I have no idea what’s dire to have and what’s okay to forgo. Is community more important than the teaching? What about the worship? Their beliefs on mission? Geographical proximity? Multiethnicity, women in leadership, discipleship, etc etc… I understand this question is TOTALLY personal. I just wonder if you have any suggestions on choosing the right church.

and,

After more than twenty years of working weekends, I have relocated and wanted to join a church to find a church home and make friends.  The church I was raised in was a Presbyterian church & seeing an older established Presbyterian church nearby, I gravitated there to the comfort, familiarity, music, friendliness I remembered of years gone by.  I realized recently that this church has taken a position on some issues (same sex weddings and creation) that I believe are against the Bible.  I feel the church I knew has left me. I am sad. I have made friends here, but feel I have to find another church.  How do I find a church that doesn’t turn the Bible’s words into something that suits man, rather than guides man, as God intended?

Your advice would be appreciated. Thank you.

Longing For A Church Home

Dear LFACH (x2),

Changing churches is always an emotionally laden transition. I understand the longing to be part of a faithful community, but it’s hard to do when you may be feeling disconnected, grieving for what you’ve lost, and also needing to muster courage for a new search.

I only know of one way to find a new church, and that is to visit a number in your area. You may already know of a few to visit: places where friends go, perhaps. Depending on the city, there might be some kind of local wiki which lists the churches near you and you could scout your options out online to make a list of three or four to visit. Those visits will be hard, but ask questions when you go too: ask people what they like about this church, how long they’ve been there, how they came to be there and why they’ve stayed. Of course, this assumes that someone talks to you while you are there…. if they don’t, it will take extra courage to make a second trip.
Of course you know there are no perfect churches, but I think there are a great many HEALTHY ones, and often talking to some of the people in the pews will give you a better idea of the health of the community than reading a manifesto. Finding a community who love God, love the Bible and love people seems like a short and simple list, but finding those three things really is gold, no matter what the worship style is. I also think for people visiting a church, it’s entirely appropriate to call the minister or someone on staff and ask them if they’d mind talking to you about their church. Tell them a 60 second version of your background and some of the things you are looking for, and what they say in response could be really illuminating!
My personal thoughts on things that are essential in church communities is that we would do well to stick to Acts 2, and seek out communities that devote themselves to the apostle’s teaching, to fellowship and to prayer. By apostle’s teaching, I understand that to mean a faithful commitment to understanding and applying the teaching of Scripture. We are people of the Book, and so the way the community handles the Book matters tremendously. It should be read, relied on, and the worship and prayer (whatever format that takes), should reflect the priorities and passions of Scripture. I believe this is one of those things where we can ask the Holy Spirit for His specific guidance as we visit: He is the one who is able to lead us into all truth. (I have some thoughts on different church cultures here, if you’re curious.)
When it comes to “deal breaker doctrines”, that’s a matter for bible study and personal conscience: if you have strong convictions about the earth’s origins, or the Scriptures teaching on the place of women in leadership etc – you need to figure out whether this is something you can extend fellowship to others who may disagree in the spirit of Romans 14 (which you would have had to do if you were a Roman Christian… there weren’t exactly a plethora of churches to “shop around” at), or if conscience is leading you to find a place where you can serve and submit to church leadership with a clear conscience. Certainly, finding a place where we could serve with a clear conscience was a big factor for us the last time our family found ourselves looking for a church.
Acts 2 also mentions something about communities devoting themselves to fellowship, which I think has a bearing on the geographical location of the church. My wise friend Kevin once told me he had stopped going to church in a neighboring town because “you can’t commute to community”. There is something to be said for attending church where there are small groups that meet within your area, so that it becomes workable to actually live some of your LIVES together: to see one another in the grocery store, to organize a dinner, or serve together on a project. Proximity greases the wheels of community-building.
As such, this probably means that a local church should reflect the demographics of the community you actually live in. If you live in a multi-ethnic and multi-generational area, but the church is only reaching a fraction of those, that may be cause for concern. If, however, you live in a place with a fairly homogenous population (a college town of highly educated people), then it’s a bit of a stretch to look at the church and say “why are there only students and academics here? where are the homeless people and African-Americans?” Because, in truth, those populations are vastly outnumbered in our area.)
Finally: a church that devotes itself to prayer. This might be a difficult thing to assess on a Sunday visit, but it is something that will be reflected in the way people talk about challenges they are facing, or approach problem solving in the church. I think many of our evangelical churches are great in programming and poor in prayer. I wish it were different.
All that being said: there IS a church community there that God has for you, and where YOU are currently being missed as a vital part of Christ’s body. I pray you will be able to find a place to connect and thrive soon.
Best,
Bronwyn
Got a question? You can ask me anything: contact me here 🙂