Commentary A Christian Science Perspective

Responding thoughtfully

A Christian Science perspective: How can our responses to people, in person or on social media, be more helpful? 

  • Heidi K. Van Patten

Posting and responding on social media can happen at lightning speed. With a quick tap on a screen, we can immediately let others know how we feel about anything, from recipes to politics.

But when this responding becomes reactionary and fueled by anger or fear, posts can quickly turn to biting comments and heated debates – among friends and strangers alike. Seeing such divisiveness has caused me to search for guidance on how to respond in a more helpful way – a way that might even inspire healing, rather than injury – a way that could be guided by prayer.

Prayer is something I’ve come to understand as communication with God. Everyone has the ability to pray because each person has a direct relation to God. If we take what the Bible says about God as being the Father of all, and completely good and loving, it would logically follow that God’s children would naturally be good and loving. Anything less than that is unnatural and can be changed. Enlightened with the understanding of our shared relation to God, divine Love, prayer turns our thinking away from bitterness and resentment and toward our natural inclination to forgive and love and in that way help heal one another.

The Monitor’s founder, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote: “Love inspires, illumines, designates, and leads the way. Right motives give pinions to thought, and strength and freedom to speech and action” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 454). As we allow love to fill and guide our thinking, our motives for speaking and acting are purified and uplifted, and our communications become productive and helpful.

An example of this kind of love-guided responding is found in the Gospel of John, where an angry group brought a woman who’d been caught in adultery before Jesus (see Chap. 8). According to the law, they reminded Jesus that she should be stoned to death for her sin. They asked him what he thought, intending to incriminate him if he spoke against this law. Notably, Jesus did not fire back with an angry or defensive reply. He was quiet. He stooped down and began writing on the ground, as if he didn’t even hear them.

When they persisted, Jesus simply said that whoever among them had never sinned could go ahead and throw the first stone at her. No one is ever completely free from wrongdoing, so each person left, one by one, until they were all gone. When Jesus saw that only the woman remained, he said he didn’t condemn her either, and that she should go and not sin anymore.

Jesus didn’t excuse the wrongdoing of this woman. This is evident in his admonition that she stop sinning. But he also didn’t join in the emotionally charged scene. He stepped back from judging her – and the others – with anger, fear, or resentment. The patience and forgiveness Jesus expressed not only saved the woman, but it also probably spoke louder to her accusers than a hasty or angry reaction would have. And they responded in kind, leaving quietly, without further incident.

What can we learn from this story today as we pray about responding thoughtfully, especially on social media? We can step back from judging others based on personal opinions or emotions, and instead respond with listening and love. I’ve found I can begin to find patience, understanding, and forgiveness – for myself and others – when I recognize God’s love for everyone and strive to see each person as God’s loved child. Starting from this standpoint, communications with others – in person and on social media – become calmer, more thoughtful, and kinder.

This isn’t to say we’re just being “nice” to each other, while remaining angry inside. That wouldn’t be a true change of thought, which is what is needed for healing. Nor do we have to ignore social or political issues. Jesus spoke directly to the hatred expressed by the woman’s accusers and her wrongdoing in a way that brought healing to all. Similarly, our thoughtful responses can help promote understanding amid conflict and contribute to healing divisiveness.

These poetic words put it so well:

Speak gently, it is better far
To rule by love than fear;
Speak gently, let no harsh word mar
The good we may do here.
(David Bates, “Christian Science Hymnal,” Hymn 315)

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