I discovered a website that sells “likes.” Apparently, people use them to pad their popularity on social media. But I thought I might buy some, just for me. I could sure use some “likes.”
They are sold in bundles and claim that “Delivery Starts Within Minutes!” I like that, a click for instant approval! Reasonable prices, too. For just 75 cents, I can get 25 likes. That’s more likes than members in my family. No need for birthday presents or Christmas cards. This instant transaction is certainly more efficient than slow-building relationships. You pays your money and you gets your likes. Easy.
But, I thought, why go small? Why not buy 500 (just $25.99!) likes? This would exceed the number in my entire senior high school class. Why, I could resolve a 40-year-old wound with an inexpensive solution. “Most Popular” is just a click away!
Watching my cursor blink, I anticipated the long overdue surge of approval. I thought about Peggy, who sat behind me in Algebra I. She definitely didn’t like me as I wanted. And there was Alice and Freda and Mary and …
Then I remembered Carl and shuddered a little. This prompted me to see if the website sold “dislikes,” too. But alas, dislikes were more expensive. More in demand, I suppose. So, I decided to stay with likes.
I got out my credit card and made the purchase. The feeling was a cross between adrenaline and dopamine (adropamine?). It lasted for a good 90 seconds. As the surge tailed off, I thought, Well, if 500 felt that good, then what would 50,000 feel like? I pulled out my credit card again and prepared myself for Nirvana.
Well, you can probably guess where this went. No amount of likes were ever enough to keep the high going. The second 50,000 didn’t satisfy like the first; a definite diminishing return. No matter how many likes I bought, they were never going to be enough.
But there is another problem, a more fundamental problem. It wasn’t the amount of likes; it was that they weren’t real. Yes, I could pay bots to repeatedly like my account, but that’s not the same thing as someone—a real someone—liking me because they wanted to.
That’s the thing, you see. For it to be real, people have to want to like you. You can hire people for tasks, coerce them to say words, or guilt them into hanging out with you. But you can’t make them mean it.
This leaves us in quite a conundrum. We desperately want to be really loved, but powerless to make it really happen.
I’ve tried to control it anyway. I’ve been “buying likes” since I was a kid:
“Dad? Would you be proud of me if I got a base hit tonight? How about a double?”
“Hey, 8th grade? Over here! If I’m funny, would you include me? How ‘bout if I got those new jeans, would I be cool then?”
“Hello, Wife? Would you look at me fondly if I do stuff for you?”
Nothing wrong with base hits, witty talk, or doing things, of course. But as good as they are, they don’t buy love. You can’t, in fact, buy love. It has to be a gift.
So, we are back to our conundrum. On the one hand, we are made in the image of God and thus dependent on love. We cannot be otherwise. But on the other hand, we’ve rebelled against our dependency on God, insisting that we can earn or manufacture our own love. The concept of grace offers us something that we ardently desire, but in a way that that we adamantly detest. We want grace, but on our terms: earned not given. We are tragically conflicted about love.
But how does this look on a given day?
Let’s say my wife offers me some kind words. And let’s say they’re real, she gives them freely. What does a conflicted soul like mine do with real love? Well, I have several strategies to manage the dissonance:
1. I might hastily return kind words to “pay” her back.
2. I might think of prior acts of mine for which she already “owed” me.
3. I might outright dismiss her, out of suspicion that her love isn’t real.
I might do anything but humbly receive it, trusting her and my own desire.
Similarly, on another given day, I might labor to buy the love I so desire:
1. I might serve my wife, but in a this-will-make-you-love-me way.
2. I might avoid conflict, so that she owes me for letting things go.
3. I might become distant, blackmailing her into some sort of involvement.
If all else fails, on any given day with my conflicted soul, I might just numb out, pretending that I don’t need love or that busyness or shopping is enough to fill me up.
Now, all these strategies are transactional and thus violate the law that love must be freely given to be true. Somewhere down in my soul, I know this isn’t a real way to honor her heart or mine. But I often sacrifice real love for the illusion of control.
However, there is another way. Jesus tells us, “God so loved the world that he gave his only son…” The big risk of Christian faith is chancing that God means it. His pledge of proof is the giving of his son to die to forgive our rebellion from love. He invites us back.
Trusting this offers another way to live on any given day, thus untangling the tragic conflict within me. I own my true desire. I live congruently with the law of gift-love. I become free from cold transactional living.
And because I am so loved by God, I don’t have to buy likes anymore. And I give love away freely, because there’s plenty more where that came from.
Roger Edwards joined The Barnabas Center in 1991. He works with both individuals and couples, helping people confess their need and embrace their available choices to lead healthier lives. Roger also teaches and leads discussion groups and retreats applying the Gospel to everyday life. He is a licensed clinical mental health counselor (LCMHC), holds a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana and a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is married to Jean; they have seven children and nine grandchildren.
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