I just sat down to do my naptime email and blog reading and came across this gem from my inbox. I’ve edited it slightly for clarity, brevity and profanity, but here’s the gist:
your site is such a waste of time. have u ever thought of writing something that isn’t stupid? well done…..i just wasted more time doing nothing but reading garbage.
This reminds me of something I’ve been thinking about lately, one of the oddest twists in my spiritual journey.
When I think back over my conversion process, I often marvel at how my faith increased rapidly over a short period of time starting sometime late last year. I went from a mostly dry, intellectual conviction (with plenty of doubts) to pretty solid faith and a deeper, more personal understanding of God over the period of just a few months. I’ve thought a lot lately about what happened to bring about those changes.
There were a lot of reasons, some of which I discussed here. But I recently realized that a surprisingly significant factor in my growing closer to God during this time came from the most unlikely of places: trolls. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, a “troll” is a person who leaves a nasty comment on a blog or message board.)
There was a time when my posts were not infrequently met with the comments of folks who adamantly disagreed pretty much everything I said, and some of those comments were not very charitable (some examples here and here — warning, some profanity). As anyone with a blog knows, it’s surprising how much words from a nameless, faceless person out there on the internet can bum you out.
I remember the first time I sat down at my computer to check comments to this blog and read something that made me feel very insulted, and infuriatingly misunderstood. I actually don’t remember what the comment said or which post it referenced, just that it was something very hurtful. After spending a moment fantasizing about all the things that I would do if I had this person’s home address and phone number (OK, all the things that “Alternate-Universe Assertive Jen” would do), my frustration level reached such a height that I actually decided to turn to prayer.
And the prayer went something like this: “God, look at how much this guy sucks! Look at these unfair, terrible (not to mention incorrect) things he said! Poor me!”
Oddly enough, my prayer did not leave me with a sense of peace. As additional comments rolled in that were insulting to various degrees (the original commentor found my site through a link on an atheist chatroom, as did many others), I continued to turn to prayer. And when I actually took a breath and paused my “Whaaaa! I’m so misunderstood!” whining, an insight occurred to me that I believe was a direct answer to my prayer.
The thought popped into my head that I needed to take a hard look at why these comments were hurtful to me. And when I did, I didn’t like the answer. I made my best attempt to come up with convoluted explanations about rules of etiquette and the way that disagreements should be phrased, but I quickly realized that it all came down to one thing: pride. God gave me the grace to realize the absurdity of my situation: I was being called a moron and a fool for believing in God, and my first reaction was to think about me, me, me. In fact, I was so consumed with the impact all this had on my ego that I’d completely missed the fact that I was witness to a great tragedy: I had just read the words of a person who does not know God. And rather than immediately bow my head in prayer, I’d turn inward to focus exclusively on how it all impacted me.
In my spiritual journey so far, I’ve encountered few things that have made me look my pridefulness in the face as effectively as the “trolls”. I’d sometimes read a comment and turn my eyes upward to God, asking, “Even him?” — meaning, “You said we’re supposed to love our enemies…but not these idiots, right? I can feel hateful towards this guy who just called me a ‘stupid b-tch’ for being Catholic, right?” But, of course, I knew the answer as soon as I asked the question. If I’m to call myself a Christian I’m supposed to be kind to everyone, to avoid fostering hateful thoughts toward even the people who insult me most. The guy who said I was a terrible mother for raising my kids with faith? Even him.
At one point I was tempted to write a post reminding certain commentors that behind every blog is a real person with real feelings, so they should watch what they say. But, again thanks to prayer, I realized that I was actually the one who could use the lesson: behind every post in my combox is a real person — and the more hateful and vitriolic their tone, the more likely it is a person who is in pain.
Since that time I’ve received very few comments that I would classify as trolls; yet, as those of you with blogs can probably imagine, I do occasionally get comments that I find irritating or even a little insulting, like that email above that I received today. I almost always end up with unsettled feelings like frustration or even anger — yet I now realize where those sensations are coming from: my own pride. I’m a looooong way away from peacefully praying for anonymous commentors who have annoying things to say. Yet I do think they’re a sort of gift, to remind me how incredibly full of self and empty of agape love I really am.
Reading through the comments made me realize that I should have been more clear in the paragraph where I said “I had just read the words of a person who does not know God”. I wasn’t trying to say that all “trolls” don’t know God. I was thinking back to certain comments that were left by self-described atheists (not all of which were contained in the two posts I linked to, those were just some examples).
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