July 24, 2009

Stereotypes Work Both Ways

Facebook has a way of breaking down barriers that life puts in our way. I have a Facebook friend from high school who lives in Japan. I don’t think we ever had a class together, and I don’t recall ever meeting him at a reunion, but we’ve become friends on Facebook. Not just names in the list of friends, but the kind of friends who actually post on one another’s page and who work on each other’s farms and occasionally chat in Farm Town (I know it’s addictive and I can stop anytime I want). We have also discovered – from our comments that we post on each other’s pages and those of mutual friends – that we share at least some political views in common. When our next reunion comes around, I’m sure we’ll make it a point to visit because we’re no longer strangers.

That’s the interesting thing about Facebook. You get to know people who may not have been on your radar before. There are others who have been acquaintances who you get to know better. And even when you don’t find a lot in common, you get past stereotypes and begin to develop a greater understanding of one another.

Facebook also helps you find friends by showing people you might know on your home page. Occasionally a young woman named Cindy from my church would pop up there. I had never been around Cindy much and might never have noticed her at all, but her father-in-law is on our church staff. There’s also a bit of a family connection. My brother first met her in-laws at OBU over 40 years ago, and in recent years my mom had taken a couple of trips with them. I often greeted Cindy when she came in with her two boys on Sunday mornings as her husband parked the car. I put Cindy in the category I tend to put most young married couples I don’t actually know in – people who will get interesting once their kids are grown. I know there’s an irony there. I get annoyed at the church for too often stereotyping single adults, but I do exactly the same thing to the young couples I know nothing about.

Last winter I began to realize Cindy didn’t belong in the box into which I had placed her. She wasn’t someone you could easily categorize at all. I was in a Bible study with her that I had to drop out of after just a couple of weeks, but Cindy managed to make an impression on me in that brief time. Several years ago she and her husband were in a serious car accident that nearly took her life. I remember praying for Cindy through that long recovery. It was only after much physical therapy that she was able to get back to her life. During the Bible study she spoke of that time in a way that made it clear how difficult it had been in every possible way, and yet she did so with humor. I don’t know many people who could do that. She also spoke – as any mother would – of her passion for her boys and her deep desire to protect them from the pain of life. As she spoke, I thought of the months that we had all prayed for her recovery and God’s grace in answering those prayers.

I began to pay more attention to Cindy after that study. Her family was usually seated a row or two behind me, and I often overheard the whispers she shared with her sons. She was the Assistant Director of a faith-based women’s shelter. I saw her at a benefit concert for the shelter a couple of weeks ago where her devotion to her work was apparent. Many Sundays she would step out of worship to answer a call from the shelter. Just last Sunday I looked up to see her coming back in, presumably after such a call, and I admired her dedication to the women she served.

Over the last several months, there were a couple of times when Cindy’s name popped up on Facebook as someone I might know, and I clicked and went to her page. I happened to go there last Tuesday.

Her page had the usual pictures of her family, including a darling profile picture of her with her husband and kids on what must have been Easter Sunday. But there were some clues there that she didn’t fit the usual mold. That shouldn’t have been surprising since Cindy wasn’t raised in the Baptist church. One of her favorite movies listed was Sex and the City. I know that’s not on the politically correct movie list for a good Baptist girl, but I liked it, too, and I admired her for putting it there. Under politics she put Democratic Party, which was a bit of a jolt because probably 90% of the members of my church who answer the politics question either put conservative or Republican. I can probably count on one hand my Baptist Facebook friends who tell the world they're Democrats. Under Cindy's favorite quotes was one that made me laugh to myself: “Liberals are just Evangelicals that actually read the Bible.” For a brief moment last Tuesday, I considered clicking the Friend Request button but decided I’d do it someday, but not just then.

Cindy died unexpectedly Wednesday morning. Today, I join with my church family in continuing to pray for the husband and boys she left behind. And I can’t help but think of a missed opportunity to get to know someone better who I might have found I had a lot in common with despite the differences in age and marital status. It hurts to be stereotyped but it also hurts us when we stereotype others because we miss out on some of God’s greatest blessings.

Don’t miss those opportunities to reach out and make new friends…the kind of friends you make in real life. God can even use Facebook to make it happen.


  1. A great reminder...thanks for putting it into words for all of us.

  2. This was a beautiful tribute to this young lady and friendships that can be made online. I have been in an online discussion group for over 14 years with about 75 different ladies. We were Stay at Home Moms at one time. I often confide in them more often than my real life friends.

  3. you made me want to meet cindy...will have to wait until we are on the other side.