He turned 68 last week. August 17.

Friends and fans from around the world stopped by his Facebook profile to wish him a page full of birthday greetings. Hundreds of wishes, pictures and videos offered him everything from a second piece of cake to all his dreams come true. A lovely tribute to a significant life.

Only one problem, however.

He died over a year ago.

Several friends recognized this fact, said things like, “Birthday with Jesus. I’m jealous!” and “You’re missed. But I know you’re celebrating in heaven!” Some even offered thoughts and prayers to his widow and family, the remembrance a kind gesture on this difficult day.

But many others left less-timely comments:

It’s your birthday! What should I do? How about a birthday song?! (followed by a youtube video)

Happy Birthday! I hope your coming year is filled with laughter and blessings. Have a blast!

Happy Birthday! Hope it’s a good one!

Hope you have a great day! May God bless you with many more birthdays!

Hmmm. Clearly, more than a few people missed the memo. No one meant any harm. I doubt a single one of these well-intentioned messages came from a mean spirit. After all, I know exactly how it happened.

Facebook provides a list of friend’s birthday in the home feed. All you have to do is to click on the list and quickly drop a birthday greeting into the page of each person. I did this myself that day, but skipped over his. I was moving so fast I could’ve easily offered a hasty, albeit ill-timed, birthday greeting.

Have a piece of chocolate cake for me!

Thankfully, I didn’t. Instead, I read the list of birthday greetings, one hand over my eyes, embarrassment forcing a read-through-my-fingers. I cringed, not at the sure grief of his poor family, but at the overwhelming awkwardness of the situation, and how close I came to being one more in a long line of ignorant well-wishers.

I almost missed seeing him.

Him. A real person with a real story who is now living out his eternity in the presence of Jesus.

In my haste and self-preoccupation, I almost missed relationship. In all my networking and positioning, I almost forgot that real people with real lives sit on the other side of my screen.

We do this, don’t we? Not just on Facebook, but at the office and the grocery store. At the gas station and speaking engagement and school pick-up line. We walk—run—past people every day, offering halfhearted “hello’s” in an attempt to appear friendly, but only managing a Tang version of real orange juice.

Our intentions aren’t bad, necessarily. Instead, I’ll wager “intention” is rarely a part of the equation at all. But in this get-ahead, platform-building culture where relationships function as currency, we mustn’t forget a fundamental truth that can make or break the story we’re trying to live:

There’s a huge difference between networking and connecting.

One is about getting ahead. The other is about getting inside someone’s head. One sees opportunity but misses the person, while the other sees the person regardless of the opportunity.

If we say we’re about relationship, we better spend the time making sure we’re living the truth of it. Because your story and mine doesn’t read well by stepping on people, but by inviting them into our narrative and playing a part in theirs.

That’s where the cake is.

By the way, happy birthday, Facebook Friend. Save a slice of heaven’s sweetness for me.

How can we be more intentional about seeing people and truly connecting?

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