Three days ago I had an article published by Relevant magazine online. I had submitted the article a few weeks before and knew it was coming out sometime this week, but didn’t know when. I was excited to have something published at Relevant, but nervous because of the highly personal content. I hoped my words would be meaningful for others who had had similar experiences and felt alone in them. I was also excited for an opportunity to potentially gain a few more blog readers and make some new friends. I expected a few thousand people to read it. I figured some people would identify with it and others wouldn’t. I was not prepared for 60,000 shares and half a million people to read and comment and debate and argue and praise and judge my very personal story.
Here’s how Wednesday went down for me:
Wednesday, June 11th
6am – Wake up before my alarm, check the time on my phone. Phone is exploding with messages. Immediately wonder if North Korea has attacked us (unlikely, but valid concern). Realize these are responses to my article which had been published while I was sleeping. Abandon sleep and get up to read messages.
6:15am – Drinking coffee, reading messages. Amazed by number of responses. 8,000 shares? Really? Hurray! Start to read comments.
6:30am – Read some negative comments. That’s to expected, but I’m frustrated by comments aggressively criticizing things I never said. Fight urge to write defensive response to each comment.
7:00am – Receive email from Relevant editor thanking me for the piece and letting me know they’d already had 200,000 page views and it seemed to be sparking good discussion. Mind boggled thinking about that many people reading this.
7:30am – People I don’t know are sharing my article on Facebook. My friends are commenting like crazy, “Hey, I know the girl who wrote that!” Decide this makes me official internet celebrity.
8:00am – A friend tells me the article has been re-posted to Reddit. I am shocked. I walk to work trying to figure out how that happened. I check Reddit. Interestingly, article has been posted to both “Christianity” and “Atheism” feeds.
8:30am – I get to work and check out Relevant’s Facebook page where another 300 comments have been made. I am Queen of the Internets! Hurrah!
9:00am – Read one too many cruel comments. Decide to stop reading comments altogether
10am – 3pm: In between teaching classes, try to respond to as many people as I can who have sent me encouraging messages and emails or who have asked important questions.
4:30pm- 30,000 + shares. Overwhelmed by the sheer number of responses, comments, and messages I have received. Know that I invited this on myself, but feel slightly like Professor Xavier with thousands of voices in my head all at once. Too much to handle. Want to hide or breathe into a paper bag. Instead go home and eat ice cream straight from the carton.
The thing about the internet is that while there’s the opportunity for an extreme amount of exposure in a short time, internet fame is also fleeting. No matter how much attention a particular article or video or game or whatever is getting, it only takes a few days for it to become old news. My 15 minutes of (relative) fame are nearing an end, but I certainly feel like I’ve learned a few things from this experience.
1. I am incredibly small and inadequate I NEED God. There is a terrifying weight that comes when you suddenly realize people are LISTENING TO WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY! That it might actual have an impact on someone else’s life. And all you can do is say, “God, this is so far out of my control. It’s in your hands. Do what you want with it.”
2. I don’t have to respond to every piece of criticism. Some of the criticism I’ve received was certainly fair- (example the title saying “the” Church when that hasn’t been every single person in the Church’s experience. That’s fair. If I could change one thing about my article it would be the title. In fact, here’s a great and gracious argument for why.) Many people do not share my experience or have experienced negative consequences from the other side of things and are upset by the negative aspects of my story. And some of the criticism was incredibly personal, illogical, and ad hominem. Regardless, I can’t get bent out of shape about every person who disagrees with me or is upset by something I wrote. I’m not right about everything. My article wasn’t right about everything. But God can still use it and I’ve just got to trust that.
3. No matter how careful you are about your words, people will still read into it what they want to read into it. I spent days editing this piece. My husband helped me with the final edits and told me he supported everything I had written. Despite that, I had many people contact me in outrage for telling people it was OK to have sex before marriage. Wait, what? Did they miss that final paragraph where I explicitly said,
“I don’t regret waiting until I was married to have sex, and I’m not advocating that churches stop teaching that sex is designed for marriage.” ?
Many people were also incensed about what they perceived was me saying that people shouldn’t be concerned about their physical relationships pre-marriage. Again this outrage, in spite of the fact that I explicitly said,
“If you are committed to waiting until you’re married to have sex, there are many valid reasons to set boundaries on your physical relationship, but the fear of accidentally having sex shouldn’t be one of them.”
I said exactly what I meant – there are reasons you SHOULD set boundaries in your physical relationship, but you SHOULDN’T do it out of fear.
My intention with the entire piece was to call into question the REASONS we are teaching abstinence in churches and whether those reasons are right. Do those reasons reflect the truth about our sexuality and our relationship with God? Allow me to quote me,
“If our reason for saving sex until marriage is because we believe it will make sex better or easier for us, we’re not only setting ourselves up for disappointment, but we’re missing the point entirely. Those of us who choose to wait do so because we hold certain beliefs about the sacredness of marriage and about God’s intentions and wishes for humanity, and we honor these regardless of whether they feel easier or harder.”
We need to re-examine our REASONS. I am far from perfect (as anyone who has read my “introducing the real me” post knows). I know that I probably didn’t communicate everything I wanted to say perfectly. I think God’s grace is big enough to work through my words in spite of that.
4. When I comment on things in the future, I want to ALWAYS remember that there is a real person behind this piece. I feel that many people lose sight of that fact. The writer is a real person who, even if I disagree with them, has chosen to be honest and vulnerable with total strangers and deserves to be respected and given the benefit of the doubt.
These are examples of actual comments I received before I stopped reading them:
“Have to say I’m disappointed with relevant magazine here. I think in an effort to be cool and ‘relevant’ you sacrificed integrity. who exactly is Lilly Dunn, and why are we listening to her single narrow ( bitter) opinion? Can anyone write for relevant and get published?”
Nope, not bitter. Quite joyful, actually. I laugh all the time. Laughing’s my favorite. And I’m oh-so-happily married. Just, you know, being very vulnerable here, hoping to restore life to some broken places. And also, yes, anyone can submit to Relevant. Even you, my friend. Perhaps a piece about how Relevant shouldn’t publish the narrow, bitter opinions of others.
Or this stunner: “This is absolutely the worst thing I’ve ever read. This girl so annoying and just sounds like an entitled little complaining bitch. I’m sorry but I’m embarassed to have read this. The whole article i just wanted to punch the writer in the face.”
I mean. Not much to say here, you make a solid argument. But if you’re so embarrassed to have read it, why did you comment on it, letting thousands of people know that you read it?
This experience has also made me want to give others the benefit of the doubt about things that aren’t crystal clear. I think it bears pointing out that Relevant (and I’m sure many other similar sites) has a strict word limit. In fact, my original piece was 600 words longer than this and might have been more nuanced in some of the areas people were concerned about. I know I didn’t make a list of solutions or go into detail about all the wonderful things about my marriage. There was only so much room and this piece had to be extremely focused. Of course there is more to be said on this topic and I would love for this to open the doors for people to respond. Actually, here’s one person who did just that.
Please, if you’re reading this, take this vow with me: “When I comment on other people’s writing I will remember that they are real people with feelings. If I disagree I will make sure I have fully read their words first, then I will make an argument based on the specific things I disagree with, not general attacks on who they are. Wherever possible I will give the writer the benefit of the doubt, taking into account word limits and editorial decisions beyond their control.” Wait a sec, this sounds familiar…wasn’t there somebody somewhere who said something about “Doing unto others”?
Thank you to the many people who took the time to send me kind and encouraging messages. They went a long way to treat the sting left by others. Seriously, if you ever think about sending a writer an encouraging message and then think, “They probably have heard this from enough people, they don’t need to hear from me” you’re wrong. They always need to hear from you.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s my husband’s and my anniversary and I’m going home to do some “celebrating” if you know what I mean. ; )
UPDATE: If you are interested in hearing some more in-depth thoughts about this topic, check out my guest series, “Let’s Talk About Sex” over at my friend Brett “Fish” Anderson’s blog.
I also wrote another article for RELEVANT in March of 2015 about overcoming shame.