With 232 million people using Twitter every month and more than 1.3 billion people on Facebook last year, it’s safe to say we live in an incredibly “connected” world. Yet with hundreds of friends and loved ones just a click away on social media or a text away on the phone, why do so many women feel isolated and alone? With ladies longing for meaningful connections to help them grow in their faith and find emotional wholeness, now is the perfect time for Pamela Havey Lau’s new book, A Friend in Me: How to Be a Safe Haven for Other Women.
Women today also crave relational connection with women who are further ahead of them on their journey. So many want mentors, guides and role models to whom they can bring their accomplishments and failures to feel affirmed, mutually respected and understood. In A Friend in Me, Lau shows women how to be a safe place for those who are in earlier stages of life than they are, teaching them habits for strengthening bonds such as offering comfort, acting with understanding and relating with compassion.
Q: You say the themes in A Friend in Me have been forming in you for your entire adult life. Can you tell us more about that?
When I was in my early 20s, I had an insatiable desire to understand spiritual things but felt trapped by what I read and saw in Christian media and the church. My own family fell apart when I was a teenager, so in many ways my early adult years were a time of healing. I couldn’t find examples of women I could identify with. It was tempting to become spiritually independent.
I even used my graduate thesis project to explore this journey by looking at mediated images of women. What opened my heart and mind fully to the things of God was deeper relationships with key women along the way. Certain women’s relationship with me and their ways of being close to me softened my heart toward the kingdom, to the real person of Jesus Christ. This was particularly true in my early adult years as my faith was becoming more of my own.
The ones, however, who made the biggest impact on my faith were women who didn’t compartmentalize my vocation or my personal life but related Christ to the whole of who I was. Through these relationships I discovered that coming from a broken home, being single or married, becoming a mother, being a working woman or leaving my career, experiencing painful losses, enjoying successes—none of these things were more powerful than my identity in Christ.
Q: How have social media and technology both helped and hindered intimate friendships?
Overall, it seems social media keeps us connected to people we wouldn’t normally reach out to, especially people from our past. Research shows that high use of Facebook can cause depression among women. My friends tell me that Facebook makes them jealous or brings up a fear of missing out faster than anything else. Does that mean social media outlets are evil? No. It just means that’s what really is in our hearts. The question becomes are we prepared to do what we need to do to keep our hearts clean when using all kinds of media? It’s like we’re on fast-forward relationally, and not much else kills intimacy in friendship than comparing, jealousy or feeling left out.
I love Skype and FaceTime because many of my intimate friends are around the nation and the world. Once a week, my friend and I dialogue about NT Wright’s latest Bible study via Skype. It’s like we are sitting together in my living room. In our case, technology has absolutely helped our friendship as our time together doesn’t require traffic jams, long drives or finding places to meet. Texting is an amazing device to send/receive prayer requests or to just check in with someone.
Texting can be toxic when it’s used for solving conflict. Relying solely on texting can create misunderstandings. No amount of emoji can replace human facial expression. As much as I can, I try to meet someone in person, talk on the phone or use Skype. If that’s not possible, I move to text or social media.
Q: Tell us what personal tragedy caused you to realize finally how deeply you needed to be in close relationships with other women?
The day before our third wedding anniversary, my brother-in-law and his fiancée were killed in a head-on collision on their way home from visiting family in Oklahoma. I write about it more extensively in the book, but I realized after six months of drowning in grief how much I needed constant support and input as I walked through suffering with my young husband. Even more, I needed to hear how women got to the other side of their suffering. The only way I could ever know stories like that was by truly knowing them, not just hearing about them.