What to Do About Stranger Cyber Effects, 3.0

What to Do about Stranger Cyber Effects, 3.0

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The teen is not the only struggling soul looking for a community. Sometimes, I will hear a person talk about how they met a stranger, and within minutes, they had an in-depth personal conversation with them. They glow about how easy and natural it was to talk. Then they say, “And he was a perfect stranger!” This interaction is called the “stranger on the train phenomenon.”

In This Series:

Stranger on the Train

It’s similar to the freedom and disinhibition in dating versus the rigors and risks of marriage. When a boy and girl meet and hit it off, they cannot stop talking to each other. They are tired at their day jobs because they have been chatting each other up most of the night. No limits exist to how much they talk and share on repeat. Engaging like this is easy if you have no history—grudges, unforgiveness, bitterness—with someone. There are no strangers at the bar, or like the conference speaker or blogger who is so transparent about his life. Marriage is different from strangers on the train because “you brought him home with you” to live in a 24/7, unbreakable, lifetime relationship where sin abounds. You know them through and through. You know their tendencies and weaknesses. Their triggers.

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You have a historical record of all the times they have hurt you. It’s two sinners in a box with no escape hatch. You are keenly aware of when or if you can be vulnerable with them. You’re less willing to take a “communication risk” with them. Of course, there are unresolved issues that date back years. Neither of you has been good about confessing your sins to each other and asking for forgiveness. My point is that there are built-in risks with this kind of broken, albeit ongoing, relationship. But the stranger on the train? Refreshing! There are minimal risks, and you will never see them again at your next stop. The relationship reward is high, and the relationship risk is low. As we did while dating, we share freely and without fear.

Enter the Internet. Cyberspace is the perfect place for strangers passing in the night. Because cyberspace is not a real place, but you can have—perceived—genuine relationships, you can benefit from what relationships offer without the downside of sin’s fallenness. Those who come from broken families or dysfunctional marriages can be naive and craving enough to take their turn in cyberspace. It’s like training wheels on a bicycle for the relationally weak, but the risks are higher than anyone perceives. It’s addictive, drawing you in while keeping you from doing the hard work of building authentic relationships in the only world we have and where they cannot escape. It keeps the unwitting relationally immature while getting their fix on minute-by-minute with their handheld devices.

Call to Action

  1. Why would a child or teen talk to the “stranger on the train” before talking to their parents?
  2. Why do freshly minted dating partners talk so much and married couples talk so little?
  3. Why is it so hard to be vulnerable in long-term relationships where there has been past sin?
  4. What is one benefit of keeping a clean slate with each other by confessing sins and transacting forgiveness?
  5. Will you ask God for the courage to build real-world relationships and then begin that process by sharing with a close friend what you’re learning here?

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