The Day the Emojis Died

The year 2020 was difficult for most of us. It was especially difficult for me. In early December I lost my best friend. She had been with me through thick and thin. She knew me before and after my story of abuse. She was my sounding board, my confidant, and one of few people I knew I could always call, even in the middle of the night. To say I miss her is putting it mildly. Perhaps you are wondering what her loss has to do with emojis? 

When my best friend and I met as children, there were no such thing as personal computers, the internet, hashtags, FaceBook, or text messaging with GIFs and emojis.  Our interactions revolved around either being together in person or spending countless hours talking on the telephone. As adults, we chatted on the phone regularly as we shared about our day, vented our frustrations, discussed our problems, or later in life, committed to pray for each other’s family.  There was a give and take in our relationship, an awareness of who needed to speak and who really needed to be heard! The most comforting aspect of the friendship for me was the knowledge that whatever I shared was valued because I was.

In today’s instant society, the joy of thoughtful conversation has been sacrificed for the sake of convenience and seemingly busy schedules that lead nowhere near the level of intimacy that grows when you take the time to listen closely and to genuinely care. My friend’s time was a priceless treasure, and her choice to spend it with me was a gift unlike any other. Other friends have told me they don’t like to talk on the phone, opting instead to keep in touch via text messaging or FaceBook. On the day my friend died, I received several texts, emojis without words, and FaceBook condolences, but I could count on one hand the number of people who called, and I had one person visit my home that day. This reality accentuated the loss of a dear friend who had always connected with me in more significant ways. Sadly, my phone doesn’t ring nearly as often anymore.

This reality has highlighted for me a weakness within the Christian community and sparked a desire to examine my own use of social media in relationships. In sharing this, I am not being critical of anyone who reached out to me with text or FaceBook messages when my friend died. I was indeed grateful for their efforts.  I realize this is simply the way most people communicate now, especially during the Covid pandemic. Nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder if this is the way God intends for Christians to communicate with one another, especially in times of significant need or loss?  If Jesus was living on earth today, how might he use FaceBook or text messages to interact with “his followers”? When would he choose to pick up the phone or pay a personal visit instead?

Of course, in Biblical times, FaceBook or texting were not options. Nevertheless, I think there are several scriptures that indicate when a more personal touch is warranted. For instance, in I Thessalonians, Paul said he was not content to connect with just a written word; he felt a need to be with the people he loved, especially when either he or they were struggling (verses 2:17 and 3:10). The Apostle John also desired to personally speak with those to whom he was writing in II John 12 and III John 13-14. And, of course, who can forget Jesus’s visit to Lazarus’ tomb, howbeit four days after he had died. Why did he go at all? Couldn’t he have simply spoken a word and healed Lazarus or raised him from the dead, just as he did when he healed the Centurion’s servant from afar (Matthew 8:5-13)?

Even more perplexing, why did he stand at his friend’s tomb and cry? He knew Lazarus would be raised to life again shortly, yet he identified with Mary and Martha in their pain. Have you ever been moved to tears when you saw others weeping? Jesus chose to be present and to weep in unison with his friends. He knew how to mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15). When you think about the most impactful interactions in your life, where did they occur—on FaceBook, in a text message, during a phone call, or through face-to-face encounters? My friend’s death has heightened my awareness of the need for meaningful conversations—the kind that simply do not occur via texting or FaceBook messages—the depth of which no emoji could ever convey!

I think this is especially pertinent for survivors of sexual abuse. Trust does not come easily for us. Building trust takes time and is an ongoing process. Have you ever noticed how tone is missing in written communications and how easy it is to misunderstand the writer’s intentions as a result? On the other hand, when I can talk with you on the phone and hear the inflection in your voice or speak with you in person and observe nonverbal cues, I am much more likely to understand and to be understood.  I think survivors of sexual abuse are especially wise to pursue and cultivate relationships through telephone and in-person conversations (which might include Zoom or FaceTime during the pandemic). We need to become intentional about this for our own wellbeing.

In order to have lasting impact, the Christian community must also become more attuned to the needs of those who hurt and respond appropriately. I would even go so far as to ask, “Are your preferred means of communicating really Christlike?” For my part, I no longer want to superficially touch a multitude by spreading myself too thin.  After losing my friend last year, the shallow fellowship that emojis represent to me has become woefully inadequate. In 2021, I hope to pursue relationships that go far beyond informational updates and emoji feelings.  I want to make more time for the hearts of people. What is your preferred way to keep in touch and why?

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