Rethinking Social Engagement, Fluffy Blue Clouds, & Carpooling:
A neighbor and I carpool. Often, the kids fidget after a school day, tired, and crammed into the vehicle.
But this week, as I began to hear the “I’m huuuungry” and the low-grade unsettledness, I did what my mom would do. I turned their eyes to the sky and called on creativity.
“Oh! What’s that! I see a duck in that cloud. Oh, he’s a cute duck! Look at his bill!”
To my surprise, the kids were all abuzz. Immediately, they turned their focus from their own discomfort and they looked out the window for the duck. Then they began to see their own fluffy clouds.
“I see a puppy dog!”
“I see a caterpillar!”
“I see a squirrel sitting on a hippopotamus flying on top of an airplane!”
Yes, they really got into it!
“I see a dolphin swimming in an ocean!”
The whole car lifted. They moved from the dreaded confinement of a car to flying on wings like eagles. And all I got them to do was look up.
That’s the job of the writer. We’re called to teach those in our vehicle to look up. To see things with a different perspective. To help them develop their sense of wonder at God and His possibilities.
Imagine that those children were on their phones the whole drive home. Imagine they were sharing posts and liking pages. Each looking at his own screen, pausing for a second here or there to show someone else a brief photo, have a laugh and go back to his own screen for most of the ride. Why do we call this “social engagement”? I get it. Book sales teams need numbers. And click and like numbers are easy to count. But I’m sure they know too, deep in their hearts, that the numbers that cannot be counted are the ones that really sell the books.
I have just a few shares or likes on my posts. Many posts have only crickets if you visit my site. So many would say that no matter how great the content, “people just aren’t engaging with the content.”
But when a Bible study teacher reads that very same post, prints it off, keeps it in her file, and shares it with her friends… And they discuss it and they look up at the heavens in a different way, with wonder at God’s kindness towards them… THAT is social engagement. Is there quantifiable proof of that social engagement? Nope. But they saw dolphins in the sky!
A few years ago, another blogger and I found each other online. She was possibly the first subscriber (and only at the time) of mine that wasn’t my mom, sister-in-law, or best friend. Kelly from the Nourishing Home. I just loved her message and how she helped me learn about meal planning. So on my walks with moms, on our playdates, on the phone, I was constantly referring people to her site. I didn’t have Facebook at the time. I wasn’t on social media. But I sure was engaged with her content and spreading the word like crazy! …THAT is social engagement.
During that time, Kelly and I were emailing back and forth. One day, she asked for my number and called me. She wanted to encourage me to keep writing. I can’t explain to you how important that phone call was to me. And how powered by the Holy Spirit that was. She was engaging socially. And that one phone call was a hundred years more powerful than a hundred thousand clicks or likes or shares. Because in that one call, she shared her heart and she encouraged mine to rise up and keep blogging, even though so few were reading it. She reminded me that I work for the Lord, and not for man. What if I gave up back then? Her one phone call helped me not to miss my calling… THAT is social engagement.
I have a post that has received several comments, the one on Redemption and Asparagus Soup. So there’s proof of a smidgen of “social engagement.” But when a military wife email forwards it to her small group, and then they engage in a conversation about it over a lunch, reminding each other that God doesn’t waste their trials… And then two and a half YEARS later, the same woman remembers to tell me about it and how it impacted her and her friends and still does… THAT is social engagement.
But let’s be real, that’s also Holy Spirit. And He cannot be measured or contained. He cannot be quantified. When Holy Spirit lights a fire under an author’s words, it brings not only social engagement, but a whole new eye sight to believers. They no longer see their own crammed in feet, buried under backpacks and the smell of old lunchboxes. They begin to see rainbows and angels and talking donkeys in the sky. And they begin to smell the fragrance of Christ. And they begin to talk about it and share it with others and marvel and laugh and engage.
What does this mean for you and for me, NOT even just as writers or influencers, but as people who engage in social media? Maybe we need to be more discerning about what we click and like and share. Let’s only point people upwards. Don’t share things that will just bring them back to looking at their toes. Maybe it means we need to share more of the things that do move us. But I get it. The things that often move me most, I don’t share because they make me really think and disengage with my phone and reengage with my God or my people. The things that move me most, I remember and I talk about later. But this week, I can only recall and talk about probably ONE singular Instagram post I read. And I remember liking a few pictures. But did I even FULLY read the post below it. Not always. And that’s not how I treat my friends. And I don’t want my hustled behavior this week to become my norm on social media. So I feel like I need to steward people I follow better online. I need to really listen if I’m going to show up. And I need to just go be in God’s actual word if I’m only going to social media because I just really would like someone to talk to or something good to think about.
What does this mean for you and me as writers and influencers? It means we need to pray. I don’t believe the levity and joy in that carpool came out of my own strategy. It was the Holy Spirit. And it was His creative answer to the prayer I prayed on the drive before picking up the kids. Lord, please bring peace and joy to this carpool today. Please give them unity and harmony on this trip together today. And He did! Same is true for your blog, your speaking engagements, your social media engagement… pray for these people, for each new follower, for each person as they comment. They are real people who feel crammed in with old peanut butter and jelly smells. They need something fresh and life-giving. They need you to teach them to lift their eyes to the sky. And they need you to make them laugh.
When the kids started getting really crazy and started showing each other the elephant on top of the dinosaur that had a monkey jumping on it’s back… then I stunned them. I said, “Ooooooh! I see something!” And I was amazed at how they all got silent. They literally leaned forward, on the edges of their car seats, and listened. I smiled the biggest smile I could, eyes wide open, and marveled, “I see a cloud.” They sat up, perplexed and silent still. And then, “Bah!!!! Ha hahahhahah ha ha!” They all belted out an uproar of laughter. Sometimes, we just need to make them laugh!
Also like how that cloud that was a cloud, sometimes, our job is to call the kettle black. To state the obvious. To state the obvious. To define something rightly, like maybe defining social engagement rightly. : )
Final exhortation whether you are a retired grandma, a home school mom, or a writer or speaker: Have fun with your people. Engage with your people. Just because the comments and questions are happening through direct emails to you or through phone calls or text messages (and not online where others can see it), don’t fret about it. You work for the Lord and not for man. You work for the Lord. So pray for the people in your vehicle, whether it’s a blog or your Instagram or your Facebook. You’re not there to take up more space. You’re there to point them to the sky.
“They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory,” Matthew 24:30.